Hermès thrives above fashion’s fray, its allure steeped in tradition, unrivaled quality and a sportif refinement that finds currency in classicism. That equation works brilliantly for the brand’s leather-goods core, but is tougher to maintain in the more fickle ready-to-wear arena. In nearly five years at the house, Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski has risen to the occasion, developing a leather-based collection component that lives up to the ultra-high standards of the house.
For spring, Vanhee-Cybulski offered clothes for round the clock, paying tribute to the house’s masterful craftspeople by referencing the aprons they wear while working. She started with sturdy weights and sporty pieces. The opening series in mismatched greens impressed and set the tone for a lineup focused on clean, unfussy shapes. Within that, options emerged — skirt and trouser suits with snappy élan; cool long leather vest over pants; subtly arty dresses with peekaboo waist treatment or asymmetric pleats. As the show progressed, Vanhee-Cybulski worked in increasingly lighter weights of leather, finishing with lovely dresses made of leather panels affixed to organdy. She also offered some great-looking fabric options such as an urbane sleeveless smoking and a fluid black dress with free-flowing cape overlay. It all had a crisp, tony-chic polish.
Yet there was an elephant on the runway — the leather elephant. Despite fashion’s ascendant animal-free movement, it’s unlikely that leather goods overall are endangered, especially those iconic beauties Kelly and Birkin. (To that point, Hermès had a sustainable ethos long before sustainability was a thing. Would anyone send an Hermès bag/scarf/whatever to landfill? Rhetorical.) But women who revere their Hermès bags, and even leather outerwear, may be increasingly less comfortable with leather as a general wardrobe staple, whether for ethical reasons or because they don’t want to risk being called out.
“Our metamorphoses has become our new idealism,” read the show’s heady program notes. Perhaps now is the time for Vanhee-Cybulski to push the Hermès metamorphoses further and integrate more fabrics into the mix, along the lines of Fendi’s ongoing expansion beyond fur. It would allow her greater creative freedom and make sense in this cultural moment. Tradition is a virtue. But so is pragmatism.