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Welcome to the Jungle

If you’ve been following our Instagram, you will have seen a particularly crumbly Hermès Garden Party making an appearance. When I received this bag at The Spa, I actually second-guessed the authenticity because I could see right away that it was not made from leather. Isn’t Hermès known for their impeccable quality? But after the stamps and hardware checked out, I finally stumbled across the answer; they call her Amazonia.

Between 1998 and 2002, Hermès developed a proprietary ‘vegetal leather’ created from natural rubber, harvested from the depths of the Amazon rainforest. This The Rubber Tree [Hevea Brasiliensis] produces latex, which is gathered by slicing the bark. The latex is collected in a way similar to sap for maple syrup (for those who need a Canadian reference). This is then coagulated, rolled out into sheets and dried. Hermés combined a thin sheet of rubber with their iconic herringbone canvas to create ‘Amazonia’.

There’s a short spread attached from their in-house promotional mag 'Le Monde D' Hermes', Vol. 1 [1998]. I must add that the colonial overtones of this article are no doubt another reason they buried this PR nightmare. Apologies for the quality of the scans, the options were limited. Actually, finding any information about this topic proved particularly difficult. Since there is no official statement from H, I cobbled together most of this information from the depths of handbag message boards.

This new material was touted as being waterproof and less maintenance than their leather goods. However, it was also recommended that you buy a specific product to use on these items; a silicone-based wipe that kept up shine and moisture. If this care product was not used regularly, the Amazonia would turn a chalky white colour over time. And if it was left to dry out completely, you can think of it exactly like an old elastic. It just cracks and crumbles, and cannot be rehydrated.

So in the end, this ‘low maintenance’ material turned into a vegetal nightmare. And they didn’t just make easy-going totes either. There are Amazonia Birkins and Kellys out there too. However, some of these bags have held up well and don’t show deep cracks. I would think those items which lived in more humid climates fared far better. But since Hermés has brushed this mishap under a really expensive artisan rug, we’ll never know stats on how many bags were made or survived.

Many of the Amazonia bags are mislabeled as simply ‘brown leather’. However, the Garden Party was paired with Buffalo, so the large pebbled leather trim is a dead giveaway if you’re trying to avoid getting stuck with one of those. They did most of the Birkins and Kellys [seen here] trimmed out with some leather and contrast stitching, making them easy to spot though there are full Amazonia Birkins as well. They also made the Evelyne and the Trim Bag in this material. In the case of the particularly crispy bag we have as a Spa Guest, we are not and will never be in the business of giving up on Hermès. Stay tuned for the fabulously crunchy transformation.

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