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A square of beauty. Interview with Bali Barret

At 12 she had a Hermès carré (from her mother, or perhaps hers) that she liked very much, so much so that of that scarf with brushes and colors she reproduced the design – keys in gold and black – on a trunk she had in her room … That which for Bali Barret then was, he says, the pastime of a certain era, today it is his world: since 2009 she is in fact the artistic director of the female universe of Hermès, and on that square of happiness she composes the geometries of life between imaginary worlds, nature, objects, characters and stories.

A luxury object, calling it a simple scarf is really an understatement, the Carré comes to life in 1937, and from the first example “Jeu des omnibus et dame blanches” there are more than 2500 designs imprinted on silk in various formats: the “classic” one is 90×90 , then there are the giant, 140×140; the pocket square, 45×45 cm; vintage, 70×70 cm; bandana, 55×55 cm and even rectangular with the twilly in the size 5×86 cm; the maxi-twilly 160×20 cm and, recently added, the twillon in the size 193×3 cm.

Interview with Bali Barret
Interview with Bali Barret

Since then, the Carré has become an essential detail of style, immediately recognizable and extremely flexible – scarves, belts, sarongs, tops – that Barret has known well and with whom he has worked since Pierre-Alexis Dumas (artistic director of Hermès) in 2003. asks to design a collection. But let’s start from the beginning.

«I grew up in Paris in a bourgeois family, from quite different parents. A very serious banker father, who passed on to me the classic part of my education, French culture, music, beautiful furniture, book collections, if we want to talk about the aesthetic side of things. My mother was more avant-garde, emancipated, free already in the 70s, she opened the doors of contemporary art, photography, design, fashion to me. I therefore received a double culture, and today I consider academism very important, it helps me in creativity, for me it is synonymous with precision, experience, balance ».

Growing up with the haste to become an adult, in order to finally be able to choose what to do, at eighteen she was already working, «a little randomly, internship, assistant stylist for women’s fashion, and then I drew, I painted on fabric. This has been the case for a few years, I liked it and I learned a lot. I was among people who ‘knew’, I watched everything, I was a sponge. I understood then that this profession is learned by ‘doing’. Ideas are important in creation, of course, but you need to know how to implement them. So I learned patiently, this was the goal ».

Until in 1998 he created his brand, by deduction, looking at what others were doing but doing what he wanted to do. “It was extremely instructive. I learned what money is, how a structure, a team works, how to make a dress … an enrichment, even if very tiring ».

In 2003, the close encounter with Pierre-Alexis Dumas, who asked her to design a Carré collection. “I felt a certain familiarity with the brand, I didn’t know exactly what, maybe because I’m Parisian, maybe because I had always had Hermès objects next to me since I was a child, a scarf, a tie, a watch … And then I felt close to their approach: discreet perfectionism, the detail of a workmanship, the marvel of the finish … For Dumas the Carré needed a renewal. It was considered a very classic accessory and a small electric shock was needed to change its perception. I was suddenly catapulted onto a playground different from mine, new, just what I am looking for in life, a real challenge. Her brief was: do exactly what you think is right, use the materials you like, take the designers you want, draw yourself. He gave me carte blanche, with one condition: one must understand immediately that it is a Carré Hermès. So I went around the silk workshops, studied the archives, assimilated what interested me. I put it all together and I shaken it ».

Carré 90 cm, double face, Della Cavalleria Favolosa, in silk twill. Hermès @ Studio des Fleurs (recto).

How do you recognize a Carré Hermès? «An easy and difficult question at the same time. I would say that the first thing is silk. We have a beautiful silk. It has a very particular shine and texture, which are always identifiable. We are not the only ones who make silk twill but ours is perhaps the most beautiful. Secondly I would say the composition in the square, the Carré has a difficult shape but it is very interesting from the compositional point of view. Then the precision of the details, such as hand finishing with our rolled edge, and the incredible vocabulary of color (over 75 thousand shades, note). And generosity: we still dare to apply 40 colors on a single piece! ».

It takes two years to make a Carré. The drawing phase takes between three and six months, from the white sheet to the full color. Then for six months and a year for the engraving, that is the decomposition of the drawing, level after level as in a serigraphy. In Lyon there are engravers who redesign everything by hand in order to then associate the colors. Then the printing frames are made and the Carré are colored thanks to a team of colorists, and this takes another six months. Rehearsals, corrections and improvements are made. With a palette of 10 to 12 color variations for each Carré.

Is the Carré still current today? «Yes, because it is universal, it is worn at any age. It is an eclectic object, a large variegated basket of more traditional themes – horse riding, horses, bridles – as well as comics created by a young designer. There are all forms of writing, and color is a means of linking them together, the winning weapon that allows you to reconcile the various languages. The Carré is a messenger, it allows us to tell stories in a narrative, illustrative but also in a more abstract, more geometric way, there are a thousand ways. It contains an intent, a speech, it is the world of the imaginary and wants designers who have this predisposition, this ability to dream, to tell … simply. They are poets … All different, but all with this ability, and then with a passion for drawing that borders on madness. When one has a passion, he is a little crazy, isn’t he? And this madness unites us, our needs don’t seem crazy for them, if anything, when they consider them crazy, it means that something is wrong! ».

Carré 90 cm, double face, Della Cavalleria Favolosa, in silk twill. Hermès @ Studio des Fleurs (verso).

Every year there are at least 15 new designs, each Carré has a dozen color combinations and each collection has new designs, classic models and recoloured re-editions. A complex job, especially when you think that every new model takes two years to get to the boutique. That has become a dozen for the double-sided Carré, the latest born this spring.

«I had discovered in a military surplus a scarf with geographic maps on both sides, with lines of extreme precision, red, blue, green and black, so light it was used by paratroopers of the Second World War. The technicians of the Lyon studio told me an impossible mission, we don’t even understand how it was possible to achieve it … Then, three years ago, a small light in the dark, and the beginning of a very long process: at the beginning we tried to adapt paper printing machines to silk, then other attempts, other machinery up to something completely handmade. Once the procedure was finalized (obviously top secret, editor’s note), we moved on to the choice of design, and colors … The first tests were just disappointing, many expectations but very bad results, then … It’s like having two brains to be able think about what happens and what the interaction on both sides can be at the same time. Besides, I wanted to keep the same twill as the other Carré Hermès, difficult since silk is a porous material, on which the inks mix, but here it is, how to buy a scarf but have two ».

In Italy, the opportunity to discover or rediscover this cult object is “the next opening, and for almost a year, of a temporary store in Rome in via Condotti, entirely dedicated to the Carré. A silk boutique different from the others, colorful and fun, where you can express the worlds of women and men in a more personal way ».

Carré 90 cm, double face, Wow, in silk twill. Hermès @ Studio des Fleurs (verso).

This winter the first edition of the Hermès prize for drawing was held, the Grand Prix Hermès du Carré, which should be held every two years. Dedicated to artists, illustrators, art students from all over the world, it awarded its prizes just before the lockdown; the winning designs will become Carré in the summer of 2021. “It was a great job, which had an extraordinary response, which allowed us to meet formidable people and keep alive today what I call the energy of drawing”. That extraordinary weapon available to those who always know how to reimagine the world.

The interview you read was done before Bali Barret resigned.

Opening: the Carré Double designed by Ugo Bienvenu is called “Wow”. The Carré Double is the latest addition to the famous Hermès scarves and the print on both sides is inspired by the light, lightly-packed maps on silk used by the paratroopers of the Second World War.

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