Hermès goes subtly radical, as the CGT protest outside
Jan 20, 2020
Hermès called its latest menswear collection "Radical," which it was, though subtly so with a capital "S." The houseʼs hyper experienced menswear designer Véronique Nichanian stuck pretty closely to the brand DNA of gentlemanly modern understatement, but her ability chose the faultless details that made this a truly special collection.
Her cleverest trick was adding a revealing strip of interior fabric – suede, calfskin, nylon or oaky leather – to the inside of funnel-neck coats, trenches and jackets so that they floated ever so slightly. In a lesser hand they would have been awkward, but Nichanian made them look very cool, classy and new.
The designer also daringly cut pants tapered at the ankle bone, and nipped them in further with tiny horizontal straps. A clever ploy seen in the trousers of a chalk-stripe suit in water-repellent cashmere, as well as in a pair of deerskin pants.
Plus, her sense of understatement at the finale – with its Entente Cordiale Savile Row-meets-Saint Germain double-breasted suits, again finished with the interior strip – was impressive.
"A chromatic field in chiaroscuro," said Nichanian of her artfully understated palette of ecru, stone, peat, turf and sepia.
Quite rightly, she was showered with applause at the finale, from an audience perched on a remarkable array of modernist chairs, part of the archives of a peculiar French institution – the Mobilier National. A giant building in the 13th arrondissement, used to stock quality furniture for the offices of cabinet ministers and embassies.
It being France, there was even a trade union protest right outside the front gates. Members of Confédération Générale du Travail, or CGT, the country’s formerly Communist union. Fortunately, they were in a jollier mood than the Yellow Vest protesters, who were busy burning cars at the same moment near Place de la Bastille.
Waving large red flags, the CGT sang a song about protecting the Mobilier National. "We have nothing against Hermès, but we will defend this organization from outrage," explained one of the trade unionists as they handed out leaflets written in both French and English.
Inside, the guests, which included American football star, Dallas Cowboys receiver Brice Butler, were offered champagne and Chassagne Montrachet, as well as nibbles of puff balls of foie gras on tiny chips. Underlining the eternal contradiction that is Paris, capital of luxury and the last city in a Western democracy where fervent believers in Communist ideals still fight on.
That aside, within the narrower confines of fashion, this collection was a perfectly judged statement on gentlemanly style by a designer in excellent form.
Over the past decade, the Hermès company stock has arguably been the greatest success story of any publicly traded luxury brand. Its market capitalization at one stage touched nearly ten times its annual sales, a truly astounding vote of confidence in a company and its future.
And a decent chunk of that brand respect is due to Nichanian, who consistently manages the tricky balancing act of creating posh and hyper plausible clothes, while carefully advancing the codes each season.
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