Véronique Nicha­nian

Véronique nicha­nian, the deputy artis­tic di­rec­tor of her­mès men's uni­verse, shares her sharp sar­to­rial per­spec­tives with chris an­dre

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The deputy artis­tic di­rec­tor of Her­mès Men's Uni­verse

Any­one who's lucky enough to come across Véronique Nicha­nian in per­son, be it at a fash­ion show or pub­lic event, will bear wit­ness to her least talked-about qual­ity— her warm and ra­di­ant per­son­al­ity. De­spite her for­mi­da­ble skill and rep­u­ta­tion as a world-lead­ing de­signer, she em­anates such an un­ex­pect­edly fun and invit­ing per­sona that you will likely be hooked straight from the first en­counter. That’s what I in­stantly felt at least, as I qui­etly ob­served her sprightly moves as she ap­plied the fin­ish­ing touches to the run­way show’s set­ting for the fall/win­ter ’14 col­lec­tion in Palais de Tokyo, right within the heart of Paris.

It was four hours be­fore the Her­mès Men’s Uni­verse showcase, where the sea­son’s col­lec­tion would be re­vealed to the VIP guests for the very first time. The win­try Jan­uary sun­set in Paris was rather en­chant­ing, with the be­witch­ingly tri­umphant Eif­fel tower eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able from the venue.

Dressed in monochro­matic black, Nicha­nian’s gen­er­ous smile to­ward the mod­els and the crew im­me­di­ately dis­pelled “The Devil Wears Prada” no­tion in my head. I’d been told that she was the one who en­vi­sioned the en­tire con­cept of the show, from the lo­ca­tion to the seat­ing ar­range­ment—which fea­tured a va­ri­ety of quirky seats painted in many dark and deeply shaded hues. While the un­fin­ished pil­lars stand­ing in the mid­dle of the cat­walk may have been even a lit­tle too play­ful for Her­mès, the de­signer cer­tainly hasn’t lost her cre­ative edge, de­spite work­ing in the beloved fash­ion house for more than two decades.

Be­ing the deputy artis­tic di­rec­tor of the Her­mès Men’s Uni­verse has Nicha­nian in charge of over­look­ing ev­ery sin­gle fab­ric, cut­ting and ma­te­rial (not to men­tion all the in­tri­cate de­tail­ing) for the whole men’s col­lec­tion. One of the long­est-serv­ing stal­warts, tire­lessly craft­ing menswear for 30 years—in­clud­ing a stint work­ing for Nino Cer­ruti as stylist for the men’s col­lec­tion—her fash­ion acu­men is nat­u­rally one of the most revered in the in­dus­try.

The depth of her cre­ativ­ity was plainly ev­i­dent when I got to ap­pre­ci­ate first­hand the con­sid­ered “simplicity” of the fall/win­ter col­lec­tion, the flaw­lessly ex­e­cuted pieces mask­ing the com­plex­ity of the fab­ric con­struc­tion and col­oration pro­cesses. Jack­ets are among her fa­vorite sub­jects, and her way of wax­ing lyri­cal about them tells me some­thing in­ter­est­ing, that she has come to adopt men’s prag­matic ap­proach to style. This is the ap­proach that views fash­ion as be­ing just as much about func­tion­al­ity and com­fort as it is about im­age.

Such a par­a­digm serves as the per­fect com­ple­ment to the lux­ury styling typ­i­cally fa­vored by Her­mès Men’s Uni­verse, which is some­what rem­i­nis­cent of the words once ut­tered by Leonardo da Vinci, “Simplicity is the ul­ti­mate so­phis­ti­ca­tion.” Judg­ing by her tal­ent, hu­mil­ity and ded­i­ca­tion, it’s fair to say that Véronique Nicha­nian is a liv­ing fash­ion legend of the 21st cen­tury.

Chris An­dre: Véronique, how are you do­ing? Véronique Nicha­nian: I’m fine but I’m anx­ious about tonight’s show! [ Laughs]

CA: So what’s the col­lec­tion all about? VN: It’s a col­lec­tion about dark col­ors, full of very dark tones mixed to­gether, and new proportions— much wider in the shoul­ders, more lay­er­ing and much more vol­ume. There’s a lot of work with rich ma­te­ri­als, be­cause I have the most beau­ti­ful fab­rics at Her­mès! It’s also about the trans­gres­sion of fab­rics— mix­ing the fab­rics to­gether to cre­ate a new at­ti­tude.

CA: And why did you pick Palais de Tokyo as the venue? It has a very in­dus­trial feel. VN: Yes, ex­actly for this qual­ity and be­cause it’s a mu­seum of mod­ern art in Paris. I also love the space and I love the vol­ume. I think it’s very mas­cu­line, and I like the “raw” ar­chi­tec­tural ap­peal in con­trastast with

the beau­ti­ful rich­ness of cash­mere and leather. I think it’s in­ter­est­ing to have con­trasts. You know I used to say I don’t dress only one man; I de­sign for many men. You will see that tonight on the run­way show I have black, Chi­nese, blonde-haired and red-haired mod­els.

CA: What do you re­gard as the high­lights of show? VN:

As I men­tioned, it’s all about the trans­gres­sion of the ma­te­ri­als—the new vol­ume of the coat, the sports­wear and even the knitwear. I should point out in par­tic­u­lar the use of a very old fab­ric called fleece wool. It’s re­ally beau­ti­ful! I also love re­versible fab­rics or re­versible fur. For ex­am­ple, I have a lamb­skin teddy jacket that’s com­pletely re­versible, so you can play with the fur out­side and inside. Re­flect­ing the mood of this col­lec­tion, we se­lected chairs [for the au­di­ence to sit on dur­ing the run­way show], which each have dif­fer­ent col­ors—very, very deep tones—sim­i­lar to the sea­son’s cloth­ing pieces.

“many things are Very hard to make. But like a Bal­le­rina, though the dance is Very dif­fi­cult, it has to look Very easy”

CA: Where do you get your in­spi­ra­tion from? Do you have a process? VN:

Ev­ery­where! I travel a lot; I love mod­ern art; I love go­ing to the mu­seum; I love look­ing at peo­ple on the street; I love ar­chi­tec­ture. For ev­ery col­lec­tion, I al­ways start with color cards, then the fab­ric by go­ing to fac­to­ries and fab­ric fairs. Af­ter­wards, my de­sign team sketches the clothes and works on the shapes and the proportions to achieve what I want to ex­press. So, the work process goes from color to fab­ric to the shape of the cloth­ing pieces.

CA: Is there any par­tic­u­lar fash­ion ar­ti­cle that takes much more ef­fort to make than the rest? VN:

Many things are very hard to make, but you have to make them like a bal­le­rina. Though the dance is very dif­fi­cult, it has to look very easy.

CA: You’ve been with Her­mès for 25 years. How do you feel about this? VN:

It’s been 25 years of free­dom, a dream for any de­signer. I’m very proud and very happy to have been with this beau­ti­ful company for 25 years, bring­ing new ideas and play­ing with fab­u­lous ma­te­ri­als.

CA: But why menswear? VN:

I stud­ied women’s clothes a long time ago in a very clas­si­cal French school (Ecole de la Cham­bre Syn­di­cale de la Cou­ture in Paris), but I started my ca­reer with Nino Cer­ruti. So, it was on pur­pose, and when Jean-Louis Du­mas of Her­mès asked me to join the company, it was a dream come true, and now I’m here

CA: Is it harder to do menswear than wom­enswear? VN:

I ex­press my per­son­al­ity through de­sign and so, for me, it’s not hard. There are many things to ex­press in pat­terns, in jack­ets, and I’m very sur­prised that I’m only now start­ing to see other men’s lines take on such con­cepts. I’ve been do­ing it for 30 years, and I think it’s very in­ter­est­ing to ex­press what mod­ern men want for their nor­mal, every­day lives.

CA: I heard that your ap­proach to de­sign­ing has a term: vête­ment- ob­jets (cloth­ing- ob­jects). VN:

Yes. I use this term be­cause, for me, Her­mès is re­ally a house of ob­jects: bags, scarves, per­fumes, and many more. What I want to ex­press with my

clothes is that each man can take a piece—a jacket, a coat, a suit or leather pants—and chan­nel his own per­son­al­ity by mix­ing it with other cloth­ing ar­ti­cles. I don’t work on to­tal looks; I don’t do fash­ion; I do clothes. I pay a lot of at­ten­tion to each cloth­ing piece, which in it­self is an ob­ject ready to be paired with other items. Like in a house, you ar­range to­gether some ob­jects, such as chairs, ta­bles and car­pet, to cre­ate your own world.

CA: Do you have a fash­ion de­sign muse? VN:

No, not even my hus­band! [ laughs] I don’t have a muse, but I take no­tice of many men who are very cre­ative in what they wear. Some­times I see them on the street, and I think, “Oh, it’s so chic!”

CA: Is there a spe­cific type of man you have in mind when you’re de­sign­ing clothes? VN:

You’ll see in the show that there are many per­son­al­i­ties. It’s very im­por­tant for me and for my work since the be­gin­ning. I re­ally do follow my own style, cre­at­ing vête­ment- ob­jets for dif­fer­ent men and propos­ing new ma­te­ri­als, func­tions, touch, proportions and com­forts.

CA: Through­out your ca­reer, how have you seen menswear evolve? VN:

First of all, it’s a big business and is al­ways grow­ing. Most markedly though, there’s been a big shift in men­tal­ity that men who used to buy suits for work can now go to work, show their own per­son­al­ity with what they wear, and still be taken se­ri­ously. Also men, gen­er­ally speak­ing, now ex­press more of what they wish to. They don’t buy clothes like a coat or a suit just be­cause they need them, but be­cause—like women—they want them, they like them.

CA: What’s the ba­sic styling ad­vice that you usu­ally give to men? VN:

It de­pends on their life, work, body and many other things. But gen­er­ally, I don’t give ad­vice; I’m not here to judge whether those are the wrong shoes or if that is a wrong sweater—I’m not that kind of per­son. Even if a man makes a mis­take, I don’t care so much—it’s much more charm­ing to make a mis­take

like wear­ing odd socks or two col­ors that I don’t think would go to­gether well. I pre­fer peo­ple to ex­press their own taste rather than fol­low­ing even a good mag­a­zine’s styling ad­vice.

CA: I like what you just said, that it’s charm­ing to make a mis­take. VN:

Im­per­fec­tion in­trigues me, be­cause per­fec­tion is, oh, so bor­ing.

CA: So, what makes good cloth­ing? VN:

Com­fort and sen­su­al­ity. Sen­su­al­ity is when you feel some­thing—you feel it on your body. Sen­su­al­ity is not only about beau­ti­ful fab­rics, such as cash­mere or li­nen, but it’s also about emo­tion—how you are feel­ing. Although it’s not in most men’s vo­cab­u­lary to talk about sen­su­al­ity, men feel it the same way as women do. For ex­am­ple, I use lamb­skin for the inside of jacket pock­ets, so when you put your hand in the pocket, you feel the sen­su­al­ity of the fab­ric.

CA: Speak­ing of emo­tions, what's hap­pi­ness to you? VN:

Seren­ity. It’s when you have the har­mony with your­self— even if you have a very speedy life.

CA: Last but not least, what is your fa­vorite color? VN:

I love black. As a mat­ter of fact, I call this col­lec­tion faux noir (fake black)—that is an al­most­black color, such as very deep brown, very deep blue, or very deep khaki. I love neu­tral color, too, be­cause you can pair neu­tral col­ors with a touch of orange or ac­ces­sories, or knitwear that’s very bright or many col­ors. But there’s just only one color that I don’t like—that one color I will never use in my fash­ion col­lec­tion. But I won’t say it, so you have to dis­cover which one your­self.

The "it" bag of the col­lec­tion is

the plume fourre-tout

The black en­sem­ble sports a play of tex­tures and gar­ments; the dark shades

are not nec­es­sar­ily black

Model Ma­tias Chico Her­nan­dez sports the bright­est-col­ored sweater of the col­lec­tion; a jacket with ex­otic leather de­tail­ing op­po­site page Ac­cent ac­ces­sories com­ple­ment a sleek look

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