The woman behind the men

The woman behind the men

In person, fashion designer Veronique Nichanian cuts an unassuming figure. The petite Frenchwoman is elegant of course, but not the towering personality one would expect.

As the award-winning artistic director of men's ready-to-wear at French designer label Hermes, she is one of very few women designing menswear in the high fashion world. But it is not something she thinks much about, she says.

"It seems to be a question that I am often asked, but it seems to be one you don't ask men that design for women," says the Paris-based designer thoughtfully, in an e-mail interview with Urban.

"It is a question of sensibility, whether you are a man or a woman."

Regardless of gender and supposed conventions, her tenure at Hermes has been a long and productive one.

Credited with shaping the brand's understated and luxurious menswear look, Nichanian has been with Hermes since 1988, when then-chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas asked her to take on the role.

Her first collection for Hermes earned her the Grand Prix award at the Young Fashion Designers Competition in Paris. A quarter century onwards, she is still actively designing and overseeing events such as the recent Hermes Men's Universe's Men On The Move.

She was in town earlier this year for the unique experiential installation showcasing the men's collection on interactive models.

IT ALL STARTS WITH FABRICS

The youthful-looking 60-year-old, who sports a tousled brunette bob and wispy fringe, explains that her design process always starts with the fabrics.

"I am obsessed with fabrics; I need to understand and feel them," she says. "Fabrics are the core of my work, with their extreme quality and technical aspects."

Her love of fabric developed early on, when she first worked for Italian brand Cerruti. She was first exposed to the menswear scene there as a stylist, and spent more than a decade with the brand before Hermes' Dumas came knocking.

Now her fondness for fabrics has manifested itself into a penchant for mixing materials.

Nichanian has juxtaposed fabrics such as wool and neoprene, adding a signature lightness and modernity to the clothes, while maintaining a classic, timeless look.

"Designing menswear requires me to be accurate and very demanding on the details," she says, about what she enjoys most about her work. "I often say it is a question of a millimetre and also the passion for fabrics."

And to those who think menswear might be less interesting or challenging compared with womenswear, think again. Nichanian stresses that menswear is as experimental as womenswear.

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