I have already told the story of how I came to own this amazing scarf. The real tale goes slightly further back in time. In 2014, I started down the slippery slope of Hermès scarf ownership and very soon started reading the scarfie threads on The Purse Forum. The expert members of the forum have such extensive knowledge of the designs, which go back to the 1930s, and I quickly became aware of so-called “grails”. These are scarves and shawls that have caught the attention of collectors and have remained special over time. La Femme aux Semelles de Vent is one of those grails.
Generally speaking, I don’t try to own these really expensive scarves. The ones considered grails are highly sought after all around the world and so command premium prices. Even the “ordinary” Hermès scarves are very expensive and out of the reach of most people. I see them as a special luxury that I can only afford because I am now retired and my monthly “pocket money” doesn’t get spent on going out!
So, I was very lucky to find a pristine scarf, complete with its box, at a very reasonable price.
La Femme aux Semelles de Vent was designed by the amazing artist Aline Honoré for Hermès’ Autumn/Winter 2009 season. The design was available as a 90cm silk twill and a 140cm cashmere/silk shawl. I have the silk twill.
The scarf pays homage to Alexandra David-Néel (1868-1969), a French/Belgian explorer, spiritualist and writer, who was a true ‘femme aux semelles de vent’ (a woman with wind for her soles). The central image depicts Alexandra David-Néel and her companion, Lama Yongden, heading towards Lhasa, the forbidden capital of Tibet. She reached Lhasa in 1924, and this amazing feat made her famous throughout the world.
Around the centre are bands of decoration in Tibetan style, some floral and others geometric, surrounded on two sides by life-like animal print of leopard and tiger skins. There are also images of metal and gem stone jewels placed around the borders, with the largest and most striking examples on the four corners. The whole design has a depth and and 3D quality created by the glorious use of colour and shading.
I am not sure of the code number for the colourway on my scarf (perhaps a visitor will inform me!). The colours used are rich browns, sepia, purple, orange, yellow and grey. The jewellery appears to be real silver because the use of colour is so clever. The animal furs appear to be lifelike. In fact, the whole design is exquisite.
Here are the colourways that I have found online. I am not sure which version of the design they are:
This is the design story for the scarf:
The carre borrows its title from the epithet “The man with wind for his soles” that Verlaine has used of his friend, the travel poet Rimbaud. It pays homage to Alexandra David-Neel (1868-1969), the explorer, versed in knowledge, who studied oriental philosophies and covered thousands of kilometers crossing Central Asia and the Far East. Like the rugs and clothing of these regions, the carre is bordered with fur bands, here printed on the silk, and embroidered braids, mixing ethnic, geometric or floral patterns, interspersed with pieces of gold-work, charms, and earrings of silver, coral and turquoise.
Here are some closeups of my scarf in a slideshow format:
How I wear the scarf
I have worn the scarf a couple of times so far, both with my Lands’ End cotton animal print top:
Yes, you can see that I adore animal print! I will find other ways to wear this wonderful scarf and perhaps tone the animal side down a bit in future. Or, perhaps not!
Here are a few scarf knots which work well:
1) Top row L-R: asymmetric wrap, bias fold with shawl ring
2) Centre row L-R: half-bow knot, loose fold over with bias fold
3) Bottom row L-R: bias fold, asymmetric wrap reversed
I think that the borders and corners of this scarf deserve to be highlighted as much as possible. With this colourway, I am planning to avoid wearing the central image, in sepia, next to my face so will not use knots which showcase this.
1) More about the scarf
Hermès La Femme aux Semelles de Vent
An appreciation of two colourways of the scarf in English and German.
La Femme aux Semelles de Vent (2009]
Short entry with useful information.
MaiTai’s Picture Book
Scarf Profile – La Femme aux Semelles de Vent
Information and images of MaiTai’s colourway of the scarf.
The Purse Forum
Ode to La Femme aux Semelles de Vent
Long thread with masses of information and modelling photos. I found a lovely comment on the thread – #261 from SuiteSixteen – that says the following:
While gathering the pics, I had a closer look at the design and discovered some interesting facts. The ethnic and floral patterns are actually full of Chinese blessings!
The peonies -for peace.
The orchids – for beauty and prosperity.
The chrysanthemum – for good luck. It a symbol for powerful yang energy.
The lotus – for ultimate purity and perfection.
Butterflies – for power of love. (there are 2 butterflies among the chrysanthhemums)
There’s also a narrow strip with the Chinese symbol ‘Shou’ which is for longevity.
So for me, this scarf also carries positive energy and well wishes!
2) La Femme herself, Alexandra David-Néel
Main article about this amazing woman.
The Extraordinary Alexandra David-Néel: First European Woman to Travel to the Forbidden City of Lhasa
Informative article. Apparently there have been celebrations for her 150th anniversary in France this year!
P.S. The design was used for other items. See this article about the watch:
Slim d’Hermès La Femme aux Semelles de Vent
I hope readers have found this exploration of La Femme aux Semelles de Vent both interesting and useful. Once again, if you find any errors or have any additional information that I could add, please don’t hesitate to contact me.