On the square

Hannah Betts feeds her addiction to Hermès’s wearable art


Silk scarves are achingly au courant. Not only do they adorn the most modish necks, entire outfits are being concocted out of them. But, really, who cares how in vogue/Vogue they are? Scarves are a brilliant means of injecting colour into the wardrobe that — for reasons of climate — remains dourly wintery, yet yearns to give a high five to spring. (Translation: the whole of April.)

They are also clearly fucking fabulousintheirownright;“fucking fabulous” being a technical term to describe an item that I have an obsessive-compulsive relationship with such that I’m rebranding it “a collection”.

None are more fucking fabulous that Hermès’s. First launched in 1937, the House’s carré (literally “squares”) are 90 X 90cm of lustrous perfection. I crave them in their capacity as wearable art, and the most beautiful thing I can (not quite) afford to own. Accordingly, my pensionless years will find me occupying a silken shantytown.

Still, I’m in good company: Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Onassis and Catherine Deneuve have all worn them. The Queen rides in hers, socialite Babe Paley tied one jauntily about her bag, while Grace Kelly sported hers by way of a sling.

Accordingly, my pensionless years will find me occupying a silken shantytown

I once dined next to one of Hermès’s silk designers on a boat in Kerala — things like this happen a lot in Hermès world — and she talked me through their creation. First, the brand’s annual theme is decided, several years in advance of its launch. Recent subjects include the froggily ludic “It Starts with a Dream” (2019) and “Let’s Play!” (2018), others being more straightforward such as “India” or “Dance”. Illustrators then start working on their submissions. ere have been more than 2,000 designs: equestrian, military, nautical, astronomical, sporting, animal, oral, mythological, historical, geographical, geometrical, or just plain barking. It takes up to a year for acceptance of each design model. Said model is sent to the engravers, and another 12 to 18 months elapse before the square is ready for the customer.

Think: three months engraving; three months colour-testing in 20 different schemes; one month printing; and 30 minutes hand hem-rolling. is also includes a three-month period in which orders are taken for each pattern by Hermes’s boutique managers, each of whom conducts his or her own edit, making every store’s collection unique.

Addiction is thus built into the process. Silk junkies — collectors — such as myself must act whenever they see a carré they cannot live without for fear of never stumbling across it again. This means that I have made purchases not only in Paris, Deauville and Nice, but while changing planes in Dubai (the dove grey“Les Plaisirs du Froid,” Ruskie sledges bordered with pert-buttocked male skaters).

While, this very morning, I bagged a find in Tokyo (Hugo Grygkar’s best-seller “Brides de Gala”, deconstructed in hazy violet) with a 5.18 am eBay bid. Once, during a drunken 48 hours in Rome, I managed to purchase a ruinous trio: dewy, emerald roses; a graphic corn flower blue a air; and the resplendent green, purple and yellow “Brazil”.

I can date this kleptomania to early 2008 as, to this day, my guilt response to recession remains a stuttered “s-s-silk”. And yet, my scarves bring such solace. In times of trauma, I go through them in my mind, laying down a fair few when my parents were dying, my phone flickering into the night.

Hermès’s website used to boast a functionality in which one could click on a design and “see it knotted”, then “see it unknotted”, on which I spent most of the Noughties. Be sufficiently charming and stores will present buyers with knotting cards, featuring guidance on transforming one’s carré into elaborate head and neck arrangements, ties, belts, bags, hairbands, even a bustier.

Still, the real pleasure is creating one’s own knotting legends. Many’s the time a Gallic boutique assistant has begged to be allowed to refashion the iconic “Betts dog bow” into some more regulation guise. Despite my online forays, one really has to see one’s chosen design because something alchemical happens in the donning. One either falls — what bliss! — or unfalls — what a £345 relief! is is a fair whack, to be sure.

And, yet, these silken flights of fancy fall into the category of investment dressing one can wear one’s whole life long, regardless of age, shape, or size. They require minimum storage space to yield maximum kapow, an old-fashioned way of dressing that feels very now — eco and ethical, and all those other attributes we’re newly obsessed with. One thinks of Audrey Hepburn as an impoverished chorus girl. According to a contemporary, the gamine one possessed “one skirt, one blouse, one pair of shoes, and a beret, but she had 14 scarves. What she did with them week by week you wouldn’t believe.”

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