The idea of a carré, to print exclusive designs on a square piece of silk came about in the 1930s. At that time Robert Dumas, son of Emile, then president of the design house Hermès, with talented designers behind him, was able to quickly convince his father about this idea and the Hermès carré as we know it, was born.
Hugo Grygkar not only designed the very first carré for Hermès, but he also became Hermès’ most prolific artist. Born on December 9, 1907 in Munich to a Czech family, he grew up in Germany where he from an early age attended the studio of his father, who was a tinsmith and bronze sculptor. In 1914, his family left for France and settled first in Brittany, in Lannion, and later in the Parisian suburbs. In his youth, Hugo was a diligent artist and an avid reader, who also loved to write. A very private and modest person, Hugo kept his education somewhat of a mystery but he most likely attended l’Academie des Beaux-Arts and then the Studio La Ruche in Paris. In 1939 along with his father, Hugo joined a special corps in the French army made up of Czech volunteers. Although dismissed after a few months due to kidney disease, this commitment helped him obtain French citizenship. He married in 1942 and two years later had a daughter, Beatrice.
After the war, in a difficult economic environment, in addition to designing scarves for Hermès, Hugo also worked as an illustrator and commercial artist, producing movie posters and some drawings for magazines like Vogue.
Many of the carrés he designed during the forties were created in the tradition of the great illustrators. Maxims, proverbs and aphorisms come to life in playful ways. Hugo with his great sense of humor created carrés that are in complete contrast to the hard times of the war and the immediate postwar period. A great example being the caricature styled Lettre de Napoléon a Murat d’après Caran D’Ache (Caran D’Ache, pseudonym of a 19th century French satirist and political cartoonist Emmanuel Poiré, whose first work glorified Napoleon’s era)(Murat, the brother-in-law of Napoléon Bonaparte).
Already from his very early designs, Hugo expressed that innate sense of composition and harmony that will continue throughout his entire body of work.
Ex Libris (1946) beautifully reflects his keen ability to create balance and clarity in a composition. At the center is the now so famous bookplate, that Emile-Maurice Hermès had created for his personal library in 1923 (basis for Hermès logo to this day). Surrounded on all four sides by horse-drawn carriages, inspired by ink drawings from the private collection of Emile-Maurice. Designing from the outside in, Hugo focused first on the outer parts of his designs, which were often very complex and detailed, and only subsequently creating the central motif, leaving empty areas in between. He never signed any of his work.
Hugo Grygkar became the primary designer of the fashion house Hermès. In that role he was also a regular contributor to the window decorations of the Maison Hermès at 24 Faubourg Saint-Honore in Paris. Designing carrés, Hugo worked in close collaboration with Robert Dumas, who would guide him in the choice of the subjects, drawing on his abundant private art collection as well as that of Emile-Maurice Hermès.
The inspiration would come from sometimes ordinary objects like the bookplate, from books, artifacts and paintings. Both private collections became a source of wonder and inspiration for Hugo, whose designs often reflected their eclecticism. Once a theme was decided upon, Hugo quickly sketched proposed concepts that Dumas would chose from. Both men shared a deep mutual respect and a common focus on detail and excellence of the overall design. It was Hugo’s, modesty and amazing flexibility that allowed him to adapt to the demands of Dumas. In his perpetual quest for perfection, Hugo did not hesitate to get a live rooster for the design of carré Combats de Coqs (1954) or a real zebra skin for what became La Chasse en Afrique (1957). He created more than one hundred drawings between 1943 and 1959.
Fueled by his great curiosity, his sources of inspiration and themes were very varied. His carrés not only reflect the history, but helped create and shape the identity of the Maison Hermès.
Floralies, which became part of the collection in 1959, would be his last creation. Hugo Grygkar died February 22,1959 due to kidney disease from which he suffered for a long time. Shortly after his death, Robert Dumas described him in his diary as “a valuable contributor to the creation of our carrés, a deeply religious man, honest, modest and full of talent,” noting also the “style”, that he had been able to impart to the carré Hermès.
Grygkar’s influence on the carré and the Maison Hermès was profound and his legacy lives on to this day.
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