The most fluid and secure live event in an otherwise almost entirely virtual Paris fashion week.
Just 20 guests – the Paris dailies, a handful of professional critics, a few senior executives and some intellectual influencers – all sat socially distanced on Saturday lunchtime, inside a custom-built tent within the headquarters of the cavalry regiment of the Garde républicaine.
A perfectly judged set constructed with orange Hermès hat boxes, made of wood not cardboard, and built into undulating walls and architectural columns, where the cast eventually marched.
This Fall/Winter collection was easily the toughest so far from the house’s women’s creative director Nadège Vanhée-Cybulski, and quite possibly her best. Rather remarkably, for a brand founded as a harness maker in 1837, Hermès stands today at the top of the pile of all prestige brands, anywhere. France’s finest expression of crafted luxury, a house boasting the brand mystique every other label aspires to achieve.
In almost 200 years, Hermès has managed this rather impressive feat by creating exquisitely made products that change very subtly to reflect their era. To most foreigners, France can seem a very conformist culture, Hermès is not. Case in point, these clothes and this show.
Which began with a “prologue,” a direct link to the Armory Show in New York, seen on individual monitors – a noble dance performance and choreographer Madeline Hollander’s free interpretation of movements gleaned from Vanhée-Cybulski’s collection.
The cast dressed in tobacco-hued cashmere knits, mid-length skirts and boots – pirouetting, twisting in ensembles under high hanging orange Hermès curtains, in a beautifully liberating series of dance steps. Circular and geometric movements suggesting the design of a Hermès scarf. Two days before International Women’s Day, they seemed to express in dance the hopes of billions of women for special and unique lives.
Step two was the live runway show in Paris, where Vanhée-Cybulski unveiled the actual collection, one with far greater emphasis on what the French call flou, or cutting and draping in soft fabrics.
Silk polka-dot dresses worn under matelassé equestrian suede vests; delicately wrapped mid-calf skirts in crepe; and a marvelously billowing sunset orange silk dress, elasticated at the waist, which was worn by a red-haired beauty.
The designer also played brilliantly with lambskin, with strict tunics and cocktail dresses, finished with tough-chic harness straps. Plus, there was a series of crisp denim pantsuits and coat dresses worn with ladylike CEO leather boots, and some very fine checkerboard patterns, seen in curvy jackets worn with cycling pants, and in taut tank tops.
“Something to wear while taking the present in stride,” explained NVC, as many nickname her.
It all ended with a second dance in Shanghai, where choreographer Gu Jiani was inspired by the designer’s mood board and sketches, as well as her suggestion that she develop a dance reflecting Chinese traditions.
Taking as her starting point the ubiquitous presence of boxes in China, a half-dozen characters in Vanhée-Cybulski’s check tops and leather pants built blocks and pathways with boxes in the house’s signature orange.
“When I was introduced to the work of these two young women – Madeline Hollander, and Gu Jiani – it seemed like a no-brainer. I fell in love, actually, for each has her own way of expressing female power. There was something exalted in their approach to dance,” explained the designer.
Summing up well the dance, but also this collection. Multifunctional clothes suitable for nightlife, career and leisure. Classy yet just the right side of new to keep the designs fresh at Hermès, and the house still unquestionably at the top of the pile.