Wearing a warm smile and a casual yet chic denim-on-denim ensemble, Véronique Nichanian is the epitome of grace when Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore met her for a cosy tête-àtête on a cold, rainy March afternoon at Hermès’ Ginza boutique in Tokyo. The creative force behind the Hermès men’s universe for an incredible 35 years, the 69-year-old artistic director’s long tenure has surpassed that of her contemporaries at other storied Parisian ateliers.
Yet, she confesses, she still gets pre-show jitters. “I am always anxious before presenting a collection, ever since my first show in 1988 in Paris,” she tells us on the eve of the Hermès men’s spring/summer 2023 runway show in Tokyo.
Held at the Sea Forest Waterway, the Hermès Splash Tokyo show celebrated lightness and fun, themes associated with summer vacations. Located in the Tokyo Bay, the venue that was built for the 2020 Summer Olympics was transformed into a runway for the first time ever. Designed by Japanese multidisciplinary artist Yoshirotten, the venue featured a wavy check grid—reminiscent of tiles at the bottom of a swimming pool when viewed through the distorting effect of water—a motif that also appears on a Haut à courroies bag. Alongside the models, Nichanian sent men from a diverse range of professions down the runway. They included pro surfer Soma Hirahara, actor Keita Machida, ballet dancer Shuntaro Miyao, and Olympic swimmer Ryosuke Irie. Her intention was to further drive home the point that there is no one singular definition of an Hermés man.
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The spring/summer 2023 collection featured blousons in full-grain suede calfskin, overshirts in perforated calfskin, trousers with drawstring waists, hooded parkas in light technical satin, in bright, sorbet hues of apricot, lilac and raspberry. Colour is where Nichanian starts when it comes to designing the men’s collections. “For the most part, my creative process starts with putting together colours to create a colour card. I work on it for a few days, and then we go from there,” she says. The clothes are meant for every man, particularly those who appreciate ultimate craftsmanship. “I think that men who buy clothes or bags or scarves from us do so because they like the style, colours, quality and spirit of the house,” she says. “They are things that men can keep for a long time. In a way, our items are sustainable. I am interested in creating long-lasting, contemporary designs rooted in reality.”
She observes that the evolution in menswear is due to the fact that men themselves have changed. “Nobody dresses in suits anymore by obligation,” declares Nichanian. “It is a choice. Men might wear a suit because they want to feel chic and sexy, the way women do in a pencil skirt and high heels,” she says. Even in conformist Japan where salarymen are typically garbed in a uniform of black or navy suits on rotation, the more sartorially savvy are exchanging them for pinstriped suits worn with ties that add a discreet pop of colour. A statement bag—in place of the traditional briefcase—and designer glasses finish the look. In fact, according to a staff at the Ginza boutique, the Hermès men’s ready-to-wear collection (comprising garments, shoes, accessories and watches) sells best in Japan, coming second only to Paris. It comes as no surprise then that Nichanian staged the second showing of the men’s spring/summer 2023 collection in the Land of the Rising Sun. “Generally speaking, Japan has always been very supportive of men’s fashion. It’s very interesting to see the way men dress here,” she says.
She feels that the new definition of sexiness in men is no longer limited by traditional notions. Hence, for the autumn/winter 2023 collection, she paired menswear with diamond jewellery because it is something she felt was sexy on men, and not just on women. “For evening events, I love the idea that men can also carry a bag or have their nails done,” she adds. She is also a fan of short shorts on men, as she finds leg-baring outfits sexy. While Nichanian believes that the modern male no longer feels a need to hew to the conventions of traditional menswear, she does have a definite opinion on the ideal outfit for him. It starts with a black cashmere sweater—“in the right silhouette,” she adds, acknowledging that different body types suit different cuts—worn with a leather blouson or jacket and denim jeans, and accessorised with a Haut à courroies or Garden Party Voyage bag, a necklace, a leather-strapped watch and leather boots or sneakers. To her, this is the quintessence of Parisian chic and sexiness.
Today’s men have greater freedom to dress as they please, she notes. “Each generation expresses themselves differently. They want to add something new.” This desire for innovation is also something that Nichanian has personal experience with. “COVID-19 made me question what I wanted out of life and in my career. The unexpected can lead to creativity and a new way to consider the clothes, new fluidity between worlds and attitudes, and a new way of presentation, like what we did with theatre director Cyril Teste for the spring/summer 2021 collection,” she says. Together with Teste, Nichanian created a cinematic-style performance, livestreamed from the airy foyer of the Les Ateliers Hermès building.
In a career spanning three decades, it is inevitable to encounter a creative block at some point. “I’m not a machine,” admits Nichanian. “Sometimes, I don’t have any ideas.” So what does a creative genius do when she’s out of ideas? “I go outside and take a walk in the streets.” For a designer who takes pride in creating beautiful, wearable clothes for men, where better to find inspiration than on the chic avenues of Paris?