How the high-fashion brand Hermès stole this year’s first show in Geneva.
At Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, the watches are only part of the celebration. There’s the people, the vibe, the scenery—and, of course, the displays. Watch companies go bonkers at the annual trade show, wheeling in ornate props and jumbo signage, effectively staging grandiose pop-ups inside Palexpo Center in Geneva. Hermès, which made its SIHH debut this year, has clearly been taking notes. The brand didn’t just show up. It made a scene. Literally.
Credit goes to RDAI, the Paris-based architecture studio that created a custom atrium for Hermès at the show. Also to Levi van Veluw, the award-winning Dutch artist who designed the installations inside. Van Veluw, 33, is known for his layered wood carvings, intricate and geometric compositions that often incorporate beads and filigree and colorfully painted elements. He previously collaborated with Hermès on a series of acclaimed window displays, installed at boutiques in Shanghai and New York, in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
But working within the confines of a trade event, and RDAI’s atrium, meant rethinking the approach yet again—something that became apparent to van Veluw during the early sketching phase and that informed the final product.
“I discovered the idea of making a fragmented sculpture through the limitations of drawing a perfect cube, which eventually became part of the [SIHH] installation’s overall concept,” van Veluw says. “The shapes are still symmetrical, but the way they form the overall sculpture is totally random and asymmetrical. It has something playful to it that naturally occurs when making a drawing.”
The resulting chamber-like centerpiece, called “The Alchemist,” was a standout at Palexpo. It featured a blocky, canary-colored exterior, with an explosion of blue-lacquered wood flotsam inside.
“It highlights the paradox of something complex that looks easy,” van Veluw says. “The inside is not a watchmaker’s atelier. It is instead chaos. Watchmaking gives the image of an industry that seeks perfection, where everything is always clean-cut. But I believe that no great idea, no strong innovation, arises from perfection. I instead think that chaos is key. And chaos is what I wanted to express inside. Like the mind of the watchmaker, full of ideas.”
SIHH showgoers were invited to step into the chamber, the bottom of which was transparent; you were actually stepping onto glass placed above the floor, giving the impression of floating. The new Hermès Carré H wristwatches were displayed in various stages of assembly.
“I put them in the center, as if they were the beating heart of the mechanism,” says Van Veluw. “Your gaze is drawn toward the watches thanks to the use of fascinating shapes like spirals.”
Nine original van Veluw window displays surrounded “The Alchemist,” rounding out the French fashion house’s watershed exhibition area.
“I wanted [the display] to be in harmony with the pavilion’s architecture, so it would not be aggressive” he explains. “I prefer people to be drawn by my art, rather than driven away by something impressive and arrogant.”