As the artistic director of women’s ready-to-wear at Hermès, Nadège Vanhée-Cybulski is deeply familiar with the fashion calendar, its shows and seasons coming at a quick but constant pace. Last spring, though, she was staring down the maternity leave she would soon take following the birth of her first child — an event that can’t help but remake one’s relationship with time — and found herself wanting to take advantage of the remaining weeks before she went. “We decided to do this capsule collection we’d always talked about,” she says of her team, which works out of the brand’s atelier in Pantin, just north of Paris. “Something special created out of season, when we can really explore.”
The starting point was the patrimoine, or heritage, of the house. Hermès has always eschewed novelty for its own sake, but Vanhée-Cybulski, 42, who arrived at the brand in 2014 after stints at the Row, Maison Martin Margiela and Céline, longed to revisit classic pieces from its archives — a crisp white shirt, an elegant cape, a riding jacket — in her own way. “I had these strong images of clothes developed in the past, and I wanted to give them another life,” she says. “I almost thought of it as a kind of reincarnation.” Out this week, the resulting 10-piece collection, then, is its own meditation on time. It is also everything you’d imagine from the 183-year-old house, which is to say quietly sumptuous and highly detailed, with a deep respect for old-fashioned craftsmanship.
That white shirt, for instance, is here rendered in cotton poplin meticulously embroidered with a version of Hermès’s iconic 1957 Brides de Gala design depicting ceremonial bridles — which takes on a deeply modern and less recognisable, almost abstract feel — and there are vintage-inspired round white buttons at the left shoulder. A long black dress, meanwhile, features 25 palladium-finished pyramidal Clou Médor rivets, their ends placed on either side of leather patches and pressed together to pierce through the underlying silk. Artisans, from tailors to embroiderers to silversmiths, spent about 15 to 18 hours on each piece.
To decide on just 10, Vanhée-Cybulski thought of the Hermès customers who return season after season and, at most, carefully choose just one or two essentials. She ended up privileging (nearly all monochrome) garments that could travel between occasions, seasons and their wearer’s own subtle shifts in mood and style — fittingly, the collection is named Savoir-Faire. This explains the knee-length double-faced cashmere overcoat accented with studded black lambskin bands running along the collar, waist and front closure. It is a piece at once classic and provocative, the softness of the wool offsetting the edge afforded by the studs and leather. A similar tension is embodied by a biker jacket, its iconic silhouette made with supple, subtly embroidered grained goatskin. Both of these pieces could easily pair with others in the collection — or with any number of pre-existing wardrobe items. As Vanhée-Cybulski says of the collection, “It’s almost like a minimalist trick: Use it as the perfect canvas.”
In other words, and as intended, many of the pieces seem to exist out of time, or perhaps for all seasons at once, which is just as well given that the pandemic has curtailed life as we knew it and made fleeting fashions feel especially useless. Vanhée-Cybulski hopes that one day, three or five years from now, she’ll see a woman on the street in a Savoir-Faire creation and have the chance to speak to her about it — to find out where she’s gone and what she’s done in the piece, how it has served her in her life. “Style is the idea that you take something and appropriate it to yourself,” says Vanhée-Cybulski. “You bring your own story to it, and I think these pieces really allow for that.”
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