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Martin Margiela for Hermès: The Initiale bag

The legendary designer Martin Margiela, known for his avant-garde and unconventional approach to fashion, was appointed as artistic director at Hermès in 1997. This post is all about the bag released under his direction in autumn/winter 2002; The Sac Initiale.

Between 1997 and 2003 Margiela designed twelve consecutive collections for the brand. His first show for the house being the fall/winter 1998 collection. Though he was not himself designing the accessories, he provided the artistic vision for the release of many, now iconic, Hermès items. Like the double tour watch strap, Kelly clochette watch necklace, leather scarfs, and the main star of this post - the Initiale bag.

Hermès Sac Initiale A/W02 Marina Faust photography
Hermès Sac initale in black evercalf leather, A/W 2002, Photography by Marina Faust

Margiela at Hermès - an unlikely pairing?

Margiela designing Hermès's ready-to-wear was an eyebrow raiser for many. Far removed from the conservative culture of such a storied luxury house, Margiela was all the better to design it. The paired down luxury was new and unique at the time, and has truly proven its timelessness in becoming something that contemporary designers reference over and over again. Think Phoebe Philo at Céline, The Row, Totême, among many others.

The hiring of Margiela pointed to Hermè's deep and intricate understanding of luxury and the need to readdress its meaning in the modern world. Margiela's ideas preached a luxury rooted in discretion and private, personal pleasures. His vision of Hermès highlighted the intelligence of the Hermès woman, presenting her as a thinker, not merely a consumer.

Beyond Silent Luxury

The Initiale bag was introduced in the Autumn/Winter 2002 collection and discontinued in 2004. It has since become very rare to come by, and one of the best kept secrets in the world of luxury handbags. Logoless and known by many names (Initiale, Le tote, Hermès MM), the Initiale represents the ultimate “if you know, you know” luxury fashion accessory.

So under the radar indeed that it is hard to find information about it either online or in physical books and catalogues.

The design of the Hermès Initiale

The Sac Initiale is a classic and elegant piece exuding sophistication and luxury through its timeless and minimal design. Made from superb materials and with extreme attention to detail this bag is a true masterpiece and testament to the talent and vision of its designer.

Reflecting the unique vision and aesthetic of Margiela for Hermès, it combines form and function in a truly innovative way. The stand-out feature being the asymmetric handles, one looping into the other to create a “H”. I want to believe that this feature is what gave the bag its name. 

The Initiale was released in buttery soft “Evercalf”, or “Evergrain” leather in a limited, neutral range of hues, and without any noticeable hardware. The spacious inside is leather lined and features two pockets, one zipped and one open. Just like other iconic Hermès bags like the Birkin and the Kelly.

About Hermès Evercalf leather

Evercalf is very similar to Hermès Box Calf leather at first glance, but evercalf has an entirely different tactility. Being buttery soft and smooth with a slightly matte surface (just a hint of sheen!). It is not as prone to scuffing as Box Calf, making it a slightly more practical option, but still develops a beautiful patina over time. Source.

About Hermès Evergrain leather

The sister leather of Evercalf. The major difference between the two is that Evergrain is embossed with a crackled motif, making it even softer and slouchier than Evercalf. A downside of this treatment is that it makes the leather more vulnerable to scratches, even more so than other embossed Hermès leathers. Small marks can most often be buffed out, but larger scuffs should always be treated by a professional. Source.


Do you have more information about the Hermès Initiale bag?

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have additional information about this bag that should be added to this page. Let's share the information and let more people kow about this beautiful vintage piece! 🥰

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