The Classicist: The Mystery of Out of Africa Author Karen Blixen's Hermès Luggage
Hermès has uncovered a couple of remarkable pieces of bespoke luggage in its archives, made for famed Danish Out of Africa author Karen Blixen, aka Isak Dineson, in the 1930s. The Art Deco tobacco-colored crocodile skin cases, one ordered in 1930 and the other in 1935, contain every conceivable article an aristocratic author could need on an arduous journey to Africa. The famed Parisian luxury goods house notes that the more complex of the two took its craftsmen 368 hours to make; both feature fine inlays and engraving, with most pieces adorned with a baroness' crown and the author's DBF monogram for Dineson Blixen-Finecke, a combination of her maiden and married names (her full title was Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke).
The cases feature myriad compartments and leather boxes for spirits, smoking accessories, writing instruments, notepaper, perfume bottles, cosmetics, playing cards, jewelry, small tools, sewing items, brushes and more, with some items finished in sterling silver and tortoiseshell. However, Hermès notes the the items appear to be unused and probably never made it to Kenya, where Blixen established a coffee plantation at the foot of the N'gong Hills; and therein lies something of a mystery. Noting that by December of 1930, when the first case was ordered, Blixen was somewhat down on her luck and preparing to leave Africa, Hermès thinks it unlikely she ordered it for herself and the archives are unclear. Could it perhaps have been intended as a gift from her lover, dashing big game hunter and pilot Denys Finch Hatton?
We may never know for certain. Finch Hatton, the Eton and Oxford educated son of Henry Stormont Finch Hatton, 13th Earl of Winchilsea, was killed in a plane crash in May of 1931. Blixen finally left Africa that same year and returned to Denmark, plagued by drought and financial difficulties that lead to the plantation's economic collapse. The story behind the second case, ordered in 1935, remains equally shrouded in mystery. Out of Africa was published in 1937, winning her instant acclaim; decades later it was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. Sadly, Blixen died in 1962 after a long illness she attributed to syphilis; her literary reputation and the Hermès cases remain, impeccable. Of course, the stunning pieces belong in a museum, but the luxury goods house will be glad to make you some just like them should you possess the necessary funds.