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

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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.

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