Hermès and Kermit Oliver Collaboration 1984

In 1984 Kermit Oliver became the only American to design scarfs for acclaimed fashion house Hermès. Now having designed over a dozen scarfs, Oliver has quite a following and his pieces are extremely sought after.

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Two Kermit Oliver scarf designs titled Les Cheyennes, 1993 (L) and Mythologies Des Hommes Rouges, 1994 (R)

Hermès’ silk squares, and sometimes triangles, need little introduction. Made popular with the help of Jackie Onassis and Grace Kelly the scarfs have showcased many different prints over the years. The first one debuted in 1937 and it was in 1980 that Hermès decided to look for an American painter to create a new one. Lawrence Marcus recommended Oliver for the job. Lawrence’s last name sound familiar? His father was Herbert Marcus the cofounder of Neiman Marcus. Here’s to hoping he had a love for fashion and fully took advantage of all the clothes, presumably, at his disposal. Anyway, Lawrence knew of Oliver’s collage style paintings and the president of U.S. operations at Hermès soon met with Oliver at his home in Texas.

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Kermit Oliver in front of one of his paintings, which is set in the center of an inlaid pinewood headboard

While he was there, he saw the headboard Oliver is standing in front of in the picture above. He was impressed by the piece and evidently Oliver’s talent got him the coveted job of a Hermès designer.

Regarding his art, Oliver has said, “My work is a reverberation of memories.” Animals and family members are usually incorporated into his pieces and the frames are always just right. His frames are very much a part of his designs and have become one of his trademarks.

K.J.’s Calf, 1975 By Kermit Oliver

Oliver is used to filling frames with art and for the first Hermès square that he would fill he was given three subjects to choose from. The options were something Southwestern, the history of Neiman Marcus, and a Native American theme. Oliver chose to create something inspired by Native American culture and a scarf with a Pawnee Indian chief was created. It proved to be a success and lead him to collaborate with Hèrmes many more times.

Kermit Oliver’s first scarf design titled Pani La Shar Pawnee, 1984

The scarf pays homage to the Pawnee tribe that was exiled from Nebraska and Kansas to Oklahoma at the end of the 19th century. Pani La Shar represents the dignity of his people and sits with pride in the center of the scarf. What surrounds the chief was inspired by Karl Bodmer’s notebooks. He was an extremely talented illustrator and is thought to be the greatest 19th century artist to create pieces depicting the American West. Influenced by Bodmer, Oliver definitely accomplished a Native American theme.

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Indian Utensils By Karl Bodmer

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Funeral Scaffold of a Sioux Chief By Karl Bodmer

The second scarf that he designed was titled Faune et Flore du Texas and was made for the state’s one hundred and fiftieth anniversary.

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A Kermit Oliver scarf design titled Faune et Flore du Texas, 1987

Oliver’s first two scarfs were no exception to the timely process of producing his designs. It takes six to twelve months, starts in Texas and Ends in Lyon, France. It can take so much time not only because of the research Oliver does for each scarf but because of how elaborate his designs end up being. They are always very detailed and colorful.

In Texas a design is drawn and decided on. It is then painted onto a piece of watercolor paper that is the same size the finished scarf will be. Acrylic paints are used and the finished painting is then sent to Paris where the design is approved. Once approved, it is sent to Lyon where the manufacturing takes place.

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A Kermit Oliver scarf design titled Kachinas, 1992

Oliver’s scarfs are some of Hermès’s most laborious to print and produce but all of the hard work has proved to be very worth it. The detail and color translated into Hermès selling many scarfs and in turn has created a demand for Oliver’s paintings. One of his pieces sold for more than $70,000 but with that sale and the sale of others, he chose to support his family by working at a post office sorting mail. I would say the word humble is an understatement to describe Oliver.

He had no desire for fame or excess money and just about the same time he starting collaborating with Hermès, he decided to retreat from the art world. Not a decision many would make. The only paintings he made money from were commissioned. This was up until he went through a devastating time and needed to pay attorney fees. He had to turn to selling his art and Hermès helped him by ordering fifteen additional colors of existing designs he had done. Unfortunately, this deal had Hermès keep the rights to the designs and is why Oliver’s work was used for everything from boxer shorts to ashtrays.

Oliver has been through a lot in his personal life and continues to work at the post office, putting in overtime when he can. Pretty astonishing when you think of the money he could be making from his art. Hermès definitely found one talented man with an astounding story. Good thing they did, as we now have beautiful pieces of silk to collect and search the Internet for. Best of luck buying one when they’re in stores, they don’t stay on shelves for long.