They flew in to Paris from every corner of the world, many in planes with private cabins designed just for them and their entourages, which included handlers, grooming experts and doctors. Their luggage for the quick trip would put any serious fashion plate to shame.
I speak not of members of the nouveau jet-set, but rather, horses, those gallant creatures who were the stars of the most recent Saut Hermès au Grand Palais, the annual horse jumping competition, now in its eighth year, which took place over three days last month in the city of light.
There was a time when these animals were a part of everyday life in Paris. Now, horses are more commonly seen as the subjects of statuary and paintings. They stand in stone in the city's squares or are depicted in oil on canvas in Paris's most famous museums. For Hermès, which has outfitted horses since 1837, the animals remain a central inspiration for just about everything the company creates, including this major jumping event.
"I had this sensation that I could smell manure in Le Grand Palais, and I laughed," says Pierre-Alexis Dumas, a sixth-generation Hermès family member and artistic director of the company. "It was born out of a dream, a dream that makes sense for Hermès, because we managed to bring it back to our roots," he said during the event. "We have to know where we come from. Our point of view is about the craft of making harnesses and saddles."
Occupying part of a private floor above Hermès' famed Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré flagship is an area once used as an office by Dumas's great grandfather Émile Hermès. It now houses an impressive collection of objets d'art and horse-related accoutrements that he amassed during his lifetime. Exotic saddles, elaborate stirrups and spurs aplenty are on display. The items recount the story of the horse and its relationship to people, and the collection provides ample inspiration for what the company creates today. The saddles and harnesses the company started making some 175 years ago are still very much in production, and according to master saddle maker Laurent Goblet, they're made much the same way they were back then.
"We have a know-how that is unrelated to fashion; it's a transmission of knowledge from one craftsman to another," Goblet said when we spoke at the Grand Palais. Today, he says, saddle makers – himself included – work closely with riders. "We don't make a saddle and put it in the window," he said to me as a craftsman at a workbench nearby demonstrated his expertise.
Dumas also spoke of the company's commitment to young talent; the passing on of craft is just one element of that, but it's also about the inclusion of the next generation of horse jumpers and the sport's enthusiasts at this annual event. One such phenom, Ben Asselin, was representing Canada at this year's edition. The 23-year-old Calgary-based jumper is one to watch on the international horse jumping scene.
The marquee event of the weekend was Sunday afternoon's Grand Prix. Just three riders on well-bred horses made it into the final jump-off: Penelope Leprevost, who rode for France, Bertram Allen, who rode for Ireland, and Edwina Tops-Alexander, who, riding for Australia, took the top prize.
Surrounding the course was a scene unto itself: Champagne and guests oozing refined French style were in abundance, and members of the Hermès family and clients of the brand were out in full force. On the Saturday evening, another event went well into the night, with live music, a DJ and more bubbly.
Out and about at Le Grand Palais over the action-packed weekend: Hermès CEO Axel Dumas; Petit H artistic director Pascale Mussard; Olivier Ginon, chairman of GL events; Anne-Sarah Panhard, general manager of Hermès France and president of Saut Hermès; Olivier Gabet, director of Musée des Arts Décoratifs de Paris; Guillaume de Seynes, Hermès' executive vice president, manufacturing division and equity investments; man about Paris Michael Coste; and a Canadian contingent including Trivial Pursuit co-founder John Haney and his wife, author Velvet; writer Karen Ashbee and Dr. Paul Salo; decorator Lee Wells; and Hermès Canada CEO Jennifer Carter and her husband Michael Cassels.
Nolan Bryant travelled to Paris as a guest of Hermès. The company did not review or approve this article prior to publication.
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