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PARIS -- Hermes has turned window shopping for handbags and saddles and suitcases into high art.

Recently, the luxury design house opened a free exhibition at the Grand Palais museum to celebrate the pastime of looking at -- but not buying -- goods in store windows. The exhibition consists of eight fantasy shop window displays created by Leila Menchari, the Tunisian-born queen of design who reigned over the picture windows at the Hermes flagship on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore from 1978 to 2013.

"Hermes wouldn't be Hermes without Leila," Axel Dumas, the chief executive of the luxury house, said at the opening.

"Hermes a Tire d'Aile: Les Mondes de Leila Menchari" (Hermes Takes Flight: The Worlds of Leila Menchari) was sponsored by the brand, and it comes at the same time as the unveiling of the annual Christmas window displays at the grand department stores: Galeries Lafayette, Le Bon Marche, Printemps. It also echoes a similar exhibition of Menchari's window displays at L'Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris in 2010.

But Dumas brushed off suggestions that this exhibition was a commercial promotion. "Her windows were accessible and free for anyone who passed by," he said. "The exhibition is free."

Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the artistic director of Hermes, said: "More than anything else, we wanted to pay homage to Leila and her work for Hermes. We could not leave out our brand because we cannot separate Leila and her career from our house."

The Hermes pieces in the exhibit are one-of-a-kind works of art and not for sale. (The same was true when Menchari was creating her windows: Most of the pieces that Hermes artisans were assigned to make for them were never for sale.)

Each display in the exhibition is constructed as an intimate open stage, on a larger scale than an actual Hermes window, but without a barrier of glass that would have created distance from the viewer.

One display, based on a window in 2011, features a horse sculpture of stainless steel and tawny brown leather pieces by the French sculptor Christian Renonciat; it is flanked by matching silver and brown leather-trimmed suitcases.

Another display in shades of white and pale cream evokes India, with an elaborate antique carved wooden screen and a marble fountain from Rajasthan, two marble panels from Jaipur showing Indian women holding lotus flowers and seven Hermes handbags of different sizes. It is inspired by a window from 2008.

A third display includes several intricately hand-carved animal heads from Indonesia against a woven Tunisian backdrop. Exotic dried pods and leaves spill onto the floor. A saddle was embroidered with silk threads and pearls to look as if it had been made with leopard skin; other pieces were made to resemble wild animal skins.

The exhibition coincides with the release of Leila Menchari, Queen of Enchantment, a book published in French and English by Actes Sud and Hermes.

High Profile on 11/26/2017

Print Headline: The soul of Hermes, through window panes

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