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Hermès Celebrates Its Master Artisans

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Valerie Steele and Phillip Lim   
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Maroquinier. Confectionneur de cravates. Imprimeur sur soie. Dessinateur. On the occasion of its 175th anniversary and with its name in the news thanks to an ongoing legal dispute with LVMH, Hermès invited some of its top French artisans to New York for a Festival des Métiers last night. Clients like Estée Lauder heiress Aerin Lauder and NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon gathered at 583 Park Avenue to meet the craftsmen, who wore leather aprons that were objects to covet in their own right, and to swap stories about their first Hermès bags.

For Dr. Lisa Airan, it was a black Birkin 40. "Believe it or not, it was actually in the store, on the shelf. You'd never see that anywhere now," she said. "If you're a girl that loves fashion, having a Birkin is a big deal." One that, due to high demand, you now have to wait for. Phillip Lim remembered falling in love with an old briefcase by the luxury goods maker before he knew what Hermès was. "I pronounced it 'her mess,' " he said. Lim makes no such mistake these days. His tip: The best Hermès gifts are the wool horse blankets—less than $500 and an impressively massive box.

The one person who wasn't talking was Claude Gandrille, a Frenchman who's worked for the company in New York since 1973, first as a bag maker at the brand's outpost at Bonwit Teller and eventually in customer relations at the Madison Avenue flagship. Pressed for details on exacting customers and exotic requests, he just shook his head. "I'm sorry, I can't say," he said. Discretion is also part of Hermès' charm.

The Festival des Métiers is open to the public through September 9.

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