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Unmistakable chic, unmistakably French

By Xu Junqian in Shanghai ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-09-13 07:19:08

China Daily takes a tour around Hermes' new Shanghai Maison

A pair of red and white silk scarves flutters proudly in the gentle breeze of Shanghai's early autumn above the facade of a former police station in what was once the French Concession. Inside the four-story freshly renovated building, a party has been in full swing all morning to celebrate "a new lifestyle landmark in the bustling city", as Cao Weiming, president of Hermes Greater China, hails it.

It's an unmistakable slice of French lifestyle.

The party was held as Hermes finally opened the door of its largest retail space in China, topping the already spacious store at Shanghai Plaza 66, which was expanded in 2012. The French luxury house is making no bones about its ambition to "create more desire" for self-purchasing over gifting among its Chinese clientele. And having a space it calls Hermes Maison (maison means "house" in French) is considered a highly desirable element.

The infamous waiting list for Birkins, perhaps the most sought-after handbags in the world, is unlikely to be shortened, although the Maison features a special Leather Lounge on its first floor, stocking leather handbags in a full range of colors and styles. There is a wide array of leather goods, watches, jewelry, babywear, and furniture, all with an emphasis on quality or craftsmanship over logo.

Practically everything on display in the store can be ordered, or replicated, and shipped home, according to the shop assistants. That includes the sofas in the corner, the wallpapers dividing the third floor into the study and living room, and the silver champagne glass in the lounge bar that's believed to better preserve the fragrance of the wine. The only exceptions are paintings and photographs on the wall, which are owned by the members of the Hermes family, or were retrieved from the Maison's museum-like warehouse.

The first items one sees in the main entrance are three Sari-like beaded silk scarves, loosely draped over the shoulders of models, with cautious security guards standing by and popping up every time a hand is extended to touch the exquisite, flimsy fabric. The shop assistants assure customers that Indian-style clothing has been designed and tailored exclusively for the Shanghai store opening.

While vibrant silk scarves, a Hermes signature and perhaps an entry-level purchase for most of the Chinese shoppers of the brand, occupy the main space on the ground floor, the more-than-100-million yuan ($16 million) crocodile-skin saddle sitting behind the scarf wall is unlikely to be overshadowed.

More decorative than functional, the saddle, consisting of nine crocodile skins, is reputed to be unique and, once again, was exclusively introduced for the Shanghai Maison. The building also features a creamy stone staircase complete with a handrail covered in full-grained calf leather handmade by craftsmen specially flown in from France. The French house likens the handrail's flowing curve to a "twisting Chinese dragon".

The second floor is reserved for clothing for both sexes, while the third focuses on home goods, and the fourth functions as an event and exhibition space. Marking the opening of the Shanghai Hermes Maison, a monthlong exhibition about horses - "the first customer of Hermes" and a highly symbolic animal in Chinese culture - will run until mid October.

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