a few more Grails and after all that, a possible fail

The first time I saw the word "Grail" used in connection with a shopping venture was on the Purse Forum, Hermès scarf department. The ladies were discussing their "Grail scarves". I got it immediately. I had two Grail scarves in my life at the time: the scarf that showed scenes from the Bayeux tapestry, and one that depicted adorable little monks and pilgrims climbing up Mont Saint Michel. The Guillaume scarf was the one I'd bought on our first trip to France together, we'd been to Bayeux in the days when the Tapestry was pinned up to the walls of a simple building, you could walk right up to it, no alarms, no plastic. I was close enough to see the textures of the yarns and the types of stitches. Viewed like that, even though the lady embroideresses were the wives of the conquered British nobles and probably weren't all that happy, you could detect some irony. I loved it. My favorite scene in the original (1066 & all that) Bayeux tapestry* is the one where the invading French, having landed at Hastings, immediately unload kettles and cauldrons and cooking tools and boxes of food, obviously not wanting to risk living off the land. When we reached Paris, I made right for  Hermès and when I saw the scarf, I knew it was meant for me. I treasured it until it disappeared at the same time a household employee informed me that our washing machine wasn't working and she'd be happy to drop off that week's laundry at our local Fluff 'n' Fold. The towels, shirts and stuff were replaced in due course, but the disappearance of the scarf hurt for a long time. Anyway, for years I sought to replace that scarf, and when I learned that Hermès repeats classic designs from time to time, and also that unsold stock moves around the world from location to location, well, Lancelot and Perceval had nothing on me. Finally, I found my Bayeux tapestry scarf in the colors I wanted, finally, found it at Harrod's of all places! And the other one, I saw the cute little characters climbing the mountain in a silk Hermès blouse at a vintage store, but never on a scarf. Still looking. The Hermès search service doesn't apply to hunts for scarves that are so old they have value as antiques, alas.

The Grail of last winter/spring was the Margaret Annie, a Liberty shirt sold by J.Crew, and that Quest was described in an earlier post,  I actually got the shirt at a site-wide promotion after a lot of huffing, puffing and early rising. I've admired it for months. Know what? I haven't worn it yet. I don't like it with a black or navy blazer, it reads, dunno, somehow like a lady who needs to get out of the house more. That combo just lacks energy. I don't like it with jeans either. It's fine with more tailored pants, and I've been trying pencil skirts, but I really think this needs some more movement, maybe pleats? On the skirt, not the pants. Well, it looks great in the closet.

And I now have 2 gardenshade floral skirts, which were so cheap I felt I really should have a duplicate. The hem can be lowered about an inch with the help of hem facing, since generous hems and seam allowances are not part of the design equation these days. So one will have its hem lowered. This skirt is great with a denim shirt, navy linen shirt, chambray top, pale aqua cable linen sweater (very light weight). There's also a pale mint green featherweight cotton short-sleeve cardigan from a few summers ... maybe I should have grabbed a third skirt?

Another quest was a very lightweight cotton print skirt named Flora. Oh, right, the Goddess of Little Spring Vegetables! Every time I saw that skirt, I felt I should be paring and trimming cute little baby veggies with a sterilized cuticle scissors. But no. While I was having vegetable visions, the skirt appeared and disappeared. Again, finally it turned up. The print is gray and rust on cream, which sounds the wallpaper in one of the unfortunate boarding houses that George Orwell visited, but it's actually quite nice. The fabric is so light that I feel it would look skimpy with anything other than a tank, and the tank has to be cotton, because the skirt is a thin cotton. OK, I'm babbling here. Fortunately I have a few ribbed knit tanks in rusty copper-y colors with names that sound like Smoky the Bear officiated at the naming. Since I don't usually introduce my clothes by name, I could care less what they're called. So Flora's a success. Note: based on the position of the label, Flora should open at the left side. But the skirt hangs better if the opening is center front. Flora had quite a few outings last summer, and this summer I'm wondering if Flora might like to be a strapless dress.

Finally, I have fallen in love with still another Hermès scarf. It's not new, I guess I just wasn't paying attention when it first came out. Or I was broke. Or both. The design is called Les Toits de Paris. It just says Paris to me, the girl at the window, the rooftops, the cat... and the colors could be Paris at different times of the year, different times of day. I bought several, one in Paris at 24 Faubourg, the others at different times in different places, on what I call the "secondary market." If I see another color, I may just implode.

*Many probably know this, but just in case: the real Bayeux tapestry is not a tapestry. It is a long and narrow piece of embroidery in yarn on linen that tells the story of William the Conqueror's invasion of England, in great historical and social detail. It was made to be hung around the walls of the cathedral of - Caen? I forget. Name an important cathedral in Normandy. If you drool over the embroidered samplers made by talented little girls in (US) colonial times, you will absolutely have to go lie down when you see this one. Take your time, the delight is in the details.


  1. Oh yes, the Holy Grail! I totally understand this of course! As you know I recently got my Grail scarf and it was not even a year old. I was absolutely breathless when I thought I had missed it.

    I have had a few other Grail items and they have never disappointed. I think it's one of those things, as my Grandmother would say, "You just know." Glad you have found yours, enjoy!

  2. Love this post! I almost started hyperventilating when I heard about the Mont St. Michel scarf. Now I have to start looking for that!!! WHen I am in Paris later this month, besides the real Hermes store, is there any place where I could possibly find a used scarf?

    I have the gardenshade skirt and love it. I put it away for July and August, but plan to wear it in September/October again. I have the matching blouse, which I also love.

    Funny - I pre-ordered that same liberty shirt but sent it back when I got it. I couldn't make it work either. It didn't fit in with my lifestyle I guess and it was a little too country for my taste. But what a pretty print....

    WHere do I start my search for the scarf???????

  3. What an excellent post thanks Fred.
    I'm with WMM, where is the best place to go in Paris to buy Hermes? I've never been to the store but I'm going in October, that's it.
    I think you have a real eye for these Grail pieces.
    Mai Tai posted on a store (left bank?) that sells older Hermes but warned the prices are above retail. Above!

  4. Nothing like finding a grail item. I especially like the tapestry scarf and the Paris one with the red bits-- great! I like that Liberty print, but I don't know how I would wear that either. I am such an insane gardener people would think I was being cute.

    That skirt-- can't understand how I missed that one. I believe all blues, purples and greens go together. Will search for a size 8 one.

    Then there are those grail items I never intend to get, but love thinking they are in the world somewhere. My navy Chanel jacket, my handmade silver, my Audi TT-- all out there.

  5. Thanks, xoxo, I loved your scarf! Yes, there are things that just have your name on them, aren't there?

  6. Hi, WMM, there are a number of high-end vintage stores in Paris that have Hermes merchandise, but the scarves tend to be valued as price-y collectibles and many are priced higher than current retail. If you are just dipping your toe into Hermes, first go to the flagship store at 24 Faubourg St Honore and study. You should do this before you look elsewhere. Hermes is a vertically integrated family owned company, so it's rare to find its soft goods elsewhere, although there are twice-yearly sales. Anyway, go to the flagship, it's a beautiful experience. You want to look at the details, the designs, feel the texture of the silk, the puffiness of a true Hermes hem. A lot of the sales staff seem to believe that everyone's first Hermes should be the Keys pattern. I disagree, it should be the one that speaks to you. And there's a small neckerchief size that is soooo Parisian when folded up and tied around the neck... Look at those scarves too. Chic and not as price-y. Enjoy! Oh, and don't forget to look at the saddles and tack. This is why your parents didn't buy you a pony.

  7. Hi, Dani, October's a great time, the fall colors will be in the store. Go to the flagship (see response to WMM, above). Yes, there's always a market for Hermes scarves, I think mine are the best investment I've ever made, although looking at the price of gold lately... And Hermes is a family company and the family is very protective of its craftsmen, and of the value of the brand. MaiTai's place is well known and has a good reputation, and there are guides to not getting trapped by phony Hermes on the Purse Forum and on Ebay. A lot of the older designs turn up on Ebay, and the Ebay Hermes sellers often have "stores" that are worth browsing.

    Hermes will do Detaxe, or you may have time to buy a scarf at the airport if you're lucky. CDG departure "lounge" reminds me of the footage of people leaving Saigon, not a pleasant place.

    Little-known fact: If you have buyers' remorse, and your scarf is still intact with all its accoutrements, box, tags & so on, you can bring it into any Hermes store anywhere in the world and exchange it for one you like better. THis used to be a great way to take advantage of the formerly strong US dollar.

  8. Hi, Lane, the one with the red edges is my latest love. I found it on 1st Dibs, priced about the same as retail, made an offer, and held my breath til it arrived. This fall: more writing, less spending.

  9. So funny- my first Hermes was Les Cles. Which spoke to me at time because of the soft pink and ivory combination. As a passionate needleworker, I think that the Bayeux tapestry is deservedly one of the wonders of the world. I think it is particularly interesting, because almost every other wonder was (probably) constructed by men. Square scarves are back on everyone's radar again, although they never left mine.

    1. Hi, KnitYarns, color is always the first thing to look at. I received Les Cles in wine & gold on white, I treasure it because I treasure the thought and the memory of the giver, but really, no matter how exquisite one's personal habits are, all that white around the neck and close to the chin? However, I have the feeling there'll be a lot of wine colors this fall & winter, so maybe that scarf will have a few outings.

      On our first drive through France together, the patchwork of little family farms with the different colored green, pale green, deep green, and yellow fields/crops spread over the landscape, castles in the distance, made me think: Erica Wilson!

    2. I actually just referenced Erica Wilson recently in a post on my other blog www.knityarns.blogspot.com

      I read her books obsessively and as a teenager made a number of her needlepoint pieces. So evocative- they bring me right to a New England frame of mind.

      As a ivory/ olive skinned brunette, white was my favorite color, and wine draws the colors from my face, so it is a good thing Hermes uses such a rich variety of colors. St Michel is on my wish(dream) list to visit.
      I love your blog. It is erudite and amusing(oxymoron?).
      BTW, For some reason "grail" brought vague recollections of Monty Python to my mind.

    3. So kind, KnitYarns!
      Um, could it be the shrubbery?

  10. I do not yet own an Hermès scarf, but have always wanted one...even more so now that I have heard you and xoxo talk about the history, quality, and customer service of the company itself. Thank you for another delightful and informative post. :)

    1. thanks, FFM! The great thing about the scarves is how personal they feel, because while new designs appear each season, old classics hang around or come back, sometimes in updated colors. So there's something for every whim, every complexion, every lifestyle. Another thing I love about the designs is that the scarf will look different depending on how it's folded, or rolled, or bunched, it each time, so that if you pick carefully you'll have a whole wardrobe of scarves.

  11. "Les Toits de Paris" is stunning, I can see why you love it! I have one Hermès scarf, "Ex Libris en Camouflage" (posted on my blog here and here). I love it and am debating whether to start madly collecting the other colours... It's an expensive habit though, and I'm not sure my husband would be too happy about it...

    1. I love your little horses, Louise! Himself became so fascinated by the men's couture riding and hunting clothes, and the saddles, luggage, and equipment, and the cigar items, and the lovely staff draping things over me and asking his opinion.... I won't say it was painless. But it helped. And the scarf is dead cheap compared to the beach towel. Just sayin.

  12. Nodding with recognition as I read that you haven't worn your Margaret Annie shirt yet. I am right with you there. Had to have it, stalked it, got it on the rare promo on full priced merch and it sits in the closet taunting me. It's so beautiful yet, like you, I cannot seem to make it work in an outfit that looks like me. Now I am in love with one of the new Liberty perfect shirts. SA tried to persuade me to try it on yesterday. I wasn't having that & told him straight out it was crazy expensive. Maybe my tone was a bit harsh because the poor fellow backed away like a scolded puppy. What can I say? The A/C repairman had to be paid to the price of 2 Liberty shirts the same day! I will be brown-bagging turkey sandwiches for the rest of the month.

  13. So funny, shopalot, I was just asking the dishwasher why it's been making all those funny noises. I bought one thing that I'd been stalking on the latest promo, that is, on the promo if the price adjustment comes through because I placed the order on the first markdown a few hours early. When I called to ask for the adjustment, I was told that It would probably take 2 billing cycles. So I asked if there would be fees on the unpaid balance, because in my mind that refund money is spent. On the dishwasher guy. Well, let's just say that I think that VPS has independent resources.

    Anyway if I do come up with an outfit for the MA shirt, I'll post it. That shirt is becoming a regular feature on the blog!


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