New uses for horsehair in Challes | Hermes

The communities

New uses for horsehair in Challes

Goodbye to château life, stagecoach seats and crinoline petticoats... This fabric with a horsehair weft, introduced in furnishings in the late 18th century for its structure, robustness and appearance, has gone through many a revolution. Founded in 1814 and acquired by Hermès in 1996, the Challes workshop is the last in the world to weave this elegant fibre on centuries-old looms.
Who could guess that just a stone’s throw from the village church, eight weavers take turns at the impressive machinery, harnessing horsehair? Highly complex patterns are produced by the nine centuries-old Jacquard looms that take pride of place under the workshop’s cathedral-like ceiling.
These illustrious ancestors of the computer, driven by programmes on perforated cards, effortlessly steal the limelight from the simpler dobby looms reserved for plain and striped weaves. Even with this Rolls-Royce of weaving, patience is required. Working at a pace of 5 metres of fabric per machine per day, it takes two weeks to produce 20 metres of fabric ready for use.
Blond, light grey, chestnut or black in colour and assembled in bales, horsehair can measure up to 85 centimetres long, which is easily enough to form the horizontal weft of fabric with a width of 60 to 70 centimetres. Agile fingers and metronomic rhythm are required to grasp and then place the horsehair, strand by strand, in front of a wooden shuttle that takes it towards the cotton, linen or lurex warp.
It takes a weaver a year to learn these skills while at the same time monitoring the progress of their pattern. A beamer also steps in at various stages. In particular, it is she who prepares the warp and does the reworking. This operation consists of removing with tweezers any strands, however small, protruding from the weave, before it is softened with great care using a press. In comparison with the limited industrial production that takes place in Scotland and China, the finish obtained through this unique know-how allows the fabric to shine in society, from the Hôtel Negresco in Nice to the Élysée Palace in Paris.
In the past, Hermès has trialled the use of horsehair in the men’s wardrobe and produced the Constance Ottoman bag in bleu thalassa and rouge casaque horsehair.

Under the auspices of Créations Métaphores, the lengths of horsehair woven each year travel the world in the luggage of architects, interior decorators and upholsterers.

“Knowing that we are the last people in the world to weave horsehair in the traditional way gives our profession truly special meaning.”

Anita Clavier, horsehair weaver in Challes for 41 years

 

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