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April 19 2014

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1 posts tagged "Koto Bolofo"

Hermès Unzipped, With Koto Bolofo

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During the seven years that photographer Koto Bolofo spent documenting the sacred inner workings at the Hermès headquarters, hardly anyone (even Hermès insiders) knew what he was up to. Like a fly on the wall, he spent his days and nights trailing the craftsmen as they made the Kelly bag and the silk scarves that have come to be synonymous with the historic French brand. At last, in July, he unveiled his epic 11-volume tome La Maison (Steidl). The books, which individually break down the 11 different departments, are an ode to the incredible skill that goes into making every single item. On Wednesday, 33 of the photos will be on display for an exhibit running through September 30 at the Hermès flagship store on Madison Avenue. Here, the passionate lensman talks to Style.com about photographing the craft of Hermès.

You gained unparalleled access to the inner workings of Hermès. How did you manage to do that?
It really is the magic question. I arranged a meeting with Jean-Louis Dumas (the chairman of Hermès at the time)—he had never met me. The work I showed him had nothing to do with craft. They were my personal pictures of flowers, sand, wave motions, and such and he said he liked my work. Then, I told him that Hermès is going nowhere. You have to let the ordinary person know—what is Hermès? How do you make a bag or a shoe? I was really giving it deep to him. I told him, “You have come to the end of the line. You can’t just hide the secret of these elaborately well-made bags. It’s about time to show somebody.”

Wow, that was bold. How did he respond to that?
He stopped me and said, “Excuse me, Koto, where exactly are you from?” It felt like an immigration question. I said, “South Africa.” He was very stunned. It was then that we figured out that my tribe in Lesotho had protected his great, great grandfather from the Zulu attacks. “Therefore, you, Koto, are cousin of mine and you are the only person in this company who can call me Jean-Louis,” he said to me. “Plus, you have carte blanche to do anything you want.” It was like winning the photographic lottery. Immediately, I knew I wanted to start with shoes. I told him, “With the shoe, we can walk together, and then we can do the saddle, and we will ride together.”

What prompted you to want to document the craftsmanship at Hermès in such painstaking detail?
Basically, I had been working for Hermès as a freelance photographer for about ten years. I was doing Le Monde d’Hermès—a nice elegant brochure, and I got bored. I was more interested to find out who made these things. Within Hermès, I felt something was not going forward but rather, around the same thing, and there was a complacency. When you have these luxurious brands, they take it for granted that things will always stay this way. I am a person who sees things need to move on. Continue Reading “Hermès Unzipped, With Koto Bolofo” »