It's OK for intellectual feminists to like fashion

Blog title from Hadley Freeman's book The Meaning of Sunglasses : "Prada styles itself as the label it's OK for intellectual feminists to like".

The author is a bilingual fashion editor, writer and translator with a serious blog, cinema and magazine habit.

Subscribe to the Fashion Abecedaire newsletter

Twitter @FashionAbecedai

Email: fashionmemex(at)

For three weeks in September, I was engulfed in an online chess game with my dad. We played on a virtual board available on the Hermès website as part of its Jeu d’échecs géant, Giant chess game. 

Hermès’ Chess Heritage

Starting with the landing page featuring the knight prominently, Hermès is calling on its equestrian heritage. Chess pieces have adorned silk scarves in the past and in January 2012, the French leather company released a Taurillon leather board with hand-sculpted rose wood (the whites) and mahogany (the blacks) pieces, the latest in a series of chess boards including made-to-measure traveling games.

The house however chose not to highlight this heritage in the Jeu d’échecs experience. Its introduction is limited to a poem on the history of chess and the possibility to relive legendary parties. Hermès could have built a microsite dedicated to the links between the brand and the game. By choosing not to and by limiting branding to a minimum, Hermès has created an experience more about the game and its players than itself.

A Smart Branding Move

With its chess game, Hermès jumped on the gamification bandwagon. It encourages people to come back to its website in a selfless manner: you can play without ever browsing the digital commerce site. No data capture is required. The game is about you, not about how the brand can best benefit from your digital life, as is so often the case.

Hermès is creating good memories and social link with an online experience going beyond the usual digital share: you can challenge a friend but you can’t broadcast your every move on social media, as the temptation could be. This is a smart game, for smart people.

This emphasis on the personal mirrors the luxury experience of the Hermès customer. Although tweaks are required to make playing seamless, it is already an elegant and classy experience where transaction is secondary.

What Hermès Can Improve

The online game is an exact reproduction of Hermès’ Taurillon leather board. The experience is sleek and easy to play yet if the brand aims for this to pick up, it should release a version offering more views of the board (at the moment it’s either lateral or from above). It would also be good to keep track of the taken pieces at all times.

The emails need sorting out: at the moment, you receive a notification for every move your adversary makes. These emails should contain a picture of the board as it now stands, rather than the same image of the knights. They should direct you straight to your game, rather than to a page you have to click on to reach it.

Images: Hermès blue and red silk scarf “Echecs II” by Pierre Peron 1975, Vintage traveling Hermès chess board

Posted at 10:00am and tagged with: hermès, online communication, gamification, email marketing, Social media,.

Virginia Woolf, by Anthony Curtis

Well-researched, beautifully written and illustrated, Anthony Curtis’ biography of Virginia Woolf sheds light on her life, the Bloombsury set and how both influenced her writing. Without shying away from the usual controversies (was she a not-so-closeted antisemitic lesbian?), Curtis focuses on her writing rather than her already much-discussed mental illness. Drawing from contemporary accounts and extracts from her books, he doesn’t hesitate to switch to the first person to give his own views on her character and writings, be they articles, novels, disguised autobiographies or short stories. Probably a lot more enjoyable if you are highly familiar with Woolf’s writings.

The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett

If you often feel that life gets in the way of reading a book, imagine what it would be like if you were the Queen, forced to hide your newly found love of literature from staff and subjects. By choosing the most unlikely character for a book on the power of reading and writing and what it might lead us to do (watch out for the ending), Bennett signs an extraordinary, hilarious and thought-provoking book. A book anyone who loves words needs to read and re-read. How far are you willing to go for literature?

Bringing Home the Birkin, by Michael Tonello

Oh the Birkin and its legendary waiting list. According to Tonello, this list is exactly that: a legend. Apparently, all you need to score a Birkin is spend enough in store on various accessories and ready-to-wear before asking for one. As a careered eBay Birkin reseller, he would know. From his initial realisation that Hermès sells better than anything else on eBay (and with bigger profit margins) to fine-tuning a sure-buy method for Birkins, Michael Tonello runs us through the stereotypes of Hermès sales assistants and a gallery of people orbiting around the luxury industry with good humour. The perfect summer autobiography de gare.

How to be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran

If I was a misogynistic bigot, I would be very afraid of Caitlin Moran. Her feminist and hilarious penwomanship hits in all the right spot with the strongest arm of them all: laughter. Weight, fashion, career, waxing, marriage, bras, motherhood, strip clubs: all the usual themes,  treated with false lightness and real cheekiness. Forget the umpteenth wave of feminism, all you need is to rally around Moran.

Déjà Dead; Spider Bones, by Kathy Reichs

As a big fan of the Bones TV series, I had high expectations for the original Temperance Brennan character. The books preceded the TV show by about a decade. Their heroines couldn’t be more different, and I was lost for most of Spider Bones, trying to reconcile TV Dr Brennan with novel Dr Brennan. I shouldn’t have. The two women have little more than their job and intelligence in common and the novels are best enjoyed focusing solely on who Brennan is in the books.

Images: Virginia Woolf painting from Wikipedia; The Queen’s speech 2010 from the Daily Telegraph; Hermès from File Under Fashion; Cartoon from The Boar, February 2010

Posted at 8:33pm and tagged with: book review, TV series, Hermès, literature, Royal Family, feminism,.