Walk into the Hermès flagship store in New York and you’ll think you’ve gate-crashed a Supermarket Sweep for millionaires. The well-turned-out shoppers seem primed to drag an arm across a shelf, gathering as many pieces as possible from one of luxury’s oldest brand names. Naturally, there are more restraints—and significantly fewer shopping carts—in this 20,000 square foot temple of tastefulness, which opened on the Upper East Side last October.
“The store is really a masterpiece,” says Véronique Nichanian, artistic director of the Hermès men’s universe since 2008. “For a big store, it feels really intimate.” it is a means to highlight Hermès' superb menswear, which Nichanian has been overseeing for a staggering 35 years, beginning in 1988 when she was appointed artistic director of men's ready-to-wear. In any industry, longevity like that is unusual. She is a unicorn in terms of style. Hermès men's has evolved under her leadership from the bougie bon chic, bon genre style of the late 1980s—all blazers, suits, and patterned city-boy ties—to relaxed, contemporary apparel and accessories fit for a hangout session that just so happens to take place on a private jet.
“For me, more and more, it’s about simplicity,” Nichanian says. “I’ve always loved working with materials, with cloth. I like simple shapes. But I find that men have really changed, too; they are more and more into clothing that is relaxed. Wearing a suit and a tie is no longer by obligation; now it’s a choice, a pleasure. So men are broadening and investing in their casual wardrobes like never before.”
It’s easy to believe, with a grand old name like Hermès—with its silk scarves and Birkin bags and iconic orange packaging—that you’re buying into a vision of permanent Frenchness here, something stuffy even. Not so. “I never really liked that traditional bourgeois view at all,” Nichanian explains. “I think it’s vital to move, inject colour, play, twist things to surprise people. We always do things at Hermès with a sense of humour, lightness, and charm.”
The men's summer 2023 collection, which was revealed in Paris in June, is a confirmation of the air of sophisticated, contemporary elegance that permeates Hermès under Nichanian's direction. The company, which is getting close to its bicentennial, sees itself as a conduit to modern excellent taste rather than fighting change. It is not trendy, but it is unquestionably in style.
Much of the appeal comes from the makeup of the clothes. For summer, there’s near-weightless construction, unimpeachable quality, and colours rarely associated with men’s fashion. Nichanian uses the word légèreté, or lightness, frequently in our conversation, which jumps between French and English. The concept matters just as much emotionally as physically. “I really wanted to give the collection a real sense of lightness, a feeling of escape,” she says. “The world feels heavy at the moment; I think men need summer clothes that feel less urban. There was a lot of inspiration in David Hockney’s art for me—all that California light, those swimming pools, things seen refracted through water—that provided a sense of fluidity, even a sense of humor.”
That playfulness is discreet. You may see an understated H embossed on a leather bag or a belt here and there. But that’s pretty much it. “We’ve been doing things a certain way for nearly two hundred years. We don’t need to put big logos on everything,” Nichanian says. “People talk about Hermès with a real sense of reverence but also with a real fondness—a certain joie de vivre—compared to many other big brands, which I think personally take themselves far too seriously. Of course, business is business, and brands are like people at the end of the day—each to his own, you know. For us, Hermès is all about its personality.”
Photography by Jason Kibbler
Styling by Nick Sullivan
Grooming by Kevin Ryan for Ludlow Blunt salon
Model: Hamid Onifade for DNA Model Management
This story originally appeared in the April/May 2023 issue of ESQUIRE magazine