“It was important to keep this experience live—to have the specific adrenaline of a show,” Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski was saying last night as the final fittings for the Hermès collection were being finished in Paris. In a logistical feat of timing on the morrow, she was—without a single sign of nerves—about to launch a rolling livestreamed series of Hermès happenings on three continents. Opening with a dance performance choreographed by Madeline Hollander in New York, it cut to the fashion show in Paris with models and Vanhee-Cybulski—who gave a wave in an Hermès-orange face mask—and finally hopscotched to Shanghai for the second dance piece, directed by Gu Jiani in front of a live audience.
In today’s unfolding of events, Vanhee-Cybulski’s ambitious plan to defy physical distance worked seamlessly. “It’s urgent now to live again,” she said. “The message to the world is that I have this conviction of designing clothes for a confident woman. It was about resilience.” Pandemic be damned, she’d resolved to give the traditional rite of the Paris Fashion Week runway show its due (since there’s nothing more vital than upholding Hermès tradition), while also reaching out to touch audiences who can’t travel. For Vanhee-Cybulski, the point in collaborating with two women choreographers was to place the creative female gaze centre-stage: “Each of them has her own way of expressing female power,” she said.
Madeline Hollander’s piece observed forward-motion and gestures of women walking in New York. Gu Jiani’s was an athletically intense conceptual fusion of Chinese dance tradition and western ballroom dancing. The unifying presence of the house of Hermès was signalled in the sets—orange drapes in New York; stacks of orange boxes landscaped into the Paris set; orange boxes integrated into the performance in China. A ‘making of’ documentary by the French director Sebastien Lifshitz detailed the weeks of planning across locations and time-zones.
As world-spanning as all this brand-projection was, it had started with Vanhee-Cybulski working alone. “It was quite a shock at the beginning, because I always work with so much interaction with others, and I’m barely at home,” she said. “I was sitting at my desk, asking, How can I reinvent what I know? And actually, it was very productive.” Vanhee-Cybulski began by thinking about how to combine an outgoing ‘Amazonian’ confidence with sensitivity to the times. She talked about “turning a new page. A reset. That paradox of wanting to be protected, and wanting to draw the body in dresses which are second-skin and airy.”
Essentially, it read as her deftly-calibrated luxury design reading of the outdoor-indoor ways of living that have become today’s reality. The Hermès vocabulary of blanket coats, super-fine leather, quilting and pyramid studs was played through a wardrobe that this time included dark, tailored denim and references to technical cycling gear. Brown suede was cut into a fringed “poncho-parka,” and a cocooning double-faced beige coat spoke to the continuing prospect of winter country walks. In a practical update, a removable envelope came slotted into the closure mechanism of the Birkin bag.
Projecting into next fall, though, will restaurants, parties, and going-out really be back in our lives? Vanhee-Cybulski’s concentration on dresses spoke more to the quiet intimacy of social lives that might still be carrying on behind closed doors. Day-to-evening long sleeved, high-necked dresses in scarf prints; minutely pleated, wrapped skirts and matching sweaters; and a couple of incredibly chic minimal columns with leather fastenings: all these bespeak an understanding of the private lives of Hermès customers, wherever in the world they may be.
This article was originally published on Vogue.com