Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Why a Scarf Costs £203/$375, Part One

Is it possible to justify paying this much for a silk scarf, even one from the most famous manufacturer in the world? The prices above are the going rates, taken from the Hermes websites in the UK and USA. What you get for your money is a 90 cm/36" square of heavyweight silk, screened with designs in multiple colorways. The designs are issued in a limited number, changing by the season.

All well and good, but heaps of scarves offered for sale are exactly the same size. Many use silk of similar quality. Their designs are equally beautiful (though perhaps not as varied in color, more on this in another post).

What else could justify the extravagant expense? Hermes itself vaunts its "hand-rolling", which means the edges of the silk are rolled under by hand, and then hand-sewn to create a plump edge.

The stitching is visibly irregular. It may seem odd that a process that builds in imperfection would be considered more desirable than the precision of machine sewing. Until you look at the corners of a scarf from Hermes (and other manufacturers that bother to hand-sew the hems). Since they are finished by a human, not a machine, the corners can be joined with exactitude--mitred, to use a term from furniture making.

The photo below illustrates the corners of two different scarves, both silk. The yellow one is Hermes, the brown an anonymous maker. In the Hermes scarf you can see the uneven stitching, but more importantly, a corner that approximates a 45 degree angle. In the other scarf, the edges only kind-of-sort of meet up.

So is this sort of handiwork worth that sort of money? That's a question only you can answer for yourself. But just so you know, eBay routinely offers up gorgeous and genuine hand-rolled scarves selling for less than half the cost in the headline above.

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