Véronique Nichanian, creative director of Hermès Men for more than 30 years, contemplates why her collections, like her, are built to last and anything but classic.
For 33 years, Véronique Nichanian has been leading the men’s collections at Hermès. While the French luxury house is steeped in heritage and history, Nichanian, a petite woman with a dynamic smile, describes its lasting appeal due to its curiosity for excellence in innovation. “For me, it is contemporary,” she starts. “I like to work with noble materials and I like to work with simple forms. I like to play with craftsmanship, but innovative craftsmanship through research.” With her team, she questions herself a great deal, introducing new materials like neoprene, canvas, and even paper alongside noble materials like cashmere, cotton, and linen. It’s this pull between classic and contemporary that she believes “makes the twist interesting” but ultimately, it’s not luxury for luxury’s sake, but grounded in necessity. “I believe that a man moves and travels a lot and he has several lives. I have always worked on items that I call ‘multiple clothes.’ Pieces that are transformative – things that turn inside out, that have several aspects, things that can be detached, that last, and that you keep for a long time.”
Not satisfied with being dressed by others, Nichanian recalls wanting to design clothes since she was a young teenager. The born-and-raised Parisienne attended the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, which is what led her to the world of men’s clothes. Nino Cerruti hired her as his collaborator in 1976 and with him, she discovered a world otherwise unfamiliar. In 1988, former Hermès president Jean-Louis Dumas asked her to take over the direction of the ready-to-wear men’s collection, famously giving her carte blanche. “He put his trust in me to discover the masculine side of my personality,” she muses. “I am very demanding when it comes to details and essential things, rather than on special effects of image or a podium. The world of men is not more demanding than the woman’s world, but it is more rigorous,” she asserts.
Nichanian recalls her father’s tastes as that of “a classic man who wore only custom-made clothes.” She continues, “Classic is not something for me. It’s a strange word.” Longevity, however, is core to her approach. Clothes that last come down to accuracy; she spends hours on fittings, working to the millimeter on the construction of a garment, the choice of fabric, with the aim that it last years. She also does not exalt the myth of the “perfectly dressed man.” Rather, she finds sensuality in someone who knows themselves and chooses well for themselves. “This is why I make clothes. It is not for the overall appearance. If you buy a jacket, and another man buys the same jacket, it will look completely different on him,” she says. “What interests me is the man who chooses well according to his morphology, taste, and spirit. Also, his interest in quality, materials, and details.”
The creative director is eminently positive. During the unending waves of pandemic-induced lockdowns in Paris – the city is currently on its third – she sees the crisis as an opportunity to question oneself and extend offers for new collaborations. One such occurrence involved a creative process with French theater director Cyril Teste. “He is someone whose work
Hermès looks at, so we contacted him, had an open dialogue and the idea of featuring Hermès backstage came in the process.” For the presentation of the SS21 collection, they created a dynamic 360-degree “off-screen” digital experience filmed in the Hermès ateliers. It offered viewers watching on their screens an opportunity to witness the show in an almost voyeuristic manner. They could experience fittings and the comings and goings of the Hermès workshop that felt very intimate. “It also highlighted the feeling of teamwork,” pipes Nichanian. The SS21 collection is casual, made with cottons and linens. Pants, cropped at the ankle, feature comfortable drawstrings and even elastic waists. They are punctuated with neon bright yellows alongside iterations of soothing blues and creams. The outerwear is typically lightweight and functional while not being over-the-top utilitarian. An oversized weekend bag affirms that travel is not dead, just not as far-flung for the time being.
While she is confined in Paris, Nichanian maintains her positive outlook with ease, walking to work along the Seine from her home in Saint-Germain to her light-filled office on rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré. She does miss traveling, however, saying with whimsy, “I am curious to know about the world, the people in it, their culture. This is something that feeds me. I love architecture and big cities – architecture reflects the people who live there and reciprocally, this gives shape to the way people live in a city.” Of the recent Hermès men’s store that opened in Dubai, she comments that “it is one of the most beautiful in the world in terms of space and light.” She posits that here, men will feel a sense of freedom that is unprecedented in earlier times. “When I started working, social codes were very established. You had to wear a suit and tie to be called credible. The evolution of mentalities, sports, materials, colors – things I have been advocating for years – have become a part of men’s wardrobes.” She agrees that men are more confident in their tastes and the way in which they express their personalities. “There is no longer this need to look or be like the other. Every man can now express a little of what he has, his soul, and who he wants to be. I think it is a positive evolution in that men have started to buy for pleasure.” She considers that in the past, only women bought from the heart, while men were seen making what were considered the “reasonable purchases.” She smiles, “Now, a man can buy whatever he wants. This makes me happy because the men’s world of fashion is expanding for the best.”
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Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Vogue Man Arabia