PARIS — Leïla Menchari, the Tunisian designer who elevated window dressing to an art form with her spectacular designs for Hermès, has passed away in Paris, the French luxury house said on Sunday.
Born in 1927 in Tunis, Leïla trained as a fine art painter in Tunis and Paris. After a brief stint as a model for Guy Laroche, she started working under Hermès’ former head of windows, Annie Beaumel, in 1961.
She took over designing the house’s windows from 1978 to 2013, working with a number of artisans from the Hermès universe and beyond, ranging from stone-cutters to sculptors, while also directing the Hermès color committee, which sets the trends for the house’s famed silk scarves.
“An open, generous, resolutely modern woman, she was a woman of freedom. Her passing leaves to all those who had the joy of knowing and working with her, on both sides of the Mediterranean, the memory of a perpetual quest for beauty, a boundless passion for creation and craftsmanship,” Hermès said in a statement.
Windows created by Menchari included giant waves crafted from marble, fantasy Kelly bags made out of metal, multicolored saddles with wings and a Paris-themed window with monuments in organza.
“I have always loved storytelling. And here, that’s all I do,” she once said. An admirer of Dalí and the Surrealists, and close friend of couturier Azzedine Alaïa, Menchari quickly discovered that “in the Hermès workshops, anything is possible.”
The French leather goods house in 2017 staged an exhibition of her work at the Grand Palais. Titled “Hermès à tire-d’aile — Les mondes de Leïla Menchari,” which loosely translates as “The Hermès Worlds of Leïla Menchari,” it featured eight tableaux conceived by scenographer Nathalie Crinière in collaboration with Menchari.
“Thanks to Leïla, exoticism found a home, happily and permanently, in Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré,” said Axel Dumas, chief executive officer of Hermès International, referring to the company’s flagship in Paris.
“Many of us at Hermès have learned a lot from Leïla. She taught us to look at the world through the prism of color. She was a storyteller without equal that enchanted the world. We are infinitely grateful to her for all that she has done for us, that she passed on to us,” added Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director of Hermès.