Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, a name practically unknown to all but the deepest insiders of the fashion world, presented her first collection for the storied house of Hermés this afternoon and brought with her a few surprises for those who were afraid she was too “safe” a choice for the role of creative director. It may be important to note that Ms. Vanhee-Cybulski spent some time at Maison Martin Margiela, and Margiela himself headed Hermés design from 1997-2003 for that influence was front and center as we watched a very different collection come down the runway from anything we ever saw with Christophe Lemaire. In fact, why don’t I just list a few of the differences.
- This wasn’t the last show of Paris Fashion Week. Lemaire really liked being the last thing anyone saw before rushing out to Charles DeGaulle on their way home. Seeing the Hermés name on the schedule with still two days to go was a surprising, and perhaps risky move. There are more designers showing today and it is much easier to get lost in the shuffle of a midday presentation.
- There are no scarves in this collection. None. Zero. I’m sure the label will still find plenty of scarves to sell, but you’ll have to style them yourself. There were, I repeat, no scarves on this runway.
- There was model diversity on the runway. One of the criticisms Hermés has often faced was just how caucasian its runways were. Not only was this season more ethnically diverse, but the incredibly beautiful Grace Bol led the walk. That choice alone elevates my opinion of Ms. Vanhee-Cybulski.
- We were four looks into the collection before we saw a dress. Okay, so possibly only three looks in, but the beautiful blue leather coat of the third look was closed and we couldn’t really see what, if anything was under it. Still, for a collection that has traditionally been as dress-centric as Hermés, that was a rather big deal.
- I’ve never, ever, seen this much leather in a Hermés collection. Thanks to the suede boots one could argue that there was leather in every ensemble. Even discounting the footwear, though, there was a tremendous amount of leather, dominating most of the first eight looks and making frequent appearances throughout the collection. A couple of times it was even quilted. Stop and think about how difficult that had to be, getting a needle through leather in that fashion.
- This may be the most equestrian ready-to-wear collection Hermés has offered. Granted, the label does do a fair amount of equestrian-specific clothing, but that has always been separate from ready-to-wear, which has been more subtle, more refined. There were a few heavy wool pieces in this collection that quite strongly resembled a riding blanket. The taper of the slacks and the saddlebag style of the purses is worth noting as well.
- Overalls. Specifically, leather overalls. Second look in. I can promise you’ve never seen leather overalls on a Hermés catwalk before today. Witness the making of fashion history.
Now, before those who are Hermés purists start getting too upset take comfort in the fact there were still plenty of very well-tailored dresses and separates in wool and silk with their thin belts at moderately- but not-too-high waists. Ms. Vanhee-Cybulski didn’t throw out the upper-end daywear by any stretch of the imagination. One just has to wait through 34 looks of leather and suede before getting to them.
There’s no question that Hermés has turned yet another corner in its long and storied history. How people will respond remains to be seen, but I think it is safe to say the name Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski is one we need to learn how to correctly pronounce. I think she’s going to be a dominant force in Parisian fashion for quite some time.