Pierre Hardy in Conversation with Colleen Hill

Pierre Hardy’s two-decade-plus design legacy was under review Tuesday night at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where the French designer sat for a discussion with FIT Museum curator Colleen Hill.

Hardy — who has contributed shoe designs to Hermès and Balenciaga, while also operating his namesake label since 1999 — dissected his design process and art-world inspirations for an audience of largely young fashion professionals.

In discussing his incorporation of James Rosenquist and Ettore Sottsass’ graphic styles into his own creative practice, Hardy peeled the lid back on a slower, more contemplated design process than what many of the room’s New Yorkers were accustomed to.

“In the end, shoes are simply a vehicle.…I try to make a strong contrast between the ankle, leg and the body,” Hardy said of his penchant for bold design. “I try to find the right moment where a women can stand — and catch her at just her limit,” he added of his notoriously slalom high heels.

He revealed that the “Lego heel he created for Balenciaga’s fall 2007 collection — arguably his most famous design — was actually inspired by snowboard bindings. “It was not at all about Legos,” he said. “I was in New York and it was freezing, so I was passing on Mercer Street and entered the Burton store. They looked beautiful, like objets. I bought five pieces and brought them back to Paris,” he said of the unlikely inspiration.

Post-conversation, Hardy told WWD he is learning to accommodate his design ethos to shifts in consumer preference.

“Lately, flats are the best — I think fashion anyway is getting a little lower [key]. I notice people are buying standards — they want something like a recognizable loafer. This is less about imagination and craziness, it’s a standard,” he said.

Hardy said this shift away from adventurous designs toward more recognizable shoe styles is “probably because of the communication of some massive brands that are so powerful, that if they project an image, consumers feel ‘OK, this is it,’ so if [a shoe is] not exactly that, people are not too ready to accept it or it takes time and it’s not immediate. I have to deal with that.”

Hardy, known for his color combinations and architectural silhouettes, said this change “is not a problem, just another question to answer as a designer — it’s fun.”

“I try to twist and propose a new solution. OK, let’s do a loafer, but let’s do it with a color block, something surprising to have some fun and not make a copycat of something you’ve seen before,” he said of his approach to the current climate.

Hardy’s business, he said, is split almost equally among the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East/Russia, with each accounting for about 25 percent of sales. “Depending on the season, it’s between a 2 and 5 percent difference between those quarters. I think we are lucky this way, we are not too affected by the changing [economic] complications that we know.”

Hardy’s men’s business accounts for 20 to 25 percent of global sales. Handbags, he said, account for roughly 20 percent of his women’s business.

The latter category he considers a challenge in terms of design and sales.

“With shoes, there is a pattern, there is a foot, a natural curve. But a bag can be whatever you want — it’s much more difficult to achieve a good bag,” he told the audience.

Selling handbags as a shoe designer, he told WWD, is not as easy as many would think. While the category is experiencing a global lag across all price points, Hardy said luxury ready-to-wear brands tend to have an easier time selling aspirational bags.

“I think it’s difficult to make people understand a global vision of handbags and shoes, it’s easiest when you have ready-to-wear,” he said. “It’s weird, because it could seem logical to understand bags and shoes together because the materials are [similar]. But in terms of fantasy and in terms of buying, I’m not sure it works together, I don’t know any great exclusive shoe brand that is strong in handbags. It’s very hard to reach the same level when you don’t do rtw.”

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