While Covid-19 may have changed fashion events, it has not stopped them, as Hermes proved on July 5 with its low-key menswear presentation beamed live from Paris.
Replacing the standard runway show, a format that is impossible with current social distancing rules, the storied French house opted to showcase 18 looks for spring / summer 2021 in a live performance. Called Hors Champs (meaning behind the scenes), the presentation was a collaboration between Veronique Nichanian, artistic director of Hermes menswear, and Cyril Teste, theatre director and filmmaker.
Speaking ahead of the event, Teste said: "We don't want to create a fashion show or an absolutely finite performance. We want it to be an event: the process of creation experienced; a live sculpture, as it were. I hope that our playful approach freed our endeavour from a 'making of' vibe that was never our intention. The idea was rather to film what was off-camera."
The audience was transported backstage during the shooting of the company's look book, and given rare insight in to an event that people never normally see. As the camera moved through the airy space, we saw various characters drift past. The performance captured models in their downtime, glued to their phones and waiting to be summoned; there was the last-minute tweaking of outfits, done by Nichanian herself; the crew moving around in headsets; and racks of clothing and accessories.
Hermes is not – and never has been – a brand that chases trends. In fact, it barely acknowledges seasons, presenting instead seasonless, little-bit-of everything collections that we all wished we owned, and that are made to be worn for years.
As a house, it is about supreme quality, expensive finishings and beautiful materials. The quiet setting that Teste created perfectly suited the brand's mantra. Relaxed looks fashioned from deerskin, technical canvas, cashmere, silk, metis goat skin, cotton poplin and linen panned past, in the form of layered micro-collared shirts under lightweight blouson jackets, themselves cut from shirting. Light knits the colour of putty were worn half tucked into single pleat-fronted trousers, cut wide in the leg and stopping at the ankle. It was all signature Nichanian – effortless, understated elegance.
Lasting eight minutes, the event was essentially a single, continuous cut moving around the space, hinting at some clothes and more closely examining others. One lovely moment saw a model pausing to flip up his jacket collar, only to pull his phone from a hidden pocket within the lapel itself.
The colours, too, were classic Nichanian – stone, Mediterranean blue, gravel, putty and one jolt of shocking, wonderful chartreuse.
"My work has always focused on form, material and colour," she explains. "The frantic aspect of fashion does not interest me in the slightest. Here at Hermes, we use an equestrian phrase that seems particularly apt in this day and age: 'Straight ahead, calm and poised.'"
Created during the strict French quarantine, this collection was much smaller than Nichanian’s usual offerings. “We were cut off from our usual means of production,” she explains. “I also selected 18 silhouettes where I normally select around 40, partly due to the nature of the performance. I said to Cyril: 'Here is my collection, do with it what you will.' I brought him my work, he did his work, and together we created this moment.
“Creativity feeds on the unexpected. That moment backstage before the show, the boys biding their time, some goofing, others in thrall to their phones, models who are not actors, surrounded by photographers: these classic off-camera moments of a show, the glimpses one usually never gets, are precisely what will for once be visible to all.”
As a collection, it carried all the hallmarks of Hermes and Nichanian, steeped in the nonchalance that both do so well. As an event, it was a creative new approach that perfectly suited the house.
"In lieu of an audience, spectators will see the people on set, such as my team and the Hermes studio team," Teste explains. "Spectators will be seeing something incontrovertibly authentic."