Amid a sea of Kellys, Birkins, and generally all things Hermès, a truly elite crowd of clients and onlookers showed up at Paris’ Grand Palais Ephemère overlooking the Eiffel Tower to take in the French luxury company’s annual show jumping competition, Saut Hermès.
The five-star event is known for bringing in the world’s top riders and horses. And lest the breathless jockeying for the Maison’s handbags has made you forget, Hermès originally made its name on the quality of its saddles. Just above its headquarters on the rue du Faubourg, there is even a private museum (for employees only) dedicated to horse riding with historical artifacts collected throughout time by the Hermès family descendants. So, to celebrate its 13th edition of the show, the company used the moment to debut its newest saddle, the Selle Rouge, with longtime Hermès rider and Olympic medalist, Jérôme Guery and his horse, Cristel.
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Three years in the making, the Selle Rouge was developed by Guery and Hermès by perfecting its design over time through a series of trials and tweaks. The process involved discussions with saddle experts and artisans and numerous tests in the field to improve every technical detail. Unlike its predecessors—the Vivace, known for a flatter seat for riders who prefer to lean forward and be on their feet, or the Cavalle, which features a medium deep seat that is a bit more centered and subtle—the Selle Rouge is distinct for its ultra-deep contour allowing for the rider to be closer to the horse. “The saddle is really the connection between the horse and the rider,” Guery told Robb Report. “And for me, and I think for all riders, it’s really good to be as close as possible to the horse.”
Certain details had to be engineered in order to enhance that connection. The tree, which is the backbone of the saddle, is thinner above the withers of the horse. Unlike its other saddles, the Selle Rouge leaves some of the tree exposed from the back for an elegant design touch that also allows the house to show off its craftsmanship. “That’s something we really wanted to show: the know-how of the house, because everything is hidden in the saddle,” says Chloé Nobecourt, director of the Hermès equestrian métier. “And actually, we say it’s true for all Hermès objects, that they are as beautiful inside as out and that’s what we call quality at Hermès. We wanted to reveal that to the rider and the client.”
So, who is the client? Nobecourt says the saddles are not just for professional riders, although they are designed to be suitable for the highest level of the sport. “You can be an amateur rider and depending on how your ride, you will find your preference among our saddles,” she says. At the show, there was a mix of serious riding clients, as well as some well-heeled VIPs who don’t even ride but happen to own a fleet of horses that they outfit in Hermès. But for those that do plan to actually purchase one for personal use, Guery says that the material and the feeling of an Hermès saddle is so elevated that the difference between other saddle makers is huge. In fact, the way he talks about the saddle you would think he was talking about his horse. “It’s really good,” he says. “She’s not only really good, she’s also really beautiful. I say ‘she’ because it’s like a person.”
Guery isn’t the first Hermès-sponsored rider to help create a saddle. In 2013, Simon Delestre helped design the Cavale and six years later, the Cavale II. In 2016, dressage rider, Jessica von Bredow-Werndl consulted on the construction of the Vivace. “We provide material, but we also really expect our riders to give feedback,” says Nobecourt. “I would say the rider is the mind behind the saddle, the one who has the feeling. The saddle experts are the eyes that translate what the rider is saying into something that is useful to the craftsmen, which are the hands. So it’s really a collaboration.”
That expertise and artisanal touch is something Hermès takes seriously and sees as a long-term ambition. The company is expanding its saddle-making operations beyond its Faubourg workshop with a new atelier opening next month in Normandy, France’s horse country. “The vitality of the métier is good and while Faubourg is a beautiful gem, it can’t get much bigger so we needed to have another workshop,” says Nobecourt. “Hermès is about transmission and this is about how we can transmit this know-how from our saddlemakers, who have been with us for 30 to 40 years, to younger generations of saddlemakers.”