Conversation with Pierre Hardy

Is Paris the capital of fashion?

Yes, especially right now. There is a history here, a lot of fashion Houses, players, a depth that you don’t find anywhere else. It’s a peerless setting for Fashion Week, which is both fun and above all else interesting: where else can you see so many people involved in the same industry coming together and putting in so much hard work? When you think about it, it’s an incredible creative and commercial phenomenon, where you find people who know what they are about, who have their own view and own perspective. Paris is also an extraordinarily photogenic city: a column or two here, a building facade there, garden squares everywhere, enough to stir everyimagination. It is a metonymic city, a compendium of a day and age, of mindsets, of architecture, it might be the Cluny Museum, the Front de Seine or the Louvre. I have never grown tired of this balance between Latin roots and rigour. It can sometimes be a tad chaotic, but you feel a heritage, a work, a vision. 

What do you think of this digital version of Haute Couture Week? 

Firstly, there was a sort of frustration at the idea of losing that form of sensory thrill, even sensuality, that you feel when people go sit down to discover creations. But this frustration forced us to consider other multi-channel options. It made us inventive, prompted us to consider images, visuals and scenarios. Although I don’t think it makes up for the absence of clothes. It’s like shops and e-shops: in the “real” thing, there is a bodily dimension, a sorting, even four-dimensionality that digital technology cannot replace. Fashion Week is not something you can condense. 

What is your idea of La Parisienne? 

First of all, it’s femininity. But with my designs I’ve always tried to steer clear of the illustration of this or that “eternal femininity”. Instead, I work in ellipses and periphrases, revolving around the idea of getting down to basics, to concentrate things like you do with a fragrance. With, of course, people who are dear to me, who also come from the very French upbringing that was part of my younger days: Anouk Aimée, she has a sort of sharpness and fragility, she is lively and she is languid, Jeanne Moreau, Charlotte Gainsbourg… I have this idea of a slightly intellectual mindful woman, something I see today in Amira Casar and Leïla Bekhti. It’s an ideal that is both very generic and very French and it has certainly been with me since my childhood, which in its own way was also very French. 

Who are the artists who have left their mark on you?

Yves Saint Laurent, of course. Jean-Paul Gaultier, who changed the way we dressed. The Japanese designers: Yohi Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons… And then Helmut Lang, who was in perfect symbiosis with his day and age, developing a singularity that appealed to everyone at the same time. Rick Owens today, for exactly the opposite reasons and for his ability to create a whole universe that stretches beyond the framework of clothing. In a more classic but perfectly coherent way, Pierpaolo Piccioli’s work at Valentino, whose couture show I am really looking forward to. Moncler’s approach, I like his way of hybridizing and reinventing with artists and designers… Then there are the “authors” who have a real script-like style, people like Julien Dosséna and Nicolas Ghesquière.

Is that when your interest in fashion took shape?

Firstly, it was all about drawing. When I was twelve or thirteen, I used to draw collections in a notebook during the holidays. A lot of precision, a lot of detail, not fantasizing about fashion at all: the outline was in Indian ink, the colours in water-colour. And then… I let it go. Perhaps I was more interested in simply drawing and painting, I had no way into the world of fashion, even though I had an aunt who was a drawing teacher.  

How did you get back into it?

A long time later, after dancing and the Ecole Normale Supérieure… But there was no strategy. I got back into it because it was fun, first as an assistant, then working for fashion houses, then creating my own. I had this desire to express ideas, to think, to become like a songwriter. It was all very experimental, everything had to be invented, including the boundaries. I started out with a shape, a few colours and a few heel heights. Over the past twenty years I’ve broadened the frame, but I never changed it. I started working along one line, then two, then three… 

By always remaining true to a very architectural, very uncomplicated style

Yes, but because I work more on the script of a wardrobe than on the actual collection. There’s the rational and the irrational, inspirations that start from an anatomical sole and straps that hang as if they were lingerie. This season, as always, there’s the shoe you totally need and the shoe you totally want exactly because you don’t really need it at all. There’s a shoe that you think: hey, it’ll look good with this outfit. And the one that will steal the spotlight from the clothes. Some models just adapt, others are obviously essential. It’s a game. It’s the game of fashion. It’s also a guideline, a philosophy of glamour like a form of politeness, a compliment you make yourself… Elegance that can console you when times are hard.

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