Hermès is justly famous for its leather bags, its silk scarves and ties, and its fragrances. Most men, however, are surprised to learn that every six months, Hermès also offers up a new line of clothing, shoes and accessories. That's because these collections, presented during the twice-yearly Paris men's runway shows, are relatively subdued: they don't offer the headline-grabbing theatrics, gimmicks, or flights of fancy the fashion press loves (and the popular press loves to hate). This doesn't mean the clothes lack drama, but it's cloaked, hidden in the fabrics, details and special care lavished on their construction. This is stealth luxury at its finest, made all the more desirable because these items won't end up in every mall around the world. They're only sold in Hermès shops (or shops-within-a-shop), and few Hermès boutiques carry the full line.
Véronique Nichanian is head menswear designer for Hermès, and the creative force behind its collections. She's loved fabric ever since she was a little girl, when she drove her mother to distraction buying bolts of cloth and lugging them back to the family's Paris apartment. It was a natural choice for her to study women's fashion design at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, but, after graduating, she took a position as Nino Cerruti's assistant and plunged into the world of men's tailoring. Cerrutti introduced her to every facet of the menswear market, and was as passionate about fine fabrics as she was--perhaps even more so. One challenge led to another, and before she realized it, she'd been with Cerrutti 11 years. Then a certain man named Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermès came calling, and her fate was sealed.
Nichanian has been at Hermès some 20 years now, but she seems as enthusiastic as a novice fresh out of school (which may account for her looking a fraction of her age, as well). She obviously loves designing for the Hermès man--a discerning customer who, in her mind, ranges from age 18 to 80. She's not interested in flashy, disposable fashion: her clothes are meant to be kept for years, acquiring a certain patina and the "set" of the man who wears them. Because Hermès is a true luxury house (one of the last), cost is no object, and Nichanian is given free rein to shop the world for the best silks, leathers, woolens or whatever material obsession has inspired a collection. Of course, the final results, from perfect cashmere-and-silk scarves to buttery reindeer-skin jackets, are often very expensive (another reason the clothing isn't widely available), but any man who loves beautiful things should make a point of familiarizing himself with Nichanian's wardrobe suggestions. They're sure to offer great satisfaction for many years to come.