Images: The Straits Times; Edward Hendricks, James Bort, Mark Cheong 
Hermes bags (above) on display at Leather Forever

You may know what you put in your $13,600 Birkin bag (wallet, keys, phone, duh), but do you know what went into making it?

Leather Forever, an exhibition by luxury brand Hermes, inventor of the Birkin, can help.

The display, opening to the public on Sunday and running until Dec 13 at the ArtScience Museum, hopes to help visitors understand the history, influences and craftsmanship of the French brand, which dates back more than 170 years.

More than 200 Hermes items have travelled the world since 2010, with Singapore the eighth country to host the exhibition – after cities such as Rome, Madrid and Tokyo.

“The exhibition tells the story of the relationship between Hermes and leather. Focusing on savoir faire, the love for beautiful objects and constant innovation,” says

Ms Catherine Fulconis, 54, managing director of leather goods and saddlery for the company.

Besides Hermes bags through the decades, the show also highlights a room full of special orders.

There is, for instance, a wheelbarrow covered in black varnished calfskin, commissioned in 1949 by Edward, the Duke of Windsor, as a gift for his wife Wallis Simpson.

Craftsmen from Hermes’ Parisian workshops will demonstrate the art of leather-working, creating some of its iconic bags, such as the Kelly and the Jypsiere, on site.


 The five Kellydoll bags created for each decade of Singapore’s independence

The 50-day exhibition also celebrates Singapore’s golden jubilee.

Hermes has created five versions of the Kellydoll bag, a miniature cartoon-like purse that has a smiling face and arms, in honour of each decade of Singapore’s independence.

Each design pays homage to the gardens of Singapore, featuring precious skins such as crocodile and ostrich. One has embroidered butterflies and another is inspired by urban landscapes.

All have an element of fantasy, says Ms Fulconis: “They are really the expression of both skill and creativity.”

Hermes hopes to organise a private charity auction of the five Kellydoll bags after the exhibition.

The exhibition at the ArtScience Museum is accompanied by the Little Room Of Wanders at the Asian Civilisations Museum, just a short drive away.

The capsule collection, held in conjunction with Leather Forever, holds paintings, equestrian objects and historical artefacts from the Emile Hermes museum in Paris’ Faubourg Saint-Honore.

The museum holds the private collection of Emile Hermes, grandson of the label’s founder Thierry Hermes. Comprising almost 15,000 items, the museum is open by private appointment only.

Past visitors include Queen Elizabeth, actress Audrey Hepburn and the Sultan of Selangor.

This marks the first time so many items from the museum – more than 100 – have been shown in public outside Paris.

“Because the collection is very special, just like how you do not show your heart to everybody, Hermes does not show its soul to everybody,” says Ms Menehould de Bazelaire, 57, Hermes’ director of cultural patrimony.

“It is a way to share with Singapore our love for history, our secrets of the past which help us to face the future.”

On what she hopes Singaporeans will take away from the exhibitions, she says: “We hope that guests will become just like children here. That they will have the childhood spirit, to be amazed, to have fun and have pleasure.”

Hermes joins the trend of luxury brands, including Chanel and Louis Vuitton, holding exhibitions to brand their creations as art and make themselves more accessible to the public.

Chanel’s Mademoiselle Prive exhibition, on at London’s Saatchi Gallery until Nov 1, charts the history of the French couture house.

Earlier this month, Louis Vuitton’s Series 3 exhibition highlighted the inspiration behind the brand’s fall 2015 collection at 180 The Strand, also in London.

This story was first published in the Straits Times on October 24, 2015. For similar stories, head to www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle.