Inside Job

14th November 2019

A workshop in the industrial suburb of Pantin in Paris is a dream factory where the bespoke division of luxury brand Hermès creates the ultimate car interiors, from a 1930s Voisin to a contemporary Bugatti Chiron.

Words by James Collard

  • Goodwood Estate

  • goodwood newsletter

  • Goodwood news

  • Goodwood Magazine

restored-1935-avions-voisin-c28.jpg

The first sight that greets visitors to the Hermès Bespoke workshop in Paris is a rare automotive beauty – an Avions Voisin C28 Aérosport from 1935, the year Gabriel Voisin unveiled the model at the Paris Auto Salon. Rare, because although the Aérosport’s good looks and technological innovations met with a chorus of approval at the show, Voisin was launching this most luxe of vehicles in a depressed market. Shortly afterwards, his car-making business folded (although his gifted young designer, André Lefèbvre, would go on to achieve great things at Citroën, including the DS, the Traction Avant and the corrugated HY van). So just ten Aérosports were made, and this is one of only two that are thought to have survived. It has quite literally been through the wars – or war, to be precise – acquiring a bullet-hole or two during the Occupation.

aluncallenderphoto_goodwood_hermes_016_0003.jpg

But today we see it restored to prime, concours-ready condition, its body refashioned by specialist coachbuilders and its interior re-crafted by none other than Hermès. For although this French luxury house is better known for turning out beautiful headscarves, or, with the Birkin and the Kelly, handbags so iconic and finely crafted that they’re collectables, here at Hermès Bespoke they will also create a custom car interior. Or pretty much anything else. Standing beside the Aérosport – in an area where clients meet with the Bespoke team and peruse plans and books of swatches – there are two Yahama motorbikes, their leather parts customised by the  house. There are also two handsome, super-light, carbonframed bicycles designed by Hermès itself – the jauntily named Le Flâneur and Le Flâneur Sportif – which wouldn’t stay locked up for long if left outside where I live in East London. There’s a surfboard and some skateboards – a playful mix of streetstyle and Parisian luxe. And there are more wonders in the making inside the workshop itself, which is an airy, doubleheight, light-filled studio.

aluncallenderphoto_goodwood_hermes_019_0033.jpg

Sadly, we’ve just missed a Bugatti Royale from the 1920s, the era when Hermès, which had already been making bespoke bridles and saddlery for almost a century, turned its highlyskilled hands to automotive interiors and accoutrements. But a craftswoman is checking beautiful, off-white cow hides for imperfections before they find their way into the interior of a new Bugatti Chiron. And there are also two canoes that are works in progress – traditional in style and shape, but with cutting-edge materials making up their hulls, which are awaiting some of that lovely Hermès leather for the detailing. 

And the cost of a custom Hermès canoe? Or an interior for your Bugatti, new or classic? Or for your private jet, perhaps? “We don’t like to talk about cost,” Christophe Beltrando, the MD of Hermès Bespoke, tells me in the context of the workshop’s automotive projects. And in truth, if you need to know how much a brand-new Hermès canoe would set you back, then you probably need to steel yourself to the idea of getting through life without one.

Rather than churning out one product, day in, day out, they work on an ever-changing roster of challenges, at the end of which is something beautiful – something any artisan would be proud of.

“It’s a dream,” says Eugenio Fadini, the man who, as production coordinator for the workshop, finds himself managing a space that produces any or all of the above, often simultaneously. And perhaps this is a kind of dream factory, producing extraordinary things for clients with the wherewithal and the imagination and the desire for them. And as Beltrando points out, for many of the clients, the process – the choosing of different designs or fabrics or leathers, the consultations about design and options, the banter with the artisans and the joy of seeing of it all come together – is part of the pleasure. Fun, I suggest. “Yes, if they like this kind of fun.”

aluncallenderphoto_goodwood_hermes_033_0097.jpg
aluncallenderphoto_goodwood_hermes_040_0114.jpg

It’s also clear that this team of engineers and designers and specialist craftsmen also enjoy working at Hermès Bespoke, the heart of the house’s bespoke division. Why wouldn’t they? Rather than churning out one product in a production line, day in, day out, you work on an ever-changing roster of fascinating challenges, at the end of which is something beautiful, like that Voisin interior, something any artisan would be proud of. 

Each project calls for different approaches, materials and collaborators with tailored skill-sets. These are drawn mostly from within the Hermès group, which includes everything from saddlers – still making saddles in the garrets above the Hermès flagship store on the swanky Rue du Faubourg-Saint- Honoré – to silk-makers and watchmakers or masters of crystal and fine porcelain production. But occasionally Horizons also turns to carefully sourced outside experts, such as a canoe maker, for example. And alongside all of this, there is the allimportant interaction with the client, who will very often be a connoisseur of the kind of piece being commissioned, or of the marque of the classic car they are having restored. And if the commission is for a new Bugatti or Rolls-Royce, for example, the team at Hermès Bespoke will work closely with their peers at those brands to factor in exactly what is possible and what is compatible within health and safety legislation.

Jordan Beaurianne, Christophe Beltrando and Eugenio Fadini study plans for another restoration project

Jordan Beaurianne, Christophe Beltrando and Eugenio Fadini study plans for another restoration project

Jordan savours the opportunity to work on classic cars, “because you get to see the craftsmanship of the people who worked on them a century ago. That’s wonderful”

Highly skilled leatherworker Jordan Beaurianne has worked on many of the workshop’s automotive projects. He enjoys the challenges that these always present, he says, but particularly  savours the opportunity to work on classic cars, “because the car is here in the workshop, which doesn’t happen with the new models. And you get to see the craftsmanship of the people who worked on these cars a century ago. That’s wonderful.”

Highly skilled leatherworker Jordan Beaurianne at work

Highly skilled leatherworker Jordan Beaurianne at work

But all this dream-making must be, I suggest to Beltrando, a bit of a nightmare in terms of production and logistics and such workaday things as project scope, project management workflow – and understanding just when Hermès Bespoke will need to call upon particular materials, or the craftspeople best qualified to use them, or how they can align their own timetables with those of clients and other luxury businesses such as Rolls-Royce or Bugatti. 

This way of working requires a completely different approach to time-management. Take the 1930s Bugatti: the client was offered two options for the fabric lining its interior – something contemporary and entirely new from Hermès, or a precise replica of the original fabric, recreated by Hermès’ experts from a small fragment. He chose the latter. Or another example: just how long does it take – and how long should it take – to turn out a luxury canoe? 

“This is a question facing any craftsman,” Fadini insists. “I guess we’re doing the same, only with a car here, a plane there.” Or, as Beltrando puts it: “Any object has a lot of constraints. How do you handle quality or design when you just make one object? How do you handle time? What is the right balance of all the constraints? This is what real bespoke is.”

This article was taken from the Autumn 2019 edition of the Goodwood Magazine.

  • Goodwood Estate

  • goodwood newsletter

  • Goodwood news

  • Goodwood Magazine

  • hen-party-goodwood-magazine-2.jpg

    Stories from the Estate

    Hen Party

  • bruce.jpg

    Stories from the Estate

    Say Cheese

  • stirling-moss-ready.jpg

    Stories from the Estate

    The name's Moss… Stirling Moss