“We’re not just about the birkin bag,” Christophe Lemaire tells me on the afternoon of Hermès’ All About Women event in NYC. Tonight, Lemaire—the brand’s current artistic director of womenswear—is restaging his fall collection, his second last for the brand, chock full of voluminous jackets and sumptuous knits.
I’m sitting with the handsome, bearded designer in a makeshift lounge area in the former J. P. Morgan headquarters, where, in a few hours, servers wearing black bodysuits and stacks of Hermès enamel bracelets will be passing champagne to more than 700 VIPs, including Martha Stewart and Jodie Foster. Despite the chaos around us, Lemaire, 49, thoughtfully explains his approach to designing for the Paris label, where he’s worked since 2010, after 10 years at Lacoste. (He also designs men’s and women’s clothing for his eponymous line, which will be his sole focus after showing his spring 2015 collection for Hermès.)
“I try to create beautiful objects of the best quality, with the perfect balance of volume, fabric, colour and detail,” he says, looking chic in a slouchy grey suit. “But it’s also important they are functional—in French we call it la valeur d’usage.” That ethos is evident throughout his fall line for Hermès: pleated cargos are offered in water-repellent cotton gabardine, double-faced cashmere coats come with removable capes and even a crocodile-skin blouse looks wearable. This luxe-minimalism is in sharp contrast not only to the more brazen wares of his predecessor, Jean Paul Gaultier (known for accessorizing his equestrian-themed collections with riding crops), but also to the flashier designers with whom Lemaire previously worked: Christian Lacroix, Yves Saint Laurent and Thierry Mugler.
Though Lemaire gleaned a lot from these show ponies—Lacroix in particular—he also discovered what he didn’t like: “Christian has a great sense of colour and a sensual approach to materials … but I also learned that his vision of fashion, which is very much about theatre and spectacle, wasn’t something I wanted.”
Which could explain why, after tonight’s presentation, I spotted Lemaire removed from the fanfare, quietly watching an Hermès-clad Sabina Sciubba of Brazilian Girls perform. It reminded me of something he’d said earlier: “The show is important, but it’s not the final destination. The final destination is to make clothes that will make a woman feel stronger and more beautiful. That is the point,” he continued, motioning to the bustling space around him, “of all of this.”
LEMAIRE’s FAVOURITE FOUR
“Echo & the Bunnymen are timeless. I used their music in my fall runway show.”
“I love the new Hermès Bel Ami Vétiver. I used to wear Bel Ami, plus I liked vétiver, so its the perfect mix.”
“Paris, Texas makes me cry everytime I watch it.”
“Three years ago, my girlfriends and I took the Trans-Siberian Railway from Russia to China.”