The way Pierre-Alexis Dumas, creative chief of Hermès and scion of the owning family, sees it, the latest collaboration between the French luxury marque and Apple announced yesterday can be traced back 43 years. “In 1978, when I was 12 years old, my parents took my sister and me for a road trip from Miami to New York. The most exciting thing was that we flew from Orly with Pan Am. We arrived in Miami and, after two hours waiting for luggage, we found out that our bags had been sent to Australia by mistake. My first experience of the US was that we went straight to a mall where my mother dressed me as a young American from head to toe.”
And he would remain a young American, in dress at least, for the rest of the holiday. “We only got our luggage when we returned two weeks later to France where it was waiting for us at home. Now, over 40 years later, we have finally come up with a device that would have told me right away that my bags were going in the wrong direction.”
Amid announcements about a new iPad, iMac, not to mention a new iPhone colour and updates for other stuff, one of the high points of yesterday’s Apple “keynote” – a subdued name for an event that is (in normal times at least) part rock concert, part evangelical meeting, part political rally – was the announcement that Hermès and Apple were collaborating on the launch of AirTag: a key fob/luggage tag/tracker that makes use of Apple’s “Find My” network to locate distant objects – such as your bags when they are in another hemisphere – and Bluetooth to find your keys when they have made their way down the back of the sofa. “I’m very happy because for me it’s a very relevant function and its ancestor is, of course, the leather luggage tag,” said Dumas.
It is not the first tracker to hit the market (Dumas recalls owning an early electronic keychain that emitted a beep if he whistled at the correct pitch) but it is the first such device to be made by Apple and Hermès… and that makes all the difference.
“We at Apple and at Hermès share a commitment to craftsmanship and materials, alongside a respect for tradition and an endless curiosity about the possibilities of the future”, is the way that Apple COO Jeff Williams puts it. “That has resulted in a special collaboration that’s witnessed the success of Apple Watch Hermès, and now, the addition of Apple AirTag Hermès, our latest example of our work together. Working with Hermès has been a truly synergistic relationship since 2015. I’m proud not only of the products, but also the sharing of expertise along the way.”
The marriage between Hermès and Apple is proof that opposites do not merely attract but combine to be more than the sum of their parts. Initially built on the friendship of Pierre-Alexis with Jony Ive and Marc Newson, the relationship began in 2015 with the launch of the Hermès Apple watch: a triumphant union of the high-tech wrist-worn device and the haute maroquinerie of the signature double tour strap.
And yesterday also witnessed the launch of a new instalment of “the adventure with the Apple watch”, with new Hermès fabric strap options and slightly altered lugs. Changes may be minute, but Dumas invests each millimetre with significance. “It’s a small playground but we managed to find new expressions and create something exciting and different, and slowly, slowly, we improve the product.”
It is as if the gentler pace of craftsmanship humanises the ever-faster pace at which technology moves. “What is extraordinary today is the technology, and I trust Apple that this will be extremely reliable. Our role at Hermès is to heighten that experience and I really believe that with craft and technology there is a space where we can work together and accompany new functions with something more sensual that will age well.”
This is Dumas’s cue to himself to show me the new iPhone cover that Hermès has also designed (around £410) and then pull out of his pocket the same cover, which after four months of use has been transformed from a light tan to the black-brown of wenge wood. He uses the word “victory” to describe passing more than five dozen different tests (from magnetic charging to crash simulation) set by Apple for what he acknowledges is, after all, “an object which is covering an object that already exists”.
“What is nice is they trusted us. I think it’s really the first time that we get so close to all of these devices,” he says. For Dumas, this transcends mere specifications, criteria and testing to take on an anthropomorphic dimension. “I believe that objects have a soul.”