Back in the Saddle: Hermès’s Equestrian Roots

Dina Litovsky

Hermès improves on the art of saddle making with the help of a star rider. 

It’s called the piqué sellier. The Hermès saddle stitch can be done only by hand. Two independent waxed-linen threads crisscrossing through punctured leather—a handsome, sturdy double helix. When sewn correctly, as Thierry Hermès proved in 1837 when he opened his equestrian leather-goods store in Paris, the stitch is stronger than if it were made by machine. Almost 180 years (and innumerable orange boxes and brown cotton ribbons with saddle stitches) later, Hermès is known better to most people for Birkin bags than for saddles. “Not down here it’s not,” says champion rider Nick Dello Joio, hopping off an Hermès saddle in Wellington, Florida.

The 27-year-old nationally ranked jumper is an ambassador for Hermès. Which means his stirrups, front jockey, latigo, fender, flank cinch, skirt, back jockey, cantle, seat, saddle strings, snaffle bit, curb reins, and throatlatch, as well as his snug fine-gauge navy-blue polo, are all provided by the luxury-goods company. Everything but the horse. “Believe me, it’s awesome,” he says with a laugh, smoothing the crest and shoulders of ten-year-old Contiki, a Swedish warmblood gelding that stables at his father’s training facility. (Dello Joio’s father, Norman, was the bronze medalist in show jumping in the 1992 Olympics.)

Since last summer Dello Joio has been testing out a new jumping saddle for Hermès, the Allegro. “We were looking for a close-contact saddle fitting perfectly the American two-point position,” says Marion Larochette, director of Hermès Equestrian Métier. The Allegro saddle marries craftsmanship passed down from Thierry Hermès (only one craftsman works on each saddle, start to finish), real-time feedback from partner riders such as Dello Joio, and technical innovation. “The art of saddle making,” Larochette says, “is to translate it through traditional know-how.” She quotes former CEO Jean-Louis Dumas: “It’s thanks to horses that Hermès learned to combine what determines a useful object with the rational perfection that turns it into a work of art, able to stir emotions.”

As Dello Joio swings back up on Contiki, he explains what makes a good saddle. “Obviously you have to feel it, because it’s about balance. And for me this saddle will last a lifetime.” He says that when a saddle is custom-made, Hermès takes an 80-point measurement of the horse’s back. “Most saddles today,” he says, “when ridden hard, only maintain quality for four to five years.” As he rides off into the hazy southern Florida sunset, Dello Joio asks, “Now can you help me find a sponsor to buy me a horse?” 

Hermès’s custom-made Allegro saddle, $8,500, hermes.com.