Founded in 1837, Hermès has become the go-to brand when it comes to combining historical heritage and craftsmanship with a contemporary sense of style. We’re all too familiar with the infamously iconic Birkin bag, and while most of us have probably only dreamt about owning such a stylish staple, Hermès has managed to become much more than merely the supplier of the latest It-bag. Prestage had the chance to sit down with the creative director of Hermès’ menswear department, Véronique Nichanian, who’s been leading the premium luxury brand’s men’s line since 2009. And successfully so, because Hermès is one of the few brands where men’s fashion makes up for almost half of its entire earnings.
It’s quite an honor to be in the presence of someone so highly regarded in the fashion industry. If fashion were a monarchy, Hermès would be reigning royalty, and so it does slightly feel as if we’re about to meet the queen herself. The 58 year old Nichanian, who has been working for Hermès for over two decades, has that innately inimitable look French women are known for around the globe. Where does a woman, in charge of men’s fashion, get her ideas from?
Veronique: “It’s funny how often I get asked this question, when in fact there are far more men designing for women and nobody seems to wonder about their (cap)ability to do so. Quite astonishing no? I find it surprising not more women are interested in designing for men. One of the reasons I was drawn to it in school, was of the preciseness, the meticulousness designing for men requires. It’s about the subtleness in detailing. I try to look objectively at men, to enhance their smartness, charm them up a bit. To provide them with a palette to choose from. In a way, there is much more equality between men’s and women’s fashion nowadays. We lead the same kinds of lives, we work, we travel, and so is the way we experience some things, such as the feeling of a particular fabric; the sensuality, the sensibility. I’m less concerned about the length of a hem than I am about the choice of material, which is vitally important. I’m always looking for new fabrics or materials to work with”.
In an industry focused on temporary fads and season bound clothes, Véronique finds herself pioneering a different approach. She even dares to go as far by saying, “she aims at making collections that never go out of style”. The fashion planet, as are its inhabitants, is fickle, how does she manage to do so?
“I basically design from a gut feeling, draw inspiration from within and pick and choose whatever resonates best. Don’t get me wrong, I like fashion, but I’m not obsessed. For me, it’s something playful, something to experiment with. Generally, the fashion world works on deadlines. This and that have to be done in so and so long. But my world at Hermès is a much more timeless one and, this is the reason why our products are costly, I get to work with the best possible fabrics, materials and manufacturers, aiming for the highest quality possible. That is where my focus is. I like a simple, clean shape or line and from there, I play with color and material. I like mixing different fabrics and textures, because for me that emulates the way we live in the 21st century. For example, I will work with tailored pieces but construct them with sportswear inspired materials, like we did with S/S 2013 and which will continue, though with its own twist, in the A/W 2013 collection .That clash is something I always try to look for in my work”.
When asked how she would describe her personality, she infectiously laughs out loud: “Demanding! And definitely not easily satisfied”, she grinningly exclaims and continues on, on a more serious note. “It’s true, I am quite demanding, but only because I strive to excel in what we already do so well. Hermès represents the absolute top and therefore I want nothing but the best. Though, being the perfectionist I am can be both a blessing as a curse, mind you. It’s an ongoing and never ending process. Therefore, it is flattering when people complement the ‘perfection’ of the clothes, for I will put my all into every collection. I’ll have worked on the materials myself, will have visited the factories and contacted suppliers. Being artistic director does not mean being kept in some ivory tower, closed off from the outside world. On the contrary, it’s what I love about my job, being in direct contact with everyone involved. It’s less about fashion and more about the art of making beautiful clothes, and so it is incredible I have been able to do this for so long within the fashion industry. People tend to ask me: Don’t you ever get tired of it? When are you going to stop? But for me, as long as I get to do what I’ve enjoyed doing for so long, quitting is out of the question. I draw a lot of inspiration from travelling around the world, architecture and film, but it’s something unconscious. I don’t design with a specific theme in my head or base a collection on a particular movie, it’s more of a feeling, a sense of the spirit of the times. If I had to pinpoint a highlight in my career, besides being asked to join the prestigious house of Hermès in 1988, it would have to be the 20 years of freedom I’ve had here. It was after all, quite a courageous move of Jean-Louis Dumas, the company’s CEO at the time, when he appointed a woman to lead its menswear department. Something I’m still grateful for”.
As are we.
Written by Thomas Stevens @ KULT & PASTE
Published in PRESTAGE magazine issue 6