In the pursuit of dreams, Kenneth Goh travels to the most remote islands in the Northern Hemisphere, to experience the pleasures of imagination the Hermès way.
Trekking on Musvær.
I'm not a man who likes surprises. So it was with great hesitation that I accepted a trip with Hermès for their 2019 theme launch. It’s an annual event that’s been held for 32 years, each time in a locale that best embodies their key leitmotif for the year. But this year’s trip was different. We were scheduled to meet at a specific departure gate at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, with the location shrouded in the words “Mystery City”. Not a signboard, not a boarding pass, not a single whisper revealed where we were going.
Our private jet was hired for the sole purpose of transporting us to this place and back within 12 hours. All I knew was that I was headed to the Northern Hemisphere, it had to do with dreaming, it had to do with the summer solstice, and it had to do with a place where the sun never sets. We were told to pack warm and comfortable clothing. We were told to pack for practicality, for wet conditions, for—horror of horrors—“trekking”. The idea of hiking through mountainous regions with fashionistas huffing and puffing in heels was not my idea of dreaming.
From top: A musician playing a lur, a blowing horn. Midnight in Sandøya. Sigrun performing in Musvær. One of the dishes used for dinner. Trekking in Sandøya. Un Jardin Sur La Lagune, a perfume created by Christine Nagel.
Still, I stuck to the plan. Donning an Hermès cream shearling coat, wool trousers, a cashmere sweater and a nylon trapper quilted hat, I was ready to face a polar bear if need be. Well, I didn’t need to: The only polar bear was of the stuffed variety and he stood in the lobby of our Radisson Blu hotel in Tromsø, Norway. Yes, this was where our delightfully chic private jet had transported us—150 very privileged guests—to experience “the pursuit of dreams”. Being the northernmost city in Norway, Tromsø is the ideal place to observe the famous Northern Lights in winter, while in summer, inhabitants deal with unending days.
After freshening up in the hotel, we set sail on a boat to Musvær, a tiny island just outside Tromsø, inhabited by six people whose farming ancestors settled here in 1832. We had a few musicians from Norway, Sweden as well as a Lithuanian trio who specialised in playing traditional wind instruments to set us off on our journey. Eclectic world music—played with bagpipes, ram’s horns, drums and percussions—accompanied us all the way from the harbour at Tromsø to our arrival on Musvær.
But it was the unique performance by Sigrun, an Icelandic composer, vocalist and multiinstrumentalist, that stood out to me. Her ethereal voice, flailing arms and shuffling feet were a lot for this jet-lagged editor to take in at 3am in the morning. Still, it was very special, so daringly weird and hauntingly different that I wondered if I was indeed dreaming or had fallen into a nightmare.
They say a picture paints a thousand words, but with Hermès, it wasn’t nearly enough. The experience of dreaming had to apply to all five senses. For our urban eyes, there was the magnificence of unspoiled lush countryside and crystal clear glacial waters with colours so unreal they resembled the intense tones of a man-made aquarium. For our weary bodies, there were gorgeous dining tents where we could warm ourselves and rest our weary feet. For our expectant ears, curated bands incorporated folkloric voices, 18th-century glass harps, Caribbean steel drums, Indian percussions into world music anthems that played over rolling hills and across fjords. For our jaded palate, the freshest seafood, organic vegetables, intensely flavoured cheeses and dishes from the kitchens of Michelin-starred Norwegian chef, Heidi Bjerkan.
From top: Traditional musical intruments played at Musvær. Julietnorth, a folk-pop ensemble from Norway. Walking in Musvær. The dining tents under a beautiful rainbow. A bonfire on the beach. The embroidered Bolide 1923 bag.
The last stop was a hike in Sandøya, a small island where one can see the sparse remains of the 17th-century village that lived off the production and export of stockfish. We trekked for about an hour to be serenaded by Loup Barrow, a composer and multi-instrumentalist from France, and it brought to an end a magnificent trip.
The idea of dreams has truly permeated so many facets of Hermès this year, from the embroidered Bolide 1923 covered with imaginary creatures from Greek mythology, to the newest perfume creation, Un Jardin Sur La Lagune by Christine Nagel, conceived from a dream of an Englishman who was mad about gardens and Venice.
Dreams, in all its various guises, had bombarded all my senses during my 12 hours in Tromsø. It was disorientating since the sun never set and the hours all blurred into one. It was a strange feeling, heightened by the remote locale, sparse habitation and rich wildlife. It brings to mind Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words, “Every sunset brings the promise of a new dawn.” In the Land of the Midnight Sun, isn’t it wonderful to have endless days to fulfil all your promises?