One of Hermès classic designs, the Victoria Bag, is now available in a mix of canvas, calfskin, and Sylvania, a new form of Mycelium produced by California start-up MycoWorks that has been in development for the last three years.
When one considers Hermès, there's a couple of things that spring to mind: silk scarves, fragrances, and critically, heaps of high-end leather goods. The brand's logo — a horse pulling a cart — speaks to its origins making saddlery and fine equestrian leather goods back when it was founded by Thierry Hermès in 1801.
Although Hermès has confirmed in a statement that it would not be replacing its traditional leather products, if a brand that's essentially built on the fanciful production of cow-hide is now considering mushroom-based leather for handbags, perhaps this signals the beginning of wider change across the luxury goods industry. As of yet, the price of the new bag is unknown (the original fetches for up to $5150), but it is expected for release at the end of 2021.
What is mushroom leather?
Mushroom "leather" is made from mycelium aka the vegetative part of a fungus that is made from a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae (essentially, the stringy bits that give a mushroom its structure). As mentioned, the Hermès bag is made from Sylvania, an extra-fine form of mycelium, patented by MycoWorks, that is elevating the potential of mushroom-based material as a viable alternative to traditional leather.
How does it compare to real leather?
The upside to using real leather is that it's extremely durable and can last for a lifetime (or more) of wear. So how does Mycelium compare? In a statement to BOF, Hermès' artistic director Pierre-Alexis Dumas says, "MycoWorks’ vision and values echo those of Hermès, a strong fascination with natural raw material and its transformation, a quest for excellence, with the aim of ensuring that objects are put to their best use and that their longevity is maximized. With Sylvania, Hermès is at the heart of what it has always been: innovation in the making."
Is there a need for an alternative to leather?
The production of real cowhide leather can be extremely wasteful and harmful to the environment, not to mention the animals and the humans making it. The heaps of waste and surplus of dangerous chemicals can be read about in more detail over at PETA.
Furthermore, leather is not so practically different from producing and wearing animal fur, a fashion habit considered morally objectionable by modern standards, whereas no-one is really being shamed for shiny leather shoes.
What about "vegan" leather?
Vegan leather is mostly a marketing term that means "plastic." Best avoid.
Who else is on the mushroom wave?
Hermès is the first major luxury house to be publicly experimenting with mushroom-based leather alternatives. However, EDEN Power Corp put "Mycelium Research & Development" at the forefront of its SS21 collection, although it was not made from mushrooms.
Elsewhere, outside of leather, brands such as Gucci, Versace, Vivienne Westwood, and Shrimps have stopped using fur entirely, suggesting that fashion's conscience for animal welfare and the plight of the environment is starting to align more with the times, and the values of its customers.
That said, it's important to note that while it may appear to a move in the right direction, let's not forget that Hermès is still trying to launch a massive crocodile farm in Australia so that the skins can be used for the rest of its luxury products.