Technology has allowed us to maintain connections despite pandemic-induced distances, but in the process, we’ve lost even more of the tangible, physical interactions that had already begun to erode before COVID-19 arrived on the scene. For the triumphant return of Milan Design Week 2021 after its cancellation of in-person activities in 2020, French luxury brand Hermés wanted to restore that sense of physicality and materiality in typically dramatic fashion.Their exhibit transformed an indoor court at the city’s La Pelota venue into a tiny village of rustic, textural structures adorned with bold graphic patterns and vivid hues.

French luxury brand Hermès' tiny village exhibit at Milan Design Week 2021 proved to be the perfect showcase for their new furniture pieces.

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Ornate porcelain pieces on display inside one of the many bold buildings inside Hermès tiny village exhibit. Brightly patterned buildings made up Hermès' tiny village display at Milan Design Week 2021.

Resting on a bed of orange sand to mimic the feel of being in the desert, five organically shaped “houses” set the stage for the new Hermés collection, along with a selection of objects and fabrics by other designers. A team of set designers working for La Scala aided frequent Hermés collaborator Charlotte Macaux Perelman in the creation of an immersive environment that makes you feel as if you’ve traveled to remote places to discover finely crafted treasures.

Hermès' Milan Design Week tiny village display was all about graphic textiles and architecture.

The designers took inspiration from traditional cultures that build their vernacular architecture out of earth, lime, or plaster and paint the exteriors by hand. Checkerboard patterns, diagonal lines, plaids, and other motifs commonly found in Hermés designs enlarge graphic design to the scale of architecture, begging the question of why we’ve collectively gotten ourselves into such an artless contemporary architecture rut. The structures envision a new trend in which organic materials are complemented by modern prints on all sorts of exteriors.

Armchair made of paper-based microfiber featured in Hermès 2021 Milan Design Week display.

But of course, this little village is just the beginning of the experience. As a custom soundscape plays softly in the background, visitors navigating the space duck into each house to view objects emphasizing connections between materials: the softness of an armchair made of paper-based microfiber, and a white cashmere blanket contrasting the solidity of a chiseled stone table. Among these is an organically shaped chair by Studio Mumbai with a hand-varnished and hand-painted wooden frame, described by the brand as “robust, sensual, and totemic.”

Graphic plates featured in Hermès 2021 Milan Design Week display.

Graphic textiles featured in Hermès 2021 Milan Design Week display.

Other items in the collection include Sialk table centerpieces crafted from copper foil and colored with stenciled enamels, colorful Phi boxes arranged to echo the proportions of the golden ratio, vases, trays, stools, and porcelain dinnerware. Those of us who didn’t get to the event in person still won’t get a sense of the physicality of the objects, of course, but the exhibit marks a desire to find a balance between the digital and the tangible.

This year, materials continue to be a major focus for the new home collections,” says Hermés. “Through their intrinsic characteristics, they determine the shape of a line, a type of motif, a creation. They are vibrant and express something that is built up, that “demands” a transformation and encourages new uses. The new collections play on raw and natural materials, incorporating unique fields of know-how.”

Bold geometric patterns printed on the side of a building in Hermès ' Milan Design Week display.

They add that “oscillating between tradition and innovation, know-how is a fundamental part of the creative process. Pushing back their limits and reinventing unique know-how by working with leather, textiles, metals, and stone while ensuring precise lines: the inquisitive soul of the artisan dreams of useful objects that transcend time. The new collections embrace the simplicity of an elegance that gives way to refinement and comfort.”