This story first appeared in the July 25, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
PARIS — Opting for a behind-the-scenes talent, Hermès International said Thursday it has tapped Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski as artistic director for women’s ready-to-wear at Hermès. This confirms a report in WWD on Wednesday.
The decision to name the 36-year-old French designer, who has a strong track record at brands including The Row and Céline, instead of a designer with his or her own label marks a change in strategy for the French luxury firm, which previously employed Christophe Lemaire, Jean Paul Gaultier and Martin Margiela in the post.
It is understood that Hermès was keen to secure a talent fully dedicated to the job.
Axel Dumas, chief executive officer of Hermès, said: “Her talent and her creative track record will be great assets in the continued development of women’s ready-to-wear. She will devote herself full-time to our house.”
Vanhee-Cybulski succeeds Lemaire, who has left the brand after a four-year collaboration, citing his wish to dedicate efforts to his signature label.
A graduate of the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Belgium, she started her career in 2003 at Belgian accessories firm Delvaux. Vanhee-Cybulski worked at Maison Martin Margiela in Paris from 2005 to 2008, before joining Phoebe Philo at Céline as a senior designer until 2011 and later The Row as women’s design director until March.
Despite her low public profile, analysts reacted well to the news.
“With the appointment of Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, Hermès chooses a highly qualified designer with top credentials. Sophistication and first-class expertise seem to be driving Hermès’ appointment, more than simple renown,” noted Luca Solca, managing director and head of the global luxury goods sector at Exane BNP Paribas.
He added that taking on a designer with existing responsibilities has its limitations. “Hiring a designer and his line can often be a waste of time and resources, as well as an outright financial burden,” Solca said.
David Da Maia, equity analyst at French investment company Aurel BGC, predicted that despite the strategy switch, there would be little change at the house.
“Hermès has had famous designers at the helm of its women’s collections in the past, but I think the brand is much stronger than the designer, so this is not something that is a problem or an issue,” he said.
“I think it’s more a question of positioning than the name behind it. In my opinion, they have found a successful positioning in terms of design and I am convinced they will ensure continuity. I don’t think there will be any change in positioning as a result of this nomination,” Da Maia added.
Lemaire is slated to show his last collection for Hermès in Paris on Oct. 1, and Vanhee-Cybulski will make her catwalk debut with the fall 2015 collection in March of next year.
Before Margiela, Hermès employed a team of designers under women’s fashion director Claude Brouet, previously a fashion and beauty director. In the Nineties, the team included Tan Giudicelli, Marc Audibet, Tomas Maier and Michèle and Olivier Chatenet.
Hermès has regularly touted the strong progression of sales of rtw and fashion accessories under Lemaire’s tenure, though it doesn’t give any breakdown between sales of garments and other items such as H-logo belts and sandals.
In the first half of 2014, the division’s revenues were up 11.4 percent in reported terms and 15.8 percent at constant exchange rates. This compared with an overall sales rise of 7.9 percent in reported terms and 12 percent at constant exchange rates.
The segment, which includes belts, accessory jewelry, gloves, hats and shoes, accounted for 23 percent of sales at Hermès in the first six months of the year. Analysts estimate that women’s and men’s rtw accounts for roughly half the total.
The company has been training the spotlight on its women’s offerings, holding an event in New York City in May that drew guests including Jodie Foster, Martha Stewart and Phillip Lim.
Conceived by Bali Barret, artistic director of Hermès’ women’s universe, the “All About Women” event celebrated the fall rtw collection and luxury products such as fine jewelry, scarves, handbags, footwear, small leather goods and fragrances — all presented in imaginatively designed environments.
Lemaire put his own label on hold between 2003 and 2007. He took advantage of the spotlight afforded by his nomination at Hermès to resume showing on the catwalk in July 2010 on the sidelines of couture week, and has since joined the rtw calendar.