the woman behind Herm
In his 2008 book, Victims, about luxury Japanese consumers, the photo journalist Kyoichi Tsuzuki recalls the story of a lawyer and who spent a clean Y500,000 (about $4,500) on an Herm briefcase. He carries it only with an Herm towel wrapped around the handle to avoid damaging the leather with perspiration. It kind of understandable. Herm is covetable, veritably worshipped. It a fashion house with which the word luxury is not only synonymous but for which it might have been invented. A place that still has some 42 ateliers where custom orders such as one of its famous celebrity monikered Kelly or Birkin bags or a softly suit are painstakingly stitched by hand. Somehow, chez Herm the concept of luxury manages to transcend its current quotidian overuse, as descriptor for everything from household paint to toilet tissue, to retain and convey real meaning.
V Nichanian, the artistic director of Herm grandly titled universe sighs with quiet exasperation when it is brought up. many years, I hate this word of luxury, because it does not mean anything, she says. Her accent, like the one in her name, is both acute and French, so suggesting she somehow devours luxury, consuming it like fast food another category that has co opted the phrase. does luxury. Small it luxury. They put a logo, it luxury. This word is too much. We are doing quality things and beautiful things. What is luxury today? It is just to be deeply honest in what you doing. is not a response I ever heard to this oft posed question, but Nichanian is arguably best placed to answer it. Following the death of Lagerfeld year, the 65 year old quietly assumed the honour of being the longest serving non founding artistic director in fashion. A handsome, woman, slight, with a sharp bob of black hair, she has been at Herm for 31 years (the label itself is 183 this year), creating collections of discreet, straightforward, luxurious clothes for men with all the money in the world. Her spring/summer 2020 show played out in the courtyard of the Mobilier National, the French a location that Nichanian is kind of in love with. It also gave her the opportunity to her audience on such provenance they not only belong in museums but usually reside there: a Putman, a Prouv a Jean Michel Frank. It takes chutzpah to show with that kind of backdrop but Nichanian Herm is made for that kind of environment, for well dressed men in well dressed homes, for people with lots of money and plenty of taste who aren afraid of using the former in the service of the latter. Nichanian never shies away from putting men in pink or print. This season saw a whole bunch of over with Herm scarf prints, softly worn with pinstripe For some reason, like almost all the Herm men collections, it stuck in mind. It offered a genuine alternative to most fashion a palate cleanser. An honest point of view.
We speak a few days before Nichanian follow up for autumn/winter 2020, presented in January: she holed up fitting her collection on phalanxes of flawless models in a spacious modernist house in the snobby 16th arrondissement. It far away from the madding crowds of week or even the madding crowds who relentlessly throng Herm historic flagship at 24 du Faubourg Saint Honor where the label has had a boutique since 1880. Even during the weeks of transport strikes and protests that crippled Paris in December and January pushing down retail turnover around 30 per cent across the capital a well formed line still snaked outside an hour before the store was due to open every day. Those lines, every day, have helped to drive Herm turnover to in 2019, a 15 per cent increase year on year (ready to wear and accessories, for men and women, comprise 22.86 per cent of turnover). It to understand why Nichanian clothes have huge consumer appeal. While Herm womenswear has oscillated through different design aesthetics from the pussy bowed Sloanes of Eric Berg through to the purist luxury of Nad Vanh Nichanian has stayed a constant: calmly continuing to create her compelling universe of menswear. cut her fashion teeth with Italian tailoring master Nino Cerruti; she began working with him when she was 19, plucked fresh from the de la Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Incidentally, he was also a formative mentor of Armani, another streamlined and stripped back menswear aficionado. Under Cerruti, Nichanian was able to indulge her love of working his mills and factories in Piedmont in northwest Italy. was crazy with the fabrics, she says of her passion. was living in Paris and my mother was because I was buying fabrics all the time, she laughs. cannot resist. It crazy. Some people like big diamonds for me, it fabrics. worked with Cerruti for 12 years, eventually co directing his menswear collections, before Herm called in 1988. Literally. in the fairytale, to be honest. I was in my flat, and I got a phone call, and the phone call, and somebody said, I Jean Louis Dumas and I would like to meet you. And I said, funny. Who on the phone? Dumas was chairman of the Herm group from 1978 until 2006, as well as being the artistic director who up with the now emblematic bag a meeting with its eponym on a flight in 1984. He persuaded Nichanian to have breakfast with him. told me about this vision, what he wanted to make for Herm and he said, want you to take the men side and do it as your own. I said, let start. She shrugs, smiles. I still here. practically cracks her knuckles as she lays out the parameters of her role as artistic director of the men universe. means, OK, designing with my team the ready to wear. But I also working not designing with Hardy the shoes, and Christophe Goineau for the and all the creative directors for each part. The shoes, the scarves, the So, at that part of my job I like a conductor, bringing everybody together. And at Herm we love working all because we are always better as several people than as one. We have more ideas. I love talking to them, and finding ideas together and finding something in the We make these double face scarves silk which are two different prints, different colours on the two sides. We worked on that for five years. Not for the number of hours it takes to make Herm pieces (they obviously labour intensive), but because neither the house nor its designers seem overly concerned with churning out masses of product, nor with making existing models obsolete: the Haut Courroies, which pre dates the Birkin, often appears in Nichanian men collections, as do styles on the 1923 Bolide, both scaled to masculine size. Accordingly, Nichanian work has longevity. long lasting, she says. buy it because you fall in love with the clothes, but after you understand and you realise that [while] it expensive, it costly. It more costly than expensive, because every step is expensive. pauses. here for 30 years, and for 30 years I doing the same thing. I very happy when I meet people in the street, wearing a mix of things from the very last season or 20 years ago. I love that because it my reality. that love of the past, I wonder if Nichanian takes inspiration from Herm archives? After all, those archives are so covetable they have been the subject of theft in 2014, the Italian designer Massimo Piombo was caught purloining a selection of Herm samples from a textile archive belonging to the brand: he was sentenced in 2016 to a suspended prison term of three months and hermes necklace replica
a fine of Nichanian has free rein over the Herm back catalogue, but when I ask, she shakes her head. I don go to the archive, she says. don look back. I don look back because they were very, very clever and very talented to create these things, but I try to express my time. I think now is a great opportunity to express new things with new materials and technologies. I look forward. I know the archive. There beautiful things, and beautiful ideas, but I want to express something different modernity. a refreshing response at a time when many fashion brands are rooted in the glories of their past rather than focusing on the future. journalist told me, a few weeks ago, he said, your own archive, Nichanian recalls. And, after 30 years, that undoubtedly true. She grins. just one story. Yesterday, we had some models come in, and I said to one young guy, you have a beautiful He said, it an Herm And I was looking, and I said, I did not know that, it very beautiful. He said, ancient. It from 2000. She rolls her eyes, grinning even wider. my God, 2000. My God! I said, old are you? He said, 17. I was like, my God, of course. She laughs uproariously.