HEART & SOUL

Harper's Bazaar (UK) - - Contents - By AVRIL MAIR Still-life by DAN McALIS­TER

Avril Mair meets Nadège Van­hee-Cy­bul­ski, the cool, calm, cre­ative force be­hind the global suc­cess of Her­mès

From its el­e­gant eques­trian at­tire to the most sought-af­ter hand­bags in the world, Her­mès has been ded­i­cated to de­sign since it was founded in 1837.

To­day, its artis­tic di­rec­tor Nadège Van­hee-Cy­bul­ski cel­e­brates this rich her­itage, while also bring­ing her own as­sured vi­sion and cre­ative in­tegrity to the fa­bled French brand

To say that Nadège Van­hee-Cy­bul­ski is a study in dis­creet re­fine­ment would be some­thing of an un­der­state­ment. The artis­tic di­rec­tor of wom­enswear at Her­mès has an of­fi­cial bi­og­ra­phy that’s only 55 words long, sim­ply not­ing her ed­u­ca­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence with­out any elab­o­ra­tion. There’s no stroking of ego here. Then again, Van­hee-Cy­bul­ski – un­usu­ally and ut­terly re­fresh­ingly – seems to be able to op­er­ate in the up­per ech­e­lons of the fash­ion in­dus­try with­out any ap­par­ent ego. As a de­signer, she isn’t in­ter­ested in mak­ing her life the story. We don’t dress up in her celebrity. The work, with quiet as­sur­ance, sim­ply speaks for it­self.

In many ways, VanheeCybulski is like the clothes she cre­ates: clever and con­sid­ered, el­e­gant and metic­u­lous. In many ways, she’s also like the house for which she’s cre­ated since 2014. Her­mès has al­ways been about lux­ury at its most pure and un­showy. No mat­ter how many Birkins the Kar­dashi­ans stock­pile, this fam­ily-owned com­pany – founded in 1837, as res­o­nant in French cul­ture as Chanel or Dior – re­mains in­trin­si­cally linked in our con­scious­ness with the in­com­pa­ra­ble Grace Kelly, af­ter whom its most iconic bag was named. It has in­tegrity and soul. It is about mean­ing­ful beauty, un­blem­ished and un­com­pro­mised. As VanheeCybulski says, with some rev­er­ence: ‘You feel the im­print of the hand that made each ob­ject here.’

She is a strik­ing woman, this 40-year-old: pale-skinned and lightly freck­led, with a pre-Raphaelite mane of un­tamed auburn hair. We meet in her of­fice at Pantin in the sub­urbs of Paris – a medi­um­sized room with floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows look­ing out over a wild­flower gar­den de­signed by the land­scape ar­chi­tect Louis Benech and planted in the court­yard of the mod­ern Her­mès Cité des Métiers com­plex. She’s wear­ing Yo­hji Ya­mamoto black trousers, pos­si­bly men’s, with a navy silk Her­mès shirt and sim­ple flat leather san­dals. She has the air of an artist or a free-spir­ited in­tel­lec­tual; warm and gen­tle, mea­sured and un­pre­ten­tious, the kind of per­son whose com­pany you’d trea­sure as a cul­tured though slightly bo­hemian friend. As a de­signer, how­ever, she’s in charge of a sig­nif­i­cant part of this her­itage house’s busi­ness, with the at­ten­dant re­spon­si­bil­ity that comes with it: while Her­mès doesn’t re­lease sales fig­ures for shoes, jewellery and clothes in­di­vid­u­ally, the Busi­ness of Fash­ion noted that the com­pany pub­lished a state­ment at the end of the 2015 fis­cal year cred­it­ing ‘the suc­cess of the lat­est readyto-wear col­lec­tions, es­pe­cially of Nadège Van­hee-Cy­bul­ski’s first col­lec­tion’, for the com­bined cat­e­gory’s sales of $1.1 bil­lion. In March 2018, this fig­ure had risen to $1.18 bil­lion. ‘I don’t know how re­spon­si­ble cre­ative peo­ple are,’ she says, ‘but I re­ally have a sense of duty. It’s about per­pet­u­at­ing a great know-how – and nur­tur­ing it too. It’s a beau­ti­ful di­a­logue. This is a place where I’m al­ways in­vited to bring cre­ation and in­no­va­tion. Noth­ing is un­touch­able.’

Van­hee-Cy­bul­ski was born in Lille, north­ern France, in 1978; she stud­ied at the Royal Acad­emy of Fine Arts in An­twerp be­fore de­vel­op­ing that ex­tra­or­di­nary, min­i­mal­ist CV that ex­tends to only three brands be­fore Her­mès: Mai­son Margiela, Cé­line and the Row. But oh, what brands they are! All share a com­mon sen­si­bil­ity – a kind of fem­i­nist modernism that’s stripped back to a chic prag­ma­tism. The ro­mance of the ev­ery­day, if you like: a de­ter­mi­na­tion to make clothes that are both beau­ti­ful and use­ful. Van­hee-Cy­bul­ski says she learnt dif­fer­ent things at each brand, but to­gether it adds up to a spe­cific and unique point of view. ‘I think I work with em­pa­thy, in a sort of vis­ceral way,’ she says. ‘It’s a very in­ti­mate con­nec­tion with clothes, which you don’t re­ally have with other things. In this era, when fash­ion is ori­ented so strongly to­wards mar­ket­ing, it’s im­por­tant to be grounded.’

Van­hee-Cy­bul­ski’s role at Her­mès, as she ex­plained when she first joined the brand, is ‘about bring­ing ready-to-wear to the 21st

Nadège VanheeCybulski

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