Little woman in a man's world
FRENCHWOMAN Veronique Nichanian, the artistic director for Hermes, stands out in the fashion world as one of the few women to create men's styles.
That she has been doing it for 26 years is another rarity.
"I always feel the same anxiety," she admitted ahead of her catwalk show, Saturday in Paris. "But the enthusiasm is always solid," she said with a smile.
She said Hermes' then boss, Mr Jean-Louis Dumas, told her when he tapped her in 1988: "Manage this like your little enterprise. You have carte blanche."
Nichanian was previously with Nino Cerruti, who had hired her straight out of design school.
The diminutive designer said she had to "work harder" and "be determined" as a woman in a man's world, and was "pretty proud" of her longevity.
"It was a pretty macho milieu and the men didn't expect a woman to tell them what to do," she recalled.
Nichanian came into the work "by chance, at first. Then I discovered a rigour in men's fashion, as a person who is not a fan of unnecessary details".
The 50-something designer said she had wanted to work in fashion since she was an adolescent, noting that, while her parents were not in the business, they were "very elegant people".
She described the "discreet chic" of her father of Armenian origin, and how her mother and grandmother had Hermes handbags and scarves.
The elegant brunette with sparkling eyes said she draws inspiration from a myriad of sources - "in the street... in what I read... at shows".
But with Hermes, whose sales of men's ready-to-wear enjoyed double-digit growth last year, "it's a continuing story".
While there are no radical changes from one show to the next, "the wardrobe gets richer from collection to collection", she said.
"Some cuts don't change at all, or only by millimetres."
And, as Hermes clothes tend to be pricey, men will not stop wearing them after the season is up, she said.
"I've looked at collections from 20 years ago and am ashamed of none of them... You could still wear them (today)."
When Nichanian, who rose to be artistic director for all of Hermes' menswear in 2008, starts work on a new collection, she first considers the colours and the fabrics.
Because Hermes is a luxury house, "we can afford the most beautiful materials", whether from France, Italy or Japan, she said, describing her style as a blend of fabrics with attention to detail, as well as the line.
Nichanian coquettishly described how she might line coat pockets with lambskin "whose sensuality will be felt only by the man wearing the coat" - like a "secret" between designer and customer.
When she visits Hermes stores, she sees not only wealthy customers, but also "young men who save money" in the long run by buying stylish, durable clothes.
If Nichanian had to name two essential items in a man's wardrobe, they would be "a beautiful navy-blue flannel jacket" and anything in leather.
She said she was not considering setting up her own fashion house. "That would not do more for my creativity... Here, it is truly Veronique Nichanian. And I don't have ego problems."