Artist Nathalie Rolland Huckel brings to life an enchanted forest for Hermès’ Passifolia tableware series
SEP 19, 2020 | By Anamika Butalia
It was on a crisp winter morning in Paris—back in January 2020—when the first look of the Passifolia tableware series was unveiled by Hermès. I remember enjoying the short walk to La Gaîté Lyrique, where the event was being held.
I was expecting a straightforward launch of this ceramic collection, maybe a couple of toasts being raised, a walkthrough to understand the nuances of this series that had been four years in the making. But I must admit nothing could’ve prepared me for the plans that Anne-Sarah Panhard, MD of Hermès Maison, and Benoit-Pierre Emery, Creative Director, La Table Hermès had in place.
The “experience” began with an intentionally dark corridor. So dark that it was difficult to tell, even after my pupils had adjusted, if my eyes were open at all. When I got to the end of the passageway, it was a male voice, a low baritone, that urged me to turn right and enter the exhibit area through a set of doors.
Inside, the area lay bare, silent, the only stimulus—sensor-based spotlights that presented themselves as thin beams. This was the stage where the inspiration behind Passifolia was revealed. A swipe of the arm or even standing directly beneath the beam would widen the spotlight. Then came the most enchanting sound, that of a chirping bird.
I was then told in a whisper that the area featured over 15 such spotlights, each fitted with a chirrup of a unique bird species. I must have spent almost 20 minutes here, walking under the spotlights, some more than once, to listen to the sounds I typically miss hearing in the city.
Crossing the threshold of another door led to a space that was a complete contrast. All white and laid with multiple installations using the Passifolia tableware series (see below). The connection to the inspiration was so fresh, it was impossible not to pour over every bowl, cup, plate and platter here. It was such an incredible, surreal experience.
I found that a tropical theme rediscovering the richness of arboreal elements forms the heart of Passifolia tableware series by Hermès. The Creative Director Benoît-Pierre Emery said that the intent was “to celebrate the wild beauty and extraordinary character of nature”. The finessed engraving and adjustments of colour in the design is the result of more than 2,000 hours of craftsmanship using 32 individual hues.
The French maison collaborated with artist Nathalie Rolland Huckel, who’s known for subtlety and precision, and who took the time to draw each detail, recreating an idyllic summer garden. She conceptualised every piece—from cups to bowls, plates to platters—to intertwine diverse foliage and flowers. “This porcelain table service is on the cusp of botanical tradition and an imaginary world. Orchids from my workshop, specimens of exotic plants, and the magnificent greenhouses of European gardens like Strasbourg and Karlsruhe, inspired me,” she added.
What started out four years ago with penciled work and then sepia-coloured brush strokes has been realised using shades of chartreuse in a single stem, five greenish blues in one leaf, and plays with the browns of the contours to subtly signal the change of seasons.
Describing the series, Emery said, “An integral aspect is the alternation of rhythms in the graphics. Sometimes nature is dense and therefore, some pieces evoke a forest’s camouflage; other times, nature is isolated, so the dinner plates, for example, are treated minimally with imagery of just one large leaf on it.”