As his new fine jewellery collection for Hermès hits, Pierre Hardy tells Jamie Huckbody how he strikes the balance between art and commerce.
Even if you’re unfamiliar with the name me Pi Pierre Hardy, chances are his work (or something influenced by it) is sitting in your wardrobe. Those architectural Balenciaga heels that blurred the boundaries between shoe and sculpture? They were Hardy’s. That tumbling block pattern that covers everything from tote bags to ’80s-retro sneakers? Thank you, Pierre. The stealth-wealth baubles from Hermès? Mais oui! It’s within Hardy’s capacity as creative director of women’s and men’s shoes and jewellery at Hermès that we meet at the label’s Paris flagship store on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. “This myth that Hermès is a bit uptight, a bit boring,” says the fifty-something Parisian, “is not the truth.” It’s true that while Christophe Lemaire (creative director of Hermès womenswear since 2010) is quietly earnest in his approach (especially compared with his predecessor, Jean Paul Gaultier), Hardy has proved himself capable of striking the perfect balance between classic elegance and daring dissonance. Take his latest collection of Haute Bijouterie, where he has magicked the Hermès Kelly bag out of gold and diamonds, and shrunk it to lipstick-carrying proportions. “They are not very me. But they’re very Hermès,” admits Hardy, who likens his 14-year tenure at the brand to acting. “Here, I am like an actor and I play my part as best I can. So when it came to designing the second high jewellery collection I was looking at the iconic image of Hermès that everybody knows: and really it’s the bag. It’s a recurrent image that has become an icon.”
From that collection comes another: Niloticus (from the Latin name for the Nile crocodile), which is more Hardylike in its futuristic fierceness. Made of flexible rose gold crocodile scales (“rose gold is warmer in tone and looks better on the skin”), the range features a ring, earrings, a cuff, and the hero piece – the plastron necklace – that showcases Hermès’s dedication to craftsmanship. Composed of 112 scales connected db by diamond-studded junctions, the collar took 10 months of technical development to perfect. Individually asymmetric scales are mirrored and articulated around Niloticus bracelet in rose gold with diamonds and precious stones, Hermès Heels, Pierre Hardy
a central barrette sparkling with diamonds, a purpley-blue iolite, and green and pink tourmalines. This is Hardy in full, fabulous throttle. “That’s why I’m here. That’s what they want from me,” he shares. “There has to be irreverence, otherwise it’s boring. I think to make things come alive you have to inject something – vulgarity, something sexy or from the opposite vocabulary – that disturbs the equilibrium; to provoke a reaction.” In fact, when it comes to jewellery, his only rule is about how the piece relates to the body. “It’s something that you have to feel. It’s about the sensuality of the object. You can love something that is very close to your skin or that is very architectural, geometric, and angular. And that’s what I like about working with jewellery: it can be intimate or just decorative.”
Hardy has a wealth of inspiration from which to cherry-pick, the Hermès private museum of treasures being located in the labyrinth of rooms upstairs. “I recently discovered an 18th-Century portrait of a woman riding a horse. It’s painted on a palette, and everything around her is undone. Only the portrait is very precise. What I like is that you see the unfinished and the finished at the same time. It’s very touching as you can see how it was made.”
That painting is where his fascination with horses – the animal most associated with the brand whose beginnings can be traced back to 1837 as a harness-maker and which still makes equestrian equipment for Olympic riders today – begins and ends: Hardy is allergic to our equine friends. “It’s not just horses; it’s cats, dogs, rabbits ... the lot. I get asthma. I don’t like the countryside but I like the seaside. If I could, I would live by the sea.”
“I’m from the Mediterranean,” adds Hardy, who is of Corsican descent, “so I love coral, cameos, and intaglios. But it’s very difficult to redo these today. I love them because they are old and redoing them almost defeats what I love about them. Modernity today is expressed in diversity and eclecticism, creating new relationships between things.” It’s exactly this design philosophy that has made his collaborations so unusual
and which has brought new diehards to the Hardy fan club, which already boasts icons Kate Bosworth, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kate Moss, and Uma Thurman.
First up was an eight-season deal with US basics chain, Gap (“It was a chance to do something very different from what I do”) before a collaboration with perfumer Frédéric Malle on a limited-edition range of travel sprays (“I’ve known Frédéric’s work for a long time, and I was in love with his aesthetic. When he came to me with this project, I was enchanted.”) and one with make-up guru François Nars for a collection of nail polishes and blushers (“A woman’s shoe is like a butterfly – you have to change it as soon as possible to keep it fresh. Make-up is in this mode, too.”).
But his collaboration with Nicolas Ghesqiuère at Balenciaga remains his most potent. “I think that was special because it was with Nicolas,” says Hardy of his one-time partner and friend of 20-plus years. “It’s not fake modesty. It was a true collaboration. It wouldn’t have happened if I had been by myself.”
However, there is a price for the success of designs such as those Hardy/ Ghesqiuère “Lego” and “collage” shoes: by the time pedigree versions trickled down from runway to high-street knock-offs, the results were crippingly uncomfortable and ugly. “Take them off !” he laughs. “It’s irritating. It’s reason enough to design something different because it is too horrendous to see women when they can’t walk in heels.”
So where is the line between experimental and vulgar? “I think vulgarity is when something becomes too commonplace,” he responds. “The really experimental can be daring or ugly or disturbing, but vulgarity is when there is too much of something.”
The one thing he can’t get enough of is drawing. “It is the only thing I have loved to do all my life. Give me something to draw and I will be happy,” he reveals. “Oh, and I would love to sing. To be a massive pop star like George Michael, standing in a stadium full of people. I would love it.”
Niloticus earrings in rose gold with diamonds and precious stones, Hermès
Bag, Pierre Hardy
Niloticus necklace in rose gold with diamonds and precious stones, Hermès