A Glimpse Into The Forgotten But Highly Imaginative World of Scarf Illustration

Four luxury houses demonstrate why there’s never a better time to rediscover scarves as pieces of wearable art.
by Charmian Leong
luxury scarves

Credit: Hermes; Louis Vuitton

Thanks to the quiet luxury trend driven by the cast of Succession’s extremely staid wardrobes, people have started to embrace wardrobes stuffed with uniforms bound for the beige-adjacent parade. Chic? Sure. Fun? Surely not. This is precisely why we champion the return of the silk scarf — not the ones with simple patterns in neutral colours, but the wearable canvases upon which artists and designers unleash their wildest imaginations.

Hermes scarves have been coveted as objets d’art for nearly 90 years now, and a significant part of their allure stems from the whimsical and liberated nature of their designs. Its first scarf, the Jeu des Omnibus et Dames Blanches, featured a design inspired by a popular board game in the 1930s, depicting multi-coloured horse-drawn carriages surrounding a central image of ladies sitting around a table. Hermes’ then-primary designer, Hugo Grygkar, on just one piece of fabric, encapsulated the brand’s universe of equestrianism and leisure.

luxury scarves

The reimagined Hermes Jeu des Omnibus et Dames Blanches au Tampon scarf 140cm, originally designed by Hugo Grygkar, in silk twill from the SS24 Objets collection. (Photo: Hermes)

According to Hermes artistic director and founding family member Pierre-Alexis Dumas, “the scarf has been a highly stimulating playground, but one that demands incredibly high standards. My grandfather Robert Dumas attached huge importance to the illustration and focused on the smallest details of its quality”.

With over 800 people working in Hermes’ silk subsidiary, great care is taken in telling a story through images, shapes, and colours. And fellow dreamers from around the world have been invited to this playground. More than 300 illustrators, graphic designers, cartoonists, painters, sculptors, and architects have contributed their unique perspectives to creating these scarves.

The maison is open to any artistic practice, from watercolour and ultra-fine Japanese pen to quill-and-ink and embroidery. Hermes’ Design Studio director Cosima Balsan elaborates, “We encourage artists to take as long as they need because we are convinced it makes for a better result. We have waited eight years for a scarf before, but generally, it takes between six months and two years to create. We’re not just placing an order; we’re looking for a perfect match. The artist and Hermes should both be proud of the finished product.”

luxury scarves

The Hermes Flagship scarf 90cm in silk twill, designed by Dimitri Rybaltchenko, from the SS24 Objets collection. (Photo: Hermes)

As such, scarves are the only Hermes objet to be signed by its designer. Collaborators, lovingly referred to as “beautiful hands” by Hermes, adhere to the annual theme and allow inspiration to guide their creative process.

Cecile Pesce, the brand’s creative director of women’s silk, explains, “When speaking the language of colour, we have to enrich our vocabulary, so sometimes I’ll say that I’m going ‘colour-hunting at the flea market’. I may also be intrigued by the seemingly unremarkable colour of a tablecloth in a restaurant or the particular shade of a thread. I might cut a piece from the sleeve of an old shirt if the colour inspires me. The texture or transparency of a material might also spark new ideas. All year round, I collect images that catch my eye.”

This Dior coffee table book is a catalogue of 425 scarf designs spanning 78 years. (Photo: Dior)

For heritage brands like Ferragamo and Dior, inspiration comes from within their own storied legacies. In 1974, Fulvia Ferragamo, daughter of Salvatore Ferragamo, immortalised her father’s passion for travel and nature through silk scarves. These silk creations proved so successful that their motifs often carried over into the brand’s ready-to-wear. Even the launch of its Storie Di Seta fragrance collection a few years ago was sparked by the illustrations of its scarves.

Meanwhile, Dior just released Dior Scarves. Fashion Stories at the beginning of the year. The coffee table book features a comprehensive catalogue of 425 designs spanning 78 years. Fun fact: The brushstroke-style logo motif showcased in Dior’s Fall 2024 collection was borrowed from a scarf initially designed by former creative director Marc Bohan.

Louis Vuitton Up and Away Square 90 scarf. (Photo: Louis Vuitton)

To realise such vibrant colours and patterns in exacting detail is a laborious process. Louis Vuitton’s scarf designs begin with manual drawings in Paris but are crafted in Como, Italy, which is reputed to be the cradle of silk savoir-faire. The silk screening process requires that each colour is printed separately to ensure colour depth and stability. Once the design is ready, a seamstress rolls the edges of the square between her fingers to obtain a tight yet supple roll, then uses an invisible hand-stitched hem to keep it in place — a technique known as roulottage.

Those who claim that scarves belong on the necks and shoulders of elderly matriarchs clearly haven’t been paying close enough attention to the creative universes hiding in each scrupulously made square. It’s art you can drape, twist, loop, knot, braid, and wrap — and art doesn’t go out of style.

This story originally published on The Peak Singapore.

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