Hermès is the ultimate luxury brand, mainly because the sky’s the limit when it comes to production value, and yet the result is always subtle. This is a house that makes clothes and accessories for the 0.001 percent, and yet it never screams wealth; instead, it stealthily whispers it. It is devoid of logos and you can never quite put your finger on whether an Hermès coat is from this or that season. It is timeless in its propriety, an antidote to fashion itself as a fast-changing cyclone of ephemera; a reminder that chic might be the apotheosis of boring. Classic, not entertaining. And yet, the luxury house’s AW21 womenswear presentation achieved the near-impossible. It was a digital fashion show (filmed live for a sense of occasion) that compelled you to make it full screen, the equivalent of a rapturous round of applause in 2021. Boring? Certainly not.
Creative director Nadège Vanhée-Cybulski enlisted two choreographers, Madeline Hollander and Gu Jiani, as well as filmmaker Sébastien Lifshitz to cinematise it. In three acts, each recorded live in sequence, we went from a synchronised performance at the Armory in Manhattan, to an intimate catwalk presentation in Paris, to a fast-paced Tetris-like shuffling of boxes in Shanghai. The seamlessness with which the dancers moved in the first and third acts, was not only mesmerising — it was the perfect analogy for the perfectionism of fashion’s most timeless luxury house. And because this is Hermès, the nods to the brand were suggestive – not prescriptive — like the orange curtains at the Armory, the stacks of hat boxes on the catwalk and orange shoeboxes used by dancers in Shanghai. In a Q&A, the two choreographers spoke of how they took inspiration from the sounds and movements of the ateliers — as well as the gestures we all make when wearing clothes for the first time. Not that you would be able to tell. It was simply beautiful to watch.
In terms of those clothes, the context for Nadège’s collection came from the idea of sensuality and movement. “For some women, being stuck in a rut, remaining motionless, are purely abstract ideas, for they are all about movement,” read the show notes. Another word it mentioned: rebuilding. There was a sense of day-to-night versatility for the girl on the go, a hard-working wardrobe for hard-working women — even leather pendants holding Hermès lipsticks for that last-minute slick. After all, when this collection comes out. we’re going to be (happily) a lot busier. The strongest pieces were the high-waisted trousers, the leg slightly wide and abbreviated at the lower calf, occasionally with piped or leather-trimmed seams. They were the kind of trousers a woman could cycle to work in. There were also scarfy high-collared dresses, neatly tailored dark indigo denim and a whole lotta great jackets: cashmere blanket jackets, suede ponchos, abbreviated donkey jackets, printed foulard bombers, and outdoorsy padded anoraks. Cloakroom attendants, be ready. They all came in a natural palette, of course — a reminder that, just like food, anything perfectly brown or beige is always deliciously comforting.
“I wanted this three-act performance to be our way of keeping a record of these extraordinary times where the situation demands more of us than a simple runway show,” said Nadège in a statement. “I wanted a film directed by an artist with a feel for the crossover of genres and disciplines. Not a film about fashion, nor about dance, but a film about us all and all the ways we can and must continue to reinvent ourselves.” And therein lies her genius. Here was a theatrical sense of renewal and reinvention of such a traditional format, yet ultimately the collection was totally classic. It’s what Nadège does best: tradition with an unexpected twist.