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Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, the discreet

March 9 2018

Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, artistic director of Hermès. Photo © Inez & Vinoodh

In 2014, Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski was appointed to the direction of the creation of women's ready-to-wear at Hermès. In seven seasons, she has defined a new grammar, a stricto-sensual fashion. Back on our first meeting. - Isabelle Cerboneschi.

She has diaphanous skin and fiery hair. I imagine it as a museum of the Flemish painter Rogier Van der Weyden. Perhaps Mary Magdalene reading. Face of the fifteenth century, but a character anchored in today and tomorrow, Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski draws the collections Hermes since 2014.

His journey? In the image of her discretion: after a training at the School of Fine Arts in Antwerp, she joined the leather goods Delvaux, then the mysterious Martin Margiela from 2005 to 2008. Will follow three years at Céline where she works with Phoebe Philo on her first collections before directing from 2011 the studio of The Row, the brand created by the Olsen twins. Then a beautiful 2014 day, a phone call surprises her as much as it delights her: would she like to draw the Hermès women's collections? There are proposals that do not refuse.

Her passionate of clothes vintage, which she hunts with the look of an anthropologist in search of a lost lifestyle, draws a fashion that only a neologism manages to describe: stricto-sensual.

She grew up in the north of France and appreciates that her private life remains private. She is aware that collections tell a little about who design them. She prefers to talk about her loose pants, rigorous cuts that do not exclude the mind or humour. That should be enough, she thinks. On the other hand Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski is inexhaustible in her work, the love of the gesture, the role of the garment, the necessary involvement of the heart in all that one does. She was fortunate to work only for houses whose minds resonated with hers. She never had to force herself. She thinks that a hidden garment reveals better.

IC: You give your interviews in the workshops of Pantin. This is not trivial. It is here that the gesture is born. Is this fashion, above all else: a gesture, a hand that draws, another that cuts, sews, all these gestures put together?
Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski: Yes, for me, fashion is above all a visceral expression that goes through the eyes, the touch, a transmission of the senses. It is by understanding this that we can really explain fashion, ready-to-wear Hermès. The hand is essential. Take for example the double-faced cashmere, these are two cashmere weaves that are tied together, two layers that weave at the same time. It's a job that requires a lot of dexterity. The top and bottom must be perfect. This is consistent with the idea that a Hermès item must be as beautiful inside as it is outside. There are many bridges between the work of the craftsman and the techniques of fashion.

When we listen to you, we understand that the specificity of Hermès ready-to-wear is in the proximity of the workshops, the exchanges of know-how?
It is true that, compared to other ready-to-wear circuits, we have the asset of a proximity with our manufacturers and our craftsmen. A constant dialogue is established between the trades, which allows this quest for perfectionism. The requirement starts at the stage of the drawing, of the form, then one can count on the requirement of the person who will cut the leather or the fabric at an angle, of the one which will mount the garment and which will also bring its eye and his opinion. This does not mean that we live in total autarky and that we are completely disconnected from the times. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that a woman come to Hermès, chooses a piece of clothing, make it her own, and mix it with a piece of another brand. It is important that the Hermès garment and a personal wardrobe can coagulate.

When you look at your path, there is something striking: you have always worked for homes that speak yet in a discreet way, which reflect a certain rigour but with humour. Did you choose them because it was also a lifestyle choice that goes beyond fashion?
You can be a designer and draw things in which you can not project yourself. But for my part, I had, it is true, a course that allowed me to make creations very close to my way of life. I have always had great aesthetic and formal affinities with all the houses I worked for.

Can we say then that you create a fashion that looks like you?
It looks like me, yes, and at the same time, it must also be slightly different so that there is a little unexpected, surprise.

What trigger did you accept to design the Hermès collections?
It was enough, say, unexpected. Today, people tell me that I was made to work at Hermès. I tell them they tell me that because I'm here! I had never formulated this ambition so clearly. I have always looked at this house with wonder, admiration, desire. When I entered this store, I felt good. We do not really want to leave, we walk, it's a fairly generous universe, the world of crafts. I never really took into account that I would follow this route.

How did that happen then?
When I was called to meet me and possibly to know if I wanted to draw the women's ready-to-wear collections at Hermès, it was really a big surprise. And I said to myself: why not? There are so many values ​​in which I found myself! Throughout my career, I have formulated some needs: for me, a job must be done with soul, with love. I thought that at Hermès I could find that kind of commitment, that kind of conscientious work, that integrity. I think that was the trigger: a sharing of values, the idea that an object is well done, not only because it was made with the best leather in the world but because there is an ancestral way to do it, the expertise of a person and especially the pleasure to do it. You understand this when you visit the leather goods workshops: the people who work there are extremely proud of what they do.

You evoke the word pleasure. How far do you push the notion of pleasure into the act of dressing up?
It is a pleasure that one gives oneself and which can generate a pleasure in the others. There is a certain pleasure in wearing a garment that will allow you to reveal yourself, to be good with yourself, with others, to be receptive and to share a moment, like a silent dialogue. I do not understand the term power suit. For me, it's not a manifestation of power, a garment.

In the 2016-17 autumn-winter collection, I was struck by the long dresses worn on a turtleneck sweater, which I found extremely sensual even though they did not reveal a millimeter of skin. Is it your way of expressing sensuality within limits that you have set for yourself?
I do not like things too obvious. These dresses are sensual already because they are cut at an angle. However, the bias reveals the body: you can understand if it is soft or firm, under a dress at an angle. I think it's ten times more sensual than overexposing flesh. It is also my duty to be able to offer a new reading of what is sensual, elegant, beautiful, classic, what can be ready-to-wear Hermès. This house has been an active witness to the pivotal moments of modern civilisation: the transition from horses to cars, from a working society to a consumer and leisure society. We live in a time where we observe behavioural changes related to hyper-globalisation, hyper-digitiasation. We are witnessing new phenomena, such as the development of digital friendships, the experience of a parade lived live on the Web, we buy clothes online, we organise almost his life on the Internet, so it's important to to always be able to stimulate our perception of what makes us what we are. Looking for a new way of expressing this sensuality is part of this process. I do not like fast equations, when you say about me: She reveals nothing of the body, her fashion is Lutheran, Calvinist, or whatever ... It's too easy to fall into these clichés.

You speak of Luther, of Calvin. The founders of Hermes were Protestants and transmitted certain values ​​to this house. How do we navigate between a certain restraint and a flop of bridles necessary for fashion to be fashionable?
I did not feel this restraint. On the contrary, I arrived in an extremely welcoming house, which immediately gave me access to its history. There is rigor at Hermès, yes, but also humor. We sail between one and the other. In Flemish paintings, you often see men working together and I think that's the strength of Hermes. Beyond rigor and fantasy, it is a group of thinking heads who act together: you have a soul that is more sensitive to creativity, another more sensitive to business ... And this generates this pendulum effect.

You have been given access to the archives of the house. Did an object particularly mark you, which could sum up the spirit of the brand?
Hermès is like a kaleidoscope. On the outside, it's compact, clear, precise, you know where to put the eye, in this little lens, and when you look inside, there are prisms of all shapes and colours. It is therefore very difficult to reduce this house to an object. There's a bridle that inspired me for the 2016-17 Fall-Winter Pre-Collection, a silk tulle shirt, horse blankets, too, made from wool that's nowhere to be found. And lately, I saw a very interesting car cover. More than an object, it's a collection of objects that speaks to me.

Martin Margiela strongly left a mark on the house after his passage. You worked with him. Do you feel a creative affiliation or are you totally free from everything that has been done before at Hermès?
I think there is a certain lineage, since I worked under his aegis: it was my first job just after my studies. When we do this job, we are porous, we absorb completely involuntarily words, terms, objects, techniques. Martin has refocused the identity of the clothing at Hermès. But when I arrived here, I mostly watched the work that had been done before him. It's kind of camera obscura. The younger generation does not know this period: it could associate Hermes with gray, black and beige. However, when I looked at the work of Lola Prusac, Catherine de Karolyi (who created the ready-to-wear Hermès in 1967, Ed) or Claude Brouet, I felt through their clothes that they had more than empathy with the moods of a woman. There were silhouettes for very assertive women, very classic, some a little more shimmering, others more purist.

Their collections were more extravagant?
They had a more playful spirit. I felt more in keeping with their collections. I met Claude Brouet. She was present at my first show.

We all meet tutelary figures who have an influence on our career and we keep from them sometimes a sentence, a word. What did you keep from Martin Margiela's time?
What I liked most about him and his relationship with others in the work was that he had great humility.

What's the biggest fashion lesson you've ever had?
I think I'm still too young to answer that question! I'm still looking for it ...

What do you think is the ideal wardrobe?
Hmm. So, my ideal wardrobe - because I can not talk about THE wardrobe in general - would be a nice coat, a good shirt and some pants. And these three pieces should be transversal enough to be accompanied by other pieces, according to the desire, to be able to face the different situations of the day or the night.

When you put collections end to end, they necessarily tell a little story of the person who created them. What do your collections say about you?
It's hard to answer this question because I do not really have the time to sit down, metabolize and think about what they might say about me. I think they talk about a form of emancipation of women ... Finally, it's weird to say that in 2016, but it's still relevant unfortunately. I would say the psychic emancipation of a woman that can be realized, regardless of the area she chooses. That she wants to be a warrior, a super power woman, or a great mom, the important thing is that she chose him.

When you were young, you dressed a lot in vintage. Always?
Yes, always ... But not today, I made the effort to come and dress in Hermès (she says with humour).

What are you looking for in these clothes from another era?
As soon as I discover a new store vintageWhen I meet the curator of a collection, it's like taking a trip back in time, an anthropological exploration. Sometimes it leads me to live a form of meeting with a designer: we think we know him, we saw his clothes in the books, and suddenly, we see it in real life. In the United States, we sometimes come across extraordinary collections: women who have owned, for example, Yves Saint Laurent's entire wardrobe from such a date to such date. You thus discover the creator through the eyes of a woman. I love that. The vintageis all this: personal stories, clothes that express changes in times, behaviors, new uses. For me, it's a real gold mine! But I can be as well attracted by a historical costume as by mechanic's trousers or a superb Pierre Cardin dress. I like the clothes, actually. So being able to see these myriads of clothes is one of the parts of my job that I prefer.

During your wanderings, did you discover a designer you did not know at all?
Of course. Ralph Rucci, for example. Or even fashion houses that no longer exist: it's a kind of Atlantis of fashion, second-hand shops.

During the March 2016 parades, we talked a lot about the phenomenon see now buy now , some houses having chosen to sell their collection right after the show. Mr. Alaïa amuses himself and places himself on the antipodes by choosing the see later, buy later . And where do you want to position Hermès?
The house has always had its own rhythm. I think that the way we work now is healthy: we have strong pre-collections and two shows that serve to synthesize the message of a moment, but that does not mean that it is an ephemeral message . A parade is a statement, it's more pointed, while a pre-collection, it's a kind of alphabet of clothing that allows you to create a language that is yours. So to answer this question - see now, buy now, or later, whatever - I start from the principle that we must respect a working time and also a time so that we, consumers and observers, can absorb all that we see in order to make a choice later.

Years ago, Jean-Louis Dumas Hermès told me: Luxury is what repairs itself. Can fashion be lasting without betraying its own nature which is to be in perpetual motion?
Yes, fashion is subject to evolution. When you observe a Hermès object, although it keeps the same shape and it is transmitted from generation to generation, it will take a certain patina, it will be an imprint of you. So it evolves, it changes. This notion of sustainability applied to fashion is knowing that you can count on a garment: when you decide to buy it, to wear it, you know that it will be with you a long time, that it will accompany you.

What Hermès object has marked your childhood memories, if there is one?
The square scarf. That from the women of my family: each had its a colour, a favourite subject. I was obsessed with this strange object, very precious to the eye, very strange to the touch - because for a child, silk twill is strange -, this complexity of signs, these stories that intertwine on a format. It was as if one could enter a storybook. I have always loved this wonderful side of the square: you deploy it like a book and you enter a story. You take it according to how you tie it, you bend it. I saw him worn around a neck, on a belt, in hair. Seeing that an object so easy, so simple, could metamorphose like that, it always pleased me.

And you, how do you use it?
The square? I use the little one, the Gavroche that I wear as a choker.

You also use it in your collections. Which motifs are you most attracted to when you create?
I love turning the square into a garment. It's a game that already existed in the 60 years, but it seemed important to push the exercise on different formats, play on the scales of the drawing: all of a sudden, the same motif grows or shrinks, the colours are revealed, revealing something else. I like of course the subject of equestrian: it is very powerful, very magnetic, all these drawings around the fierceness.

You mean the harness?
Yes, the harness, thank you. I'm hungry for the harness! I also like working with a little more abstract, more graphic subjects. From time to time, I use some figurative motifs like Jungle Love, the animal drawings of Robert Dallet. The square is a library where you can go to get so many stories!

What do you see as the purest expression of modernity?
Naoshima. I love the way the island has been transformed into a center of art and this fusion with the work of Tadao Ando. The way he understood the Japanese heritage, which he praised and transformed.

If it were to remain an essential garment, what would it be?
Shirt! Formerly, she played the role of interstice: it was carried between the skin and the tailor, which at the time was rigid and difficult. It protected you. With the shirt, we started to create heads of sleeves, collars, tightening legs. It is through this that everything began.

NB: A version of this interview was published in the Hors-Série Mode du Temps on September 17 2016