Wednesday, Sep. 09, 2009

Pascale Mussard: Luxe Environmentalist

You could call Pascale Mussard the living conscience of Hermès. The great-great-great-granddaughter of the humble saddlemaker Thierry Hermès, Mussard is a fighter, determined to continue her family's 172-year history of balancing tradition and modernity, with a keen eye toward sustainability.

Modern luxury is "reinvention," says Mussard, 52, whose current project is a decidedly upscale take on recycling: skins that used to be discarded because of tiny flaws (Hermès makes all the parts of each Birkin bag from a single skin) and leather leftovers will be remade into objects of beauty. "My playground is Hermès," says Mussard, who grew up as something of an Eloise of the ateliers. "Let's see what we can reinvent."

Her endeavor parallels Hermès' already commendable record on sustainability — after all, the company's bags are designed to look even better when the next generation inherits them, and botanical technology has long been used to counter the pollution created by production of its glass items. The project also will involve social reform, another Hermès tradition, welcoming skilled elders back into part-time employment after they leave the workforce at the official French retirement age of 60.

Mussard had to get project approval from, among others, her cousin Pierre-Alexis Dumas, Hermès' creative director. No family member is guaranteed a job at Hermès. Mussard herself was rejected when she first applied in her 20s. A subsequent application was successful only after she gained experience in a textile-design studio.

So what will the remade objects be? We'll have to wait and see. "Our approach will be slow and stubborn, as usual," Mussard says, wrapping the discarded handle of a Birkin around her neck. "Why not something like this?" she asks as she mimes attaching her reading glasses to the piece of leather.