Hermès has the rare men’s-wear line that appeals to a broad social spectrum, from the archest Parisian dandy to the most out-of-work set designer. (Ask us how we know.) That it manages to do so without being washed-out bland or over-the-top “directional” is a testament to the tightly channeled talent of Véronique Nichanian, who has put out two luxurious, gentlemanly collections a year for the brand since 1988. We’ve been through several fashion revolutions since she started, but men’s clothes still work best when they whisper more than when they shout. From show to show, Nichanian has always managed to move the needle just delicately enough to keep clients desirous without freaking them out.
For fall and winter ’20, “maybe it’s the epoch we’re in, but I wanted something comfortably enveloping,” Nichanian said backstage. What that meant: pieced-together reverse shearling bombers mimicking 70s ski-wear, except in harmonious tones of terra-cotta and gray; a quilted gray flannel suit with pinstripes made of ticking; a string of dress shirts with a self-tie at the neck that evoked either midcentury painters or Boy Scouts. Workwear themes popped up in a string of nylon bombers. Yes, Virginia, there is nylon at Hermès, but it’s a special ultra-light, waterproof kind that was meticulously developed in Korea. Though volumes were largely generous—the signature trouser of the season is gathered at the cuff—the overall effect was as elegant as always, especially due this time to the very sober, very neutral palette.
The show was taking place at the Mobilier National, where the French state stores all the quite groovy furniture it’s acquired over the years. Just outside the windows backstage, as Nichanian was walking us through the collection, the Confédération Générale du Travail was picketing the front gate. At issue were government-ordained cutbacks that the union claimed would diminish the future heritage of the furniture-making craft. “The Minister of Culture is pulling back to the benefit of the market economy,” said a flyer handed out to the very small number of interested parties. There was a brief effort to form a human chain as attendees filed in, and Vogue’s Hamish Bowles was hit in the head with an egg. Hermès, a company that earned more than $6 billion in revenue in 2018, is actually quite O.K. with the market economy. But the scene was enough to make you want to wrap up indeed; we’ll take the glove-soft leather topcoat if anyone’s asking.