I love the sandals.Overall the collection is pretty typical for Hermes.Luxe and non challenging for the uber wealthy who desires the Hermes stamp of good taste.It is a little too refined for me.Its amazing for what it is and Im sure it will sell well.
While her colleagues – including Martin Margiela and Jean-Paul Gaultier – have come and gone, Hermès’ longtime menswear designer Véronique Nichanian has been going strong for some 24 years and is now also in charge of the house’s shoes, bags, silks and accessories for men as artistic director of the Hermès Men’s Universe. She sat down with MANIFESTO to talk about her childhood and what keeps her at Hermès.
When Véronique Nichanian starts talking about fabrics, it’s hard to get her to stop. As a girl growing up in Paris, she’d be out buying cloth every weekend, and now, when creating for the Hermès man, choosing exclusive fabrics and designing is her favourite part of the process. “The fabric is the starting point because everything is possible. I’m still like a little girl in front of a patisserie. When I look at fabrics, I want everything – it’s difficult to focus. This is the first exciting point,” expresses the French designer.
“In my work, there is no routine. Everything is different every day; each season is different. It’s fantastic. The runway is very exciting because you have all the work of the team over the past six months and, in just 10 minutes, you have to focus on what you want to express.” It is precisely this adrenaline that has kept her at the French luxury house for 24 years (making her one of the industry’s longest-serving creative stalwarts at a fashion house), after Jean-Louis Dumas, the late chairman of Hermès, had handpicked her in 1988 to revitalise his company’s slumbering menswear business.
“I feel at home, like it’s my family after so many years,” she says, so it’s only natural that the values she grew up with coincide with those of Hermès. “Through the value of quality, I want to find the best things. For example, if you have cashmere costing €25 or €100, I’ll take the €100. And the way it’s done, the manufacturing and everything, is quite costly, but each step is very exclusive. The values from my education and my parents are exactly that: to do the best. My father used to tell me, ‘If you’re not happy, do it again.’ I work until I’m completely happy, until it’s exactly what I want. Also values of honesty – everything you see in the show is sold in our stores – and respect… for the craftsman, quality and materials. And also fantasy. I like this house because it’s sometimes really crazy. All these values that Hermès puts on each object are really what I feel inside. That’s why I feel so good and time goes so fast.”
With the freedom to do exactly what she wants – all within reason, of course, for Hermès is neither flashy nor loud, shunning big statements in favour of tiny details that only wearers will notice – she almost feels like she’s heading up her very own label: the house of Véronique Nichanian, if you will. In light of her 36 years of menswear experience, one may wonder why she never started her own line, but she sees no real need for it as she doesn’t have any restrictions at Hermès. If something isn’t done right, she has the luxury of starting over, backed by a small army of thousands of craftspeople, of course, from the special order workshop located in the very same Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré building as her design studio and silk facilities in Lyon to custom shirt-makers and fine leather artisans in Pantin, located near Paris.
Her family has always been very supportive of her career. She notes, “When I was a child, I said to my parents, ‘I want to be in the fashion business.’ It was easy because they said, ‘OK, why not?’ And when I finished school as valedictorian, I was happy because I realised that it was really my passion.” In addition, her husband of over 15 years is behind her 100 per cent despite her hectic schedule. “He respects my life and he’s very proud of me, so when I work all night and he sees me so happy, he’s happy. I’m living my dream.”
Her husband may be a motorhead, but she’s afraid of motorbikes herself. So to relax, she reads or goes to the cinema, spoilt for choice as she lives in the lively Parisian district of St-Germain des Prés. Her other big passion is travelling, expressing a fondness for architecture and big cities like Tokyo, New York and London.
Prior to Hermès, Nichanian had worked with Italian couturier Cerruti for 12 years, eventually co-managing the men’s collections, after having graduated from the École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris in 1976. It was easy making the switch from studies in women’s couture to working in men’s ready-to-wear. She explains, “When I finished school, Nino Cerruti was looking for an assistant. I thought that it would be interesting to do men’s fashion for one or two years. And now I’ve been doing menswear for over 30 years. What I’d learnt at school above all was how to make a well-fitting garment. So I didn’t have to relearn everything. What was very interesting about working with Nino was that he used to have, and still has, a fabric factory. I learnt everything about fabrics there.” One of the few women to design clothes for men, she emphasises colour and the blending of traditional and innovative materials – qualities characteristic of Hermès’ casual chic identity.
She mixes beautiful fabrics and exclusive skins that are at the very root of Hermès with materials featuring special new finishes to produce a téléscopage (overlapping) effect, uniting tradition and modernity, as she brings together centuries-old craftsmanship and the latest technological advances. Her clothes are at once strong yet sober, luxurious yet stealthy, elegant yet easygoing, even pairing suits with tennis shoes. As reflected in her combination of traditional cuts and bold colours or prints with a few quirky touches, her designs are a fusion of the 1930s with its simplicity and clean lines, and the 1970s with its energy and craziness she says, even comparing them to the difference in architectural styles of Tadao Ando and Frank Gehry.
With her decades of experience in the pursuit of excellence in fabrics, you name it, she knows exactly where to find it: linen, cotton, wool, mohair, etc. Or she’ll create a new fabric altogether – an area where she demonstrates the most innovation – like croco chiffon that transforms matte crocodile into a soft fabric suitable for a shirt or T-shirt, a nylon-like leather windbreaker, a pinstripe jacket concealing rainproof neoprene or a wool jacket made water-repellent on the yarn, regularly working with manufacturers to create special materials exclusive to Hermès.
While she might be chatty and possess an acute sense of humour, Nichanian has a side that is also simple and straightforward, much like her designs, where the real expression is in the fabrics and details. With a humble discretion that is seldom utilised in today’s fashion scene, she introduced Hermès’ first menswear-only store in New York in 2010 along with a bespoke service covering everything from suiting to knitwear. Even with France’s highest decoration, the Legion of Honour, under her belt, she has managed to stay under the radar, preferring her clothes to do the talking.
So who exactly is the Hermès man for whom she creates? She reinterprets the classics with continuity in mind, with each season evolving from the last, so a man can always find a sweater or trousers from her new collection that works with a previous one, her clothes being slow to date. While they may be mixed and matched, each item of clothing may be viewed as an individual object, a functional and timeless signature piece in its own right.
She elaborates, “I don’t have a masculine ideal. I consider that men have to express their own personality. I don’t design a look. I design one piece like an object and after I design the pants, the jacket, the sweater. I mix them together. This gives a very special style because each garment works separately. For the runway, I pick them like from your wardrobe when you dress yourself. Each piece could stand on its own. Generally speaking, my clothes talk to men who know exactly what they want and can recognise a tiny detail. And I love that because they’re not buying Hermès because it’s Hermès but because they realise what is special on the garment.”
Nichanian is forward-thinking. Rarely surveying her archives, she admittedly doesn’t visit the Hermès private museum situated a few floors below her studio. This museum is the 19th-century office of Emile-Maurice Hermès housing the family’s personal collection of equestrian and travel-related objects and several Hermès products, including the original artwork of a groom face to face with the horses pulling a duc – phaeton carriage – that inspired the Hermès logo. “I don’t look back; I always look ahead. I know exactly where I want to go and I try to make things more interesting for men each season, proposing a mix of fabrics, bringing them new materials. Not new shapes because I like very simple shapes that need a second reading.”
While Hermès provides her with all the tools she needs to create, the only thing she needs more of is time. “I need more time, time to do something really perfect, even time for myself. We say at Hermès, ‘Le temps vous le rend bien.’ When you give your time, time will give it back to you. And I love this idea.”
“My husband respects my life and he’s very proud of me, so when I work all night and he sees me so happy, he’s happy. I’m living my dream.”
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Niche Appeal: Two-Plus Decades Of Véronique Nichanian At Hermès
October 11, 2012 8:14 am
If Hermès has become a byword in and of itself for luxury, part credit goes to Véronique Nichanian, the house’s longtime menswear designer. Her colleagues on the women’s side—including Martin Margiela (1997-2003) and Jean Paul Gaultier (2003-2010)—have come and gone, but Nichanian has been at her post for some 21 years, during which time she’s injected a dose of levity into the house’s super-rich offerings and, over time, introduced the world’s first men’s-only Hermès boutique, on Madison Avenue, and a bespoke service that covers everything from suiting to shirting to knitwear. In New York last week to promote the personalized services at the 690 Madison store, Nichanian sat down with Style.com to talk history, longevity, luxury, and the only two bespoke commissions she’s ever turned down. —Matthew Schneier
I hadn’t realized how many years you’ve been with Hermès—21, isn’t it?
Yes, I don’t count. Yes, it’s a long time, it’s a long story—a nice story. A love affair, almost. Still happy.
You’ve seen the menswear business change enormously in that time.
Oh, yes. The business is changing, and men generally speaking are changing.
How has that affected you?
It’s more fun. Everyone’s more interested in the men’s business, how men dress.
Do you feel like it’s changed the way you approach design?
Not at all. I’m still doing the same thing, the same approach, still considering in the same way the men’s universe and trying to propose things which are right for now—modern and exclusive at the same time.
How has the customer changed? You’re now dealing with a business that’s much more global than the one you entered into.
It’s a big business now. But generally speaking, that’s right that men are much more self-confident in the way they want to dress, and feel much more their own personality. They look at the magazines, of course, but they know themselves much more; they want to express their personalities. They’re less focused on having a suit to be serious. [They want] to have their own mix, to choose. They’re much more aware of what different [brand] names propose—different cut, different feelings, different philosophy. I think it’s a question of philosophy when you choose a house more than another one.
You mention modernity as a key part of your philosophy. How so?
Modernity for me is mixing innovation and tradition in the same time. This is the definition of the Hermès house from the beginning, but this is also from my past. That’s why it’s a long story between Hermès and I. Because I feel comfortable playing with the beautiful material—the most exclusive leather, or crocodile, or cashmere, or the most beautiful linen or cotton…And also to play with the innovation in terms of fabric, yarn, mixing those things.
How do you work with the ateliers to innovate with materials?
If I should define myself, [it is that] I love material and I love fabrics, since the beginning. That’s why, when I was a child, I wanted to do fashion. I love feeling those things, and I love the emotion you can have with a rough tweed, a rough Shetland, a beautiful cashmere, a sweet leather. I love that. I’m an emotional person, and I try to express the way I design clothes, the emotion of the rough and the soft—different feelings. I love going to the factory directly, working with the technicians. I think when you’re in front of a technician, you say, I was thinking of doing that, a stretch linen. He says, No, it’s impossible, because a stretch is… And I say, But if you do that way… It’s like a game! Because I’m stubborn. I know that I want to imagine something new. I’ll do a pinstripe jacket but I want to see it rain-proof, because my husband is doing motorbiking and I want him to be chic and also rain-proof, so I do a neoprene jacket [mixed with] flannel. Now there is neoprene everywhere, but I’ve done that for years.
But I don’t think of you as being a designer who follow trends, or even sets trends. To me, your work seems much more classic.
I don’t know what you mean when you say my work is “classic.” I don’t want to be fashionable because for me, fashion is something more…éphémère. I like to play fashion, to buy something not too expensive, and after one season, OK, I don’t like it anymore. I want that my clothes, people who wear them, to like them for a long time. I don’t want to [exaggerate] the fashion, because it’s another game. I don’t do fashion, I do clothes. For me, it’s really different. I want to consider each [piece of] clothing like an object. “Classic” has become a cliché. It’s like “luxury.” It means many things, and not anything anymore. When you say all the brands do luxury, or everybody’s a star…I prefer to talk precisely. I’m a person who is doing work very precisely. I prefer to talk about clothes. It’s another chemin, another route. It’s my route, for over 20 years.
I don’t want to trot out another cliché, but I do want to ask about the word “luxury.” For me, luxury has gotten very cheap, but Hermès has a good claim to be the true luxury.
I’m talking about quality. I don’t know what luxury means—it’s very subjective. In France, we have so many brands who say, “oh, it’s luxury.” For me, let’s talk about quality.
But in terms of quality, one of the things I like about Hermès is that you have a way of treating quality quite lightly. It doesn’t feel too precious.
This for me is the point of the modernity. The way you consider mixing things together and playing them together. It’s important, it’s a new way to dress. If I have to define the modernity of the clothes today, it’s légèreté—lightness. In spirit and also in reality. My father used to be a very elegant man, but when I see his suits now, they are so heavy; the construction of the suit was very well done, but so old-fashioned. So let’s consider those things together. It’s not to be serious all the time. A lot of men consider themselves very serious, but you can be very good at what you’re doing and not be too serious.
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