Fine Bespoke: How Hermès Sur-Mesure adds the brand's touch to cars, boats and planes

Customisation is a legacy at Hermès. From creating special shades to adding functional beauty, Axel de Beaufort, design director of Hermès Sur-Mesure, speaks about what goes into creating prized, one-of-a-kind objects

Published: Sep 25, 2021 09:00:00 AM IST
Updated: Nov 2, 2021 03:49:29 PM IST

(Left) Axel de Beaufort, design director of Hermès bespoke and special orders division. Image: Alexis Armanet; (Right) For a 1920 Voisin, the studio created a water-proof leather for the open car. Image: Maxime Horlaville

Last winter, an American automotive collector and real estate mogul shipped off his new McLaren Speedtail to Hermès bespoke studio Hermès Sur-Mesure. The studio, in Pantin, Paris, is where everything right from boxing gloves and bags, to snooker tables, trunks, cars and jets are customised with the world’s finest materials.

High-net-worth individuals and collectors from around the globe have for long been sending their prized possessions to Hermès Sur-Mesure for customisation, and fulfil their desire to own objects that stand out and are one-of-a-kind.

The collector had earlier gotten his $2.5 million Pagani Huayra and a $3 million Bugatti Chiron customised by Hermès, and had a similar plan for his $2.5 million hybrid-powered, super-aerodynamic, three-seat Speedtail.

The Pagani has a Hermès gear shifter knob and the car’s seats and interiors are all covered in Hermès leather. The Bugatti Chiron has Hermès’ Craie shade, the highly coveted ‘chalk’ or off-white colour.

For his latest, the collector wanted the trademark Hermès orange leather for the interiors. But when Axel de Beaufort, design director of Hermès bespoke and special orders division, saw the blue McLaren, he decided to create a special shade for the Idro calfskin leather.

Months later, Beaufort and his team achieved the perfect fauve (colour). The team went on to add other exquisite touches to the car. While Beaufort reduced the stitching on the leather, making it supple and smooth, the team added white canvas touches at some places. The Hermès’s block-H brand iconography is etched into the midnight blue door covers and engine cover. While the geographical coordinates of the Hermès atelier are printed on one of the digital side-view mirrors, on the other mirror are the coordinates of the McLaren factory. And thick Hermès handbag leather, in creamy white and golden brown, lines the seats, sills, dash, pillars, floor, headliner, steering wheel, and the front and rear luggage compartments.

Beaufort and his team achieved the perfect fauve (colour) for a McLaren Speedtail (seen above) months after it was shipped to the studio.
Image: Oskar Proctor

Commissioned projects such as this typically take one year from inception to completion at the studio, though yachts and jets can take up to three. Months of research go into the process, which involves studying the history of a car, hand-drawings, working models and 3D modelling as well as scanning Hermès’s vast archive collection dating back to 1837 (when the company first started making bespoke harnesses and saddles for horse riding enthusiasts).

Fine bespoke has been Hermès’ legacy. Even its very famous Birkin bags were a commission. And when it comes to cars, it has done many over the years since it first started customising them in 1929—their first was a Bugatti Royale. Today, the Hermès Bespoke division continues to respond to clients’ requests and create unique objects with unique designs, the finest materials and craftsmanship techniques. For a 1920 Voisin the studio created a water-proof leather for the open car. The Sur-Mesure team added a harness to close the trunk and side pockets. The seats, obviously, were done in leather. Another Bugatti got an exquisite white leather for its interiors while a majestic black Lagonda got a darker shade of orange leather that has a fine shine to it.

In a conversation with Forbes India, Axel de Beaufort speaks about customising the McLaren and what it takes to customise such one-of-a-kind super luxury cars, yachts and other objects.

What does the process of customising cars and other such projects entail? How long does it take from start to finish?

For car projects, we usually we go to the manufacturer, look at the design, create a plan together and once the vehicle is being built, the manufacturer sends us different pieces of the car to work on and finish in our workshop. Then they are returned for final assembly.

In the case of the above-mentioned McLaren Speedtail, the car was sent to our atelier in Pantin, France, and we worked on it in the workshop for several months. We wanted to make this fully carbon-fibre (the high-tech material the car is made of) machine feel warmer and more welcoming by putting fabric and leather elements where they wouldn’t normally be found. We have used two-tone aniline leather for the car’s three seats, which will age beautifully with time and acquire a patina. We also upholstered parts of the interior with a cream-coloured fabric, and redesigned the blue of the exterior of the car with a blue inspired from the colour of an Hermès leather. It took several months to reach the right shade. Our attention is drawn to parts like the ventilation grille and many details that have been carefully worked upon in a way that it does not affect the performance of the car.

What lengths do you go to to source the right texture and colour of the leather for every project?

We always turn to Hermès signature techniques and processes that are distinct to the brand. These include the special technique of processing leather, which is used for our bags as well, and our signature saddle stitching technique, which comes from Hermès’ origins as a harness and saddle maker. We always work with materials of the highest quality and projects are built in dialogue with the client as we strive to satisfy their wishes.

The Hermes' Sur-Mesure workshop is like a laboratory where the designers and craftsmen try to explore more possibilities with every object and find solutions in line with the Hermès DNA and standards
Image:  Maxime Horlaville

How long does it take to customise a product?

There are currently more than 30 people in our team, including artisans, designers, engineers, and project managers. We follow the same process in creating bespoke objects, whether a car, a handbag or an airplane. The main difference is time and techniques.

The entire team brainstorms and discusses the project, how to innovate something and find solutions to be able to meet the creative vision of the client by employing the highest standards of craftsmanship. It usually takes a year from the first discussion to the delivery of the object, but it can also take longer for large projects like boats or planes.

What challenges do you face in working on and customising varied high-value objects?

We have the best designers and craftsmen, innovative ideas, resources, exceptional know-how and techniques. Our workshops are like a laboratory where we try to explore more possibilities with every object. If we encounter challenges during the production process, our designers and craftsmen work together to find solutions in line with the Hermès DNA and standards of creation and quality.

For large projects like cars, planes or boats, the client is, of course, an integral part of all our discussions. We love to design different leathers for every project. For boat projects we always develop unique solutions of leather that have a fine balance between technical resistance (like water resistance or sun resistance), and soft and natural touch, like any other Hermès leather products.

For cars, I believe that the most important thing is to be discreet. How can we make a car that is already beautiful more beautiful? For a classic car, it is essential that we do not lose the spirit of the time it was from. And for contemporary vehicles it is necessary to find a way to work with the technical limitations. We pursue ‘functional beauty’, one that is derived from functionality. We are not simply creating something beautiful.

(Clockwise from top left) The Bugatti Chiron has Hermès’ Craie shade, the highly coveted ‘chalk’ or off-white colour. Image: Alexis Goure; (Bottom left) The team has used a two-tone aniline leather for the Speedtail’s three seats, which will age beautifully with time and acquire a patina
Image: Maxime Horlaville

What’s next at the studio?

Each year we create capsule collections to inspire our clients and show them the wide range of possibilities. Keeping in tune with the current times, we created a new wooden bike made of laminated ash wood this year. It is aesthetically pleasing, practical and sustainable in its spirit. And to go with it, we have created a foldable cabin that you can pull behind the bike. It’s our idea of the new way of camping. We called it the love cabin for fun, and there’s a lot more to come!

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