WEAR­ING THE PANTS

AS A WOMAN DE­SIGN­ING EX­CLU­SIVELY MENSWEAR FOR A TOP LUX­URY BRAND, HER­MES’ VERONIQUE NICHA­NIAN IS IN A MI­NOR­ITY OF ONE. START­ING IN THE 80S, WHEN THERE WERE EVEN FEWER FE­MALE DE­SIGN­ERS, SHE HAS SEEN IM­MENSE CHANGE IN AN IN­DUS­TRY THAT IS NOW MORPHING FASTER

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY DAVID MEAGHER POR­TRAIT PA­TRICK SWIRC

There are very few fe­male menswear de­sign­ers in the fash­ion in­dus­try. There is Rei Kawakubo, de­signer and founder of Comme des Garçons. There is Vivi­enne West­wood, Ann De­meule­meester and Mar­garet How­ell. Last month Stella Mc­Cart­ney en­tered this small group and showed her very first menswear col­lec­tion. There are other names, of course, but one thing all of them have in com­mon is that they also de­sign women’s clothes (and in most cases their men’s line is sec­ondary). When it comes to nam­ing a fe­male de­signer who only works in men’s fash­ion the field nar­rows – in fact, it more or less be­gins and ends with Véronique Nicha­nian, de­signer of menswear at Her­mès. Nicha­nian is a rar­ity in the fash­ion world. Not only is she a woman de­sign­ing men’s cloth­ing, she has been do­ing it at the same fash­ion house for the past 28 years. While a peren­nial game of mu­si­cal chairs is be­ing played out in the ate­liers of the world’s top fash­ion houses, she is one of the in­dus­try’s few con­stants.

“When I was 14 years old I was al­ways dream­ing of de­sign­ing clothes,” she says. “I’m still do­ing that and I’m still very happy and ex­cited and I’m never bored. Some­times I am anx­ious be­cause I won­der if I will have any more ideas, but at the same time I’m an op­ti­mist. I’m very happy here at Her­mès, I think they are happy with me, I am do­ing good num­bers so ev­ery­thing is fine. I have not felt the time pass be­cause I am free to play with lots of pos­si­bil­i­ties and it is like a dream.”

De­signer burnout at fash­ion houses has been at­trib­uted to an ever-in­creas­ing de­mand for new prod­ucts. When it was an­nounced last year that Raf Si­mons would be step­ping down from his po­si­tion as the cre­ative direc­tor of Chris­tian Dior af­ter just 3½ years at the helm, the es­teemed fash­ion critic Suzy Menkes wrote in Vogue that, con­sid­er­ing the pres­sure to pro­duce six col­lec­tions a year, where once it might have been four, cou­pled with “the ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns, per­sonal ap­pear­ances, store open­ings, global vis­its, trunk shows, mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tions, in­ter­views, Instagram – it’s a won­der that any de­signer is pre­pared – or able – to keep up the pace.” Nicha­nian, how­ever, says it’s not just the work pres­sure, it’s the con­fu­sion that that pres­sure cre­ates for the de­signer.

“There is so much change at the top be­cause every­body is com­pletely con­fused,” she says. “They want to be cre­ative but ev­ery­thing is about the num­ber of fol­low­ers you have on so­cial me­dia. I re­ally don’t un­der­stand it – let’s talk about ideas and tal­ent and cre­ativ­ity, not the num­ber of fol­low­ers some­one has. Yes, the times have changed and we have to adapt to many things that are chang­ing around us [but] things are get­ting so much more rapid and I think this is why de­sign­ers are con­fused right now. They don’t know where they are go­ing and they don’t know where they want to go.”

In fair­ness to some of the de­sign­ers who have jumped from house to house in re­cent years, de­sign­ing women’s fash­ion is a much tougher game cre­atively.

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