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Hermès's Pierre Hardy: In Freedom He Trusts

By Patrick Chew

Hardy wears his own T-shirt and trousers with Hermès's six-button double-breasted suit in verdigris smooth cotton velvet.
 
Suzie & Leo
Hardy wears his own T-shirt and trousers with Hermès's six-button double-breasted suit in verdigris smooth cotton velvet.

The first five minutes of my conversation with Hermès shoe and jewellery designer Pierre Hardy was a rather disconcerting experience. I inadvertently found myself sitting on the couch in the corner of the showroom in the company’s headquarters in Paris with my hand on my chin and index finger pressed against my lip, thinking. I was trying to figure out what exactly it was about Hardy that threw me as he spoke at great length about how a collection with 50 or 100 styles was, in fact, a good thing.

To him, it opens his mind to all the possibilities and enables him to think about “what things could be instead of getting stuck in what things have to be”. It was a refreshingly positive take on what is essentially more work for a designer. And that was it — that he possesses an eye to see the best in just about anything, something that makes him one of the few glass-half-full type of people that fashion so sorely lacks.

In an industry that has grown to attach and identify itself in the opposition to things — “I hate the see-now-buy-now shift on runways because it takes away the mysteriousness and allure of what fashion should be” or “I see the collection as a protest to gender inequality in our society” — Hardy does the opposite. He embraces his passions, and is always pro things, never anti.

Alexandre TissotHermès's iconic Chaîne d'ancre hit refresh with a punk twist, fashioned into a range of collection centred around the idea of a safety pin. Expect pieces in silver, rose or yellow gold in this Chaîne d'ancre Punk collection.
Hermès's iconic Chaîne d'ancre hit refresh with a punk twist, fashioned into a range of collection centred around the idea of a safety pin. Expect pieces in silver, rose or yellow gold in this Chaîne d'ancre Punk collection.

“When I was young I had two passions — drawing and dancing,” Hardy says. “Naturally, I did both.” Hardy eventually came to a point where he had to decide which was better for him. It was drawing.

“Pictionary for me is a dream,” Hardy says. “Drawing is the easiest way to express myself.” With that in mind, it’s easy to see how and why Hardy illustrated fashion reports for Vogue Hommes International and Italian Vanity Fair, styled at Christian Dior and worked with Nicolas Ghesquiere, all of which culminated in him helming the shoes collections at Hermès 25 years ago and subsequently jewellery 10 years later.

Alexandre Tissot
 

But Hardy insists that moving into fashion and accessories was never his intention. “The function of a student is not to think about the future and making money. The function of a student is to study. So I focused on studying fine art, painting and drawing and never thought about going into fashion and designing for big fashion houses.”
Hardy describes his foray into shoes and jewellery as “something that was only by chance”. He never planned for it or strategised about it. “Someone in fashion told me, ‘Apparently you love to draw, maybe you could draw a collection.’ I thought, ‘Why not?’”

He describes his first shoe collection for Hermès as “narrower, and more classic”. Twenty-five years on, Hardy’s designs have evolved to become more complex and adventurous to include various shapes and colours. It is a shift that is perhaps best encapsulated by his high-top Roy Lichtenstein-inspired sneakers (as seen on his eponymous label), with holes all over them and rendered in multi-coloured suede and the word “POW!” on the top. To him, it comes down to the woman who wears his shoes. “She’s confident. She’s free. She doesn’t care about fashion.”

Suzie & Leo
 

The words “free” and “freedom” were littered throughout the entire interview — a testament to Hardy’s great emphasis on it in his design process. “It’s been 25 years. I’ve never had an office,” he says. But more than that, it is precisely because the world is infatuated with freedom that Hardy relishes. “I love that fashion today is very free,” he explains. “That wasn’t the case in the ’50s or ’60s. You can be wearing couture one day and sweatpants the next. And maybe even mixing couture with sweatpants the day after.”

It is the fluidity of people’s lives rather than anything to do with their fast-paced nature that has caused designers to be constantly on their toes. “We used to think about designs and themes on a year-by-year basis,” Hardy recalls. “As the years went by, the time frames became shorter. Now, I go at it day by day. If someone asks me to predict the future of fashion, I’d tell them that would be going into sci-fi already because it is impossible to do so now.”

Suzie & Leo
 

Having to be constantly on your toes and on the lookout for ideas and trends may seem tiresome to some, but it seems to have brought Hardy closer to his other passion of dance, something that he admits has not had too much of a bearing on his designs, with the exception of using his knowledge of how the body moves when designing shoes and jewellery. “It’s all about collecting good ideas and throwing away the bad ones,” he describes. “Multifaceted kind of like music and dance — adding and combining, adapting and repurposing from different sources.

“Good ideas come from everywhere. They could go way back and way deep like a memory from your childhood. Or it could be something as simple as when you crossed the street last week or walked at the airport and spot an ugly shoe and think of ways in which to improve it and make it work.”

HermèsFrom left: earrings in rose gold; bangles in white gold, rose gold and diamonds, band rings in white old, rose gold and diamonds; cuff in silver and diamond, all from Hermès's Chaîne d'ancre punk collection.
From left: earrings in rose gold; bangles in white gold, rose gold and diamonds, band rings in white old, rose gold and diamonds; cuff in silver and diamond, all from Hermès's Chaîne d'ancre punk collection.

This was the sentiment that Hardy carried with him when designing the punk jewellery collection. “It is perhaps the easiest jewellery collection to explain,” he says. “We wanted to focus on the object. That was this year’s theme at Hermès — ‘Object Sense’. I wanted to design objects whose function, design, even names were universal. The challenge when dealing with universally known objects is that they become more useful than they are charming. So I had fun coming up with ideas to make it more fluid, more feminine, more sensual.”

Ultimately, it is Hardy’s play on metals, shapes and lines that has culminated in a collection that, according to him, is all about simplicity and most reflective of his philosophy of designing accessories. “An accessory is there to make something or someone just that little bit better. It is not there to completely transform an outfit. That’s not what it’s supposed to do. It’s there to complement.”