Hermes's Fall 2015 collection was classic French chichi mixed with a pinch of subversiveness. Amid a parade of perfectly tailored suits, elegant pinstripe bomber jackets, and dapper cardigans were some wild cards: Think sheared-mink sweatpants, leather sweatshirts (in both calfskin and alligator), and a pair of insouciant flight suits.
These weren't experimental curveballs thrown in to make a grand statement or to compete with left-field indie designers. They were seamless tweaks to the brand's stately ethos, and, quite simply, they worked. They weren't extreme; they were totally wearable. "Innovation has to be balanced by functionality and quality," says Hermes artistic director Veronique Nichanian.
And of course there were the must-have scarves, from lavish purple to lime green. This is Hermes after all.
Nichanian has cut a singular swath in the world of fashion. In an industry characterized by designer musical chairs, she has been at the helm of Hermes for 27 years, and is one of the few women overseeing luxury menswear. Her longevity can be credited to her design prowess as well as her ability to let the clothes speak for themselves. You will also never read about her going on ego-fueled tirades or falling out of a limousine on a wild night out. She is as elegant as her designs, a chic behind-the-scenes arbiter for a classic house. Her capacity to carry on the Hermes tradition, while still keeping the brand feeling fresh for such a long period, is a rarity.
"The challenge is to be in tune with your time and to create timeless clothes," she says. While that's difficult to achieve, Nichanian has consistently done it. As menswear becomes more relaxed, she has adapted, adding to her formalwear and suiting clothing that is more casual, but still considered luxury because of its fabrics and craftsmanship. For Hermes's fall collection, she mixed in items from the brand's debut sports capsule collection, "sport en ville." If the tailored stuff was cool, the basics were epic.
Nichanian describes the collection as "signature classics, refined yet relaxed with a certain sense of ease and simplicity of shape." Double-breasted blazers were tailored, yet left room to breathe. Trench coats were slim but would still billow majestically in the wind. Some pants were raffish and baggy. A zipped cardigan, tied around the waist, was so good that tying things around your waist suddenly seems like a good idea. The funnel-neck pullover sweater in glen plaid is worth fighting for.
As her men's collection grows to encompass both formal and casual wear, Nichanian continues to redefine her customer.
"The Hermes man is always evolving, which inspires me as I approach each season," she says. "Whether it is proportions, fabrication, fit, or the intimate detail of a pocket that perfectly fits a personal item, the Hermes man has a strong sense of identity -- he is a man sensitive to quality, details, and exceptional fabrics."
This modern identity is solidified by Hermes's newly dedicated menswear platform, Le Manifeste. Nichanian had a hand in the development of the website, which teachers users how to "master the art of building sandcastles" and write surreal poetry.
Hermes has had an e-commerce site since 2001, but Le Manifeste is more than a glorified webstore. "I wanted to reach out to men with Hermes spirit and lighthearted humor," she says. "I always have men's best interests at heart when launching a project. Le Manifeste is just like any Hermes endeavor -- arousing curiosity, stirring up creativity, and entertaining."
Connecting with the consumer has been the key to Nichanian's success. Keenly aware of trends, she speaks to a constantly evolving audience. Her aim is to make "plural garments that have multiple lives," clothes that can "adapt to the circumstances."
After a long stint designing men's clothes, might Nichanian yearn to venture into designing womenswear -- and a little something for herself, perhaps? Not at all, she says. She's content to be the woman behind the man. Still, she adds, dryly, "There's nothing preventing women from buying the clothes in my collections."
Styling by Grant Woolhead. Market Editor: Michael Cook. Groomer: Larry King at Streeters. Model: Roger Frampton at Premier Model Management