Why Hermès Loves to Dress the New York Woman
Pierre Hardy could have been a professional dancer. But in choosing an alternate route that led him to become the creative director of shoes and fine jewelry for Hermès, he believes he’s been able to achieve many of the same aims. “What I did with dance, and what I’m doing now, is help people to play with their own bodies and give them accessories to produce what they want for themselves,” he says. “A better image, in a way. To be yourself, but better.”
If that vision of self-betterment via fashion feels like a very American sentiment, chalk it up to the designer’s stateside sensibilities. While Hardy is a native Parisian, he’s long enjoyed a romance with New York, splitting his time between the two. He sings the praises of his former Chelsea abode, located in the heart of the gallery district. “When I was there just crawling around for five blocks, in two hours I could see the most unbelievable show of modern art,” he says. Work is underway on a new New York home for Hardy, but if he had his way, he’d be living in the Brutalist building at 75th and Madison that formerly housed the Met Breuer museum. “I think it’s perfection,” he says.
Hermès, too, has long had a presence in the city, dating back to its first New York outpost in 1929. This fall, the brand will open a newly designed flagship store on Madison Avenue that reemphasizes its American presence and serves as a hub of sorts. It will reunite the men’s and women’s collections in a single location, housed in what was once the Bank of New York Mellon. The flagship will emphasize the joys that can only be found with in-person shopping (and socializing: Visitors will find a champagne bar, rooftop garden, and coffee bar).
“It can sound weird [to say] about such a big store, but intimacy,” Hardy says of what he thinks the flagship can offer customers in what feels like a transitional time in retail. “To be treated one-to-one and to be in surroundings that make [people feel] free to choose, to take their time, to be comfortable, and to feel reassured that they can stay however long they want…. After two years of online buying and ordering, people are very happy to live again and have this shopping experience.”
My job is to create the new classics, the new shapes, and to renew the Hermès look.”
Among the treasures on display will be Hardy-designed shoes from the fall 2022 collection, including embroidered cowboy boots and luxe shearling slides. He has worked for the house since the ’90s, a career that was born out of his uncommon knack for drawing. “Everything came from sketching, because that’s what I was supposed to do. I was not supposed to become a shoe designer or a fashion designer. I was just lucky enough to be gifted, and I could draw whatever I wanted as a kid,” he recalls. “That was actually the only thing I really enjoyed.”
As an adult, he was asked to do some accessory illustrations for a magazine, which led to a design opportunity at Dior. “Someone said, ‘You can draw a shoe. Why don’t you make it become a product?’ I said, ‘Yes, why not?’ Very spontaneously, it was suddenly my job, and I was designing a shoe collection.” Since 1999, Hardy has been splitting his talents between Hermès and his namesake line of shoes—bold, brightly colored sandals and sneakers with their own distinct aesthetic. As he starts to design, he says, “I know which specific sketch will be for Hermès and which will be for my own collection. It’s like having a split screen, but they are working together at the same time.”
When Hardy joined the company, he had a century and a half of house history to draw upon. He compares his approach to “when an actor today is in a Shakespeare play. The text is from the Renaissance, but the guy is living now.” While he’s learned a great deal about the heritage of Hermès, “I try to forget it as much as I can and not be too heavy with archival [inspiration], because it can be a chain. It can be a prison. I think my job is to create the new classics, the new shapes, and to renew the Hermès look,” he explains. That approach has helped him come up with contemporary classics like the understated Oran sandal, which he introduced in 1997, and the Quick sneaker, the first all-leather sneaker from a luxury house. His influence has even spilled over to beauty, via the graphic packaging he designed for Rouge Hermès, the house’s debut line of lipsticks.
Those ended up being a hit, despite debuting at the start of the pandemic. “Everybody was hidden behind a mask,” Hardy says. “We immediately thought, ‘Oh no,’ but no, it was more than fine. Some things are difficult to explain, but I think a big part of the reason [for the success] is the incredible trust people have in this brand.” That confidence was evident, he says, in the way in which Hermès sales grew during the lockdown. “People couldn’t move, but they wanted new shoes and new things. It’s probably because the brand is so [associated] with quality and sophistication and real luxury. I think that gives some reassurance. People are quite sure that they are not making a mistake, even if they buy it online or without trying it on or without going into the store.”
In keeping with the house’s fresh presence in New York, Hardy used the fall collection to give stalwart American style the Hermès treatment. “I have some American friends, and they wear clogs on the weekend. I always love it,” he says. “Of course, we made [ours] very clean, very minimalist.” Time spent on the streets of Manhattan has helped him develop a sense for the differences between American and French style. “The U.S. girl pays more attention. I think the French girls are more like, ‘Oh, who cares? I’m fine.’ An attitude like that,” he says. “In New York, when they decide to get dressed, they get dressed. I love that.”
This article appears in the September 2022 issue of ELLE.
Adrienne Gaffney is an associate editor at ELLE who previously worked at WSJ Magazine and Vanity Fair.