Nadège Vanhée-Cybulski created a scrap book composed of artworks she worked on with a group of close artists – Karien de Blauwer, Carsten Fock, Douglas Mendy, Claudia Wieser, Douglas Mandry, Camille Vivier, Deo Suveera and Sam Rock – over the past six months during the lockdown as a visual narrative about freedom through moody photographs of cherries, peaches, seawater or pottery as well as pictures of model women in different garments. An art compendium that provided an anchor to her thinking and feeling on the spring collection shown live today at the Tennis Club de Paris. Words like ‘recommencer, recommencer’, ‘notes for another kind of equilibrium’, ‘pretend that it last forever’ and ‘am I the only one in this room tonight’ were scattered throughout the limited edition of 500 copies that portended the visual poetry to accompany the pictures.
The scrapbook contained a few items from the spring collection photographed in special sittings to locate the heartbeat of the collection among the selection of art still life of the nature that surrounded us. A photograph on page 5 showed a closeup of the model’s naked back as she sat on a steel stool wearing a tan leather skirt and a nude backless bodysuit pulled to show her entire shoulder frame, the picture on page 14-15 showed a model putting on a black jacket shot from the back showing her black bra, a portrait on page 27 was a close-up shot of the model’s face with a black leather strapless bra, or an anonymous picture on page 99 showed a censored photo with blue and grey tape over a women with her two hands covering her chest.
Within the context of this art book, these images of partially naked and partially clothed women scattered among the land and sea suggested the idea of freedom and what clothing can mean within this framework.
What is the new freedom?
What should the new clothes entail?
What are the new values?
Vanhée-Cybulski’s answers in the concise and highly focus collection that opened with a stretch silk knit backless bodysuit paired with a flared tan lambskin skirt with zipped pockets and swivel claps pulls that radiated the clean lines, straight silhouettes, intelligent and timeless clothes – also the incredible lightness of the clothes in a black open back glossy lambskin that fitted like a second skin – clothes that reflected the values of Hermès and the house’s inherent and unique art of crafts. For the first time the designer was confident to display a bit of skin without it being felt forceful – a black bandeau strapless leather bra worn under a glossy lambskin blouson, a grey stretch cotton jumpsuit or a two piece linen canvas suit – or to ‘leave the body to breathe’ and ‘freedom from constraints’ as the show program indicated.
The show looked much more relaxed as the clothes were much lighter as they moved along the models’ body as the descended from the opening tableau when they all posed together at the start.
Among the strong looks were the red leather zippered jacket with bra and linen canvas flare skirt, the tan suede rolled collar coat and linen and silk sleeveless short dress and the simple rolled collar deerskin black dress. The backless stretch bodysuit paired with the flared lambskin skirt shown in the show in four different versions three times as one look and once with a coat in different color combinations – all black, all tan, nude and beige, orange and red – represented the key mood of the collection with the bodysuit ‘celebrates the body and also free the body’ and the leather skirt is shaped like a an artisan’s worker apron and the clasps are from the hardware for handbags. The black and white photograph on page 87 shot by Sam Rock of a model arching her back in front of a calm water of a lake and distant forest evoked this sense of freedom.
At Hermès, the seasonal fashion shows have less to do with the preoccupation of trends and so forth but the shows are a platform to bring forth the idea that fashion is just métier that requires constant innovation of its crafts.
This seasonal show included a masterpiece of extremely delicate leatherwork from the black and the tan mesh chain mail dresses in bricks of horn and fine lambskin where each strip of each are edged together and assembled in such a flawless manner. This construction probably involved other métiers to collaborate with fashion – an outward manifestation and expression for this constant evolution of crafts inside the house. Innovation takes place when there are ideas and thoughts that traverse domains and departments or as suggested by a hand written note on page 115 “a gesture you had never before dared.”
Perhaps the only drawback of the show was its overly academic approach – the cuts are flawless, the materials are from the best suppliers, the craftsmanship is beyond perfection. Now, Hermès should be open to find ways to bridge this gap to the world of a younger generation globally to strike an emotional chord that can link this audience to the house’s ethos and the house’s perfect products delivered by first class artisans unrivalled anywhere in the world. Perhaps this process may lies in the getting young people to understand and embrace the fact that the innovation of crafts championed by the house is also at the heart of Hermès aesthetics.
Why can’t one expect a house that specializes in craft not be at the forefront in innovation? This past February for example at an event called Heureka staged in an empty building that will become the new women store on Madison Avenue after a complete renovation, a specialist explained to me the adaptation of a process of using new technology to make the bracelets scratch resistant. That’s just one small item within Hermès, one small item in its aesthetic of crafts.
Fashion here is anchored by ‘know-how’, not by seasonal appearance. This younger generation of consumers may be less reluctant to accept terms like heritage and crafts but they know a great product and they know innovation. Chasing the next generation requires Hermès to speak in a new language one that the younger people can easily grasp. Remember in the TikTok era, their attention span is less than thirty seconds. Saying heritage and saying craftsmanship have little impact on how the young generation decides what brand to consume – it is shared values that will matter so much more.