The menswear designer For 25 years at the helm of Hermès menswear, VERONIQUE NICHANIAN has rewritten the rules of fashion to become the winning woman in a man’s world, finds Varun Rana
Around the time Hermès was celebrating its 151st anniversary in 1988, Veronique Nichanian came to work there at the behest of Jean-Louis Dumas, then chairman of the company. The story goes that when he called her the first time, she didn’t believe it was Dumas on the line, and only agreed to meet him for tea after he assured her it was actually him calling. At the time, Nichanian had been working with Nino Cerruti as an assistant for a decade, learning the ropes of the industry she would come, one day, to rule.
Since then, in her quarter century at the French house, Nichanian has worked alongside both Martin Margiela and Jean Paul Gaultier, designing menswear, and now works parallel to Christophe Lemaire who heads womenswear. After Karl Lagerfeld, who has worked with Fendi since 1965 and with Chanel since 1982, Nichanian is probably the longest serving artistic head for a fashion brand not owned personally or by their family. During her time at Hermès, she has revolutionised the very idea of designing for men, with no less than 15 ateliers—each specialising in something different, like leather, construction, silk, prints—working with her on various aspects of the collections. She has overseen the opening of the first Hermès Man store in New York’s Madison Avenue in 2010, and has been named (with what is perhaps the most lyrical designation in the fashion world) as artistic director of the Hermès men’s universe, a post created especially for her by Pierre-Alexis Dumas, Hermès’s artistic director till 2006. “I had the good luck to be given a carte blanche,” says Nichanian. “And I am surrounded by very talented people… my role is to put the designs (from the various ateliers) together and create a harmonious ensemble.”
With Hermès’s overall sales for 2013’s third-quarter at €895.5 million (says businessoffashion.com)—and menswear contributing roughly half of that— Nichanian is a market force unto herself. Especially when you consider that menswear is a more subdued part of Hermès’s total business, and that global menswear sales saw considerable growth last year. A graduate of l’École de la Chambre Syndicale in Paris, she’s possibly the most astute designer in an industry that feeds off the fast-fashion frenzy. She likes to keep things under control rather than following every fad. “I try to be a slow-downer in a speedy world,” she says of her style of working.