A Hermès Revolution

di Giampietro Baudo

“Functionality, comfort and simplicity together with very high quality.” These are the core principles of the women’s ready-to-wear designer Christophe Lemaire, who blends them in a timeless modern look.

A Hermès Revolution
Look F-W 2012/13

Christophe Lemaire is making subtle changes to the Hermès world in a quintessentially French fashion. Born in France in 1965, he worked for Thierry Mugler and Christian Lacroix before going on to present his first collection in 1991. In July 2000 he became the creative director of Lacoste and in autumn 2010 he took over from Jean Paul Gaultier as the women’s ready-to-wear designer at Hermès. He now has three collections with the house to his name and a picture of his Hermès woman has emerged: typically Parisian, elegantly sophisticated and full of demure, discreet charm.

How would you describe the personality of the Hermès woman today?

The Hermès woman is not interested in time and space. She wants to fill her wardrobe with individual timeless items that can be transformed. I believe that nowadays clothing must follow the movement of the body as much as possible. The way in which people move changes with the clothes that they wear and in my design this is one of the concepts that I try to reflect. I like to place the emphasis on functionality, comfort and simplicity, together with very high quality. I spend a lot of time in the atelier thinking about the movements of women and aspects such as where and how the pockets in a garment must be positioned, or how to make the armholes. You need to get the balance right between freedom and creativity: fashion is never as superficial as it seems.

How did you approach the unique Hermès world, which is based on both style and great craft expertise?

When Pierre-Alexis Dumas (the chief creative director of the house – Ed.) called me, I was astonished. However, at the same time I realized that Hermès and I share the same values and the same aesthetic outlook, which is built on functionality, colour and high quality.

What are the key values in the aesthetic approach that you are putting together?

I have always been fascinated by the Hermès world and it had been a guiding light for me for a long time. When I first arrived here, I visited and explored every last bit of the archives so that I could comprehend the culture of the house, absorb its truly incredible history and understand its tradition of craftsmanship and know-how. However, I did not let it constrain me. Hermès is a brand with 175 years of history, significant heritage and a long track record in the field of ready-to-wear clothing that began in the 1920s. I want to write a new chapter in the story of Hermès womenswear, although I will bear in mind some of the elements that have been contributed to it by the two talented designers Martin Margiela and Jean Paul Gaultier. I would like to add my personal touch and paint a contemporary picture to add to the natural evolution of the brand. When I think of Hermès, it brings to mind words such as heritage, leather, colour and 1920s, in a modern take on the present.

What is your first memory of the brand?

Ever since I was a child, I have been spellbound by the colours, the opulence, the lavishness and the highly imaginative allure of the Hermès shop windows. As I grew up, the nonconformist spirit and the refined elegance of the house drew me in more and more. I was enchanted by the philosophy and the spirit of great tradition and expertise. I have always dreamed of working in this atelier. It is something that I have always hoped to do.

What was the inspiration for the collection that you showed in Paris?

When I create a collection, I always focus on quality and beauty. This season, I envisaged a sort of entrancing journey because I believe that style is always produced by a blend of elements, which may be very different from each other. I like to bring together different ideas and interweave a variety of influences and notions. For Autumn-Winter 2012/13, I tried to mix the style of Argentinian gauchos and a certain Parisian allure, with a kind of French charm that began to become very apparent in the 1970s. I liked the idea of a single silhouette combining a wild, untamed, free and very masculine spirit with a more timid and romantically demure character. Without neglecting their more feminine and charming side, I believe that exactitude and strength make women very attractive.

In addition to the ready-to-wear collections, you also supervise the entire accessories area, which is an essential part of the house’s business. How have you approached this side of things?

I don’t take charge of all of the accessories but I work closely with the designers who oversee this area, and especially with Pierre Hardy, who is responsible for footwear, and Couli Jobert, who deals with all of the leather goods. When I work on the fashion shows, I try to find the best items from the accessories collections to go with the looks. We also work together on the creation of special items. For example, for the Autumn-Winter collection I worked with the accessories team on the development of a set of lacquered wooden hair clips for the evening and we also tried to use the classic Hermès canvas on refined briefcases. In addition, I used a large number of silver, lacquered and enamelled items of jewellery. I like to explore different materials and put the skills of our truly masterful craft workers to the test. To accentuate the looks of the girls on the catwalk, each of them wore a very masculine felt hat. It underlined the dignity and strength of a structured, proud silhouette. What is your goal? Where do you want to take the Hermès fashion house?

I am working to ensure that Hermès clothing keeps the same charm and elegance that it has always had. At the same time, I want to introduce a contemporary look and a modern design. I am interested in everything that can push beyond the limits of time and become immortal. However, I also want every single item to be infused with modernity. I want to follow my instinct and produce an up-to-date vision for a house with great heritage.