Outer space is closer than you think – inside the Hermes building at Orchard Road's Liat Towers, to be specific.
The top two floors of the French fashion house's flagship store have been transformed into a space-exploration inspired playground, for the Petit h collection and showcase this month.
From Friday (Nov 22) to Dec 15, the travelling showcase that is part-design, part-retail, returns to Singapore for its second edition – six years after Petit h first came here.
A workshop of Hermes, Petit h is presented two to three times a year in various cities. Once called a "joyous response to sustainable development", the collection of lifestyle products that include furniture and home furnishings has always had recycling at its heart. It was founded in 2010 by Ms Pascale Mussard, a sixth-generation descendant of the French luxury brand's founder Thierry Hermes, who tutted at the waste produced in the Hermes workshops around the world.
Due to stringent quality checks, unused materials ranged from leftover leather trimmed from the brand's bags, to excess materials and whole porcelain cups with the tiniest of defects. Under Petit h, they were upcycled into whimsical new objects dreamt up by external designers and internal craftsmen.
Mr Godefroy de Virieu used to be one of those designers. The 49-year-old took over as Petit h's creative director last year, on Ms Mussard's invitation when she stepped down from her role.
It has been daunting filling such big shoes, he told The Straits Times at a preview of the exhibition. "There is (a lot of) pressure, it is true. But Pascale has built this garden, and the best thing I can do is to continue her story," he says, adding that the former creative director still likes to follow the project and has her eye on it.
Not many can claim to rise from an external collaborator to heading the artistic direction of an Hermes workshop. It is a dream for him, says Mr de Virieu. "These designers and artists are my new materials – with (their) ideas I need to tell stories as I did before with objects."
The Petit h studio champions "creation in reverse" – where designers brainstorm pieces based on the materials in front of them, unlike how Hermes and other fashion houses come up with a product idea first before reaching for fabrics.
For this collection in Singapore, the objects retail from $105 for a badge and prices can run into six figures.
One of the pieces this year, Mr de Virieu's own design from 10 years ago, is a leather mushroom paperweight fashioned from various types of leather, including those with natural wrinkles, that would ordinarily have been thrown away. The wrinkles perfectly mimicked the texture of mushroom caps, he explains.
Just as the process of creation is in reverse, so was that of curating the pieces for the Singapore stop. A local scenographer was selected to design the setup first, before the products were chosen to complement the space.
The role went to Singaporean industrial designer Olivia Lee, 34, who has previously worked with the house to design windows at their Marina Bay Sands and Takashimaya stores.
Mr de Virieu was impressed by her affinity for the project. "It was like she was telling (what Petit h was) better than us. I was really moved by that because it means the product works," he says.
Ms Lee says:"How I describe Petit h within the world of Hermes is they're kind of like explorers or astronauts who arrive, and take a different perspective on the same materials; there is co-existence."
With this she devised Planet H – a Mars-like scenography with earth the uncanny colour of Hermes-orange. Ms Lee describes her creation as a planet that worships materials, with the Petit h pieces as artefacts of this civilisation tastefully scattered around.
Here, tiny "aliens" excavate raw materials – bits of fabric, buttons. The story continues on the fourth floor, transformed into a futuristic spaceship setup where the raw materials are turned into new objects.
The laboratory is supposed to mirror Petit h's reputation as a lab for creativity and R&D, says Ms Lee. Bits of the space also parallel Singapore's development story. On the fourth floor, "alien-looking plants" were strategically displayed as an ode to vertical farming here.
"Actually there are a lot of parallels when I thought of Petit h and Singapore – both are sort of working under constraints in terms of resources, and they become very ingenious in the way they utilise the resources given to them. And they're able to translate that into something bigger than what they are."
It all ties back to building a dream, adds Mr de Virieu. "With Petit h, we don't know where we are going – we dream of objects starting from the thing we have in our hands."
Written by Amanda Chai for The Straits Times.
Photos by Jovian Lim.