If Christophe Lemaire's appointment to the top job at
Hermès raised eyebrows—what with him coming off Lacoste and all—he managed to swap polo shirts for sumptuous skins with an ease that suggested a fundamental compatibility. His first collection for Hermès reflected in its lengths and breadths the orientalism of his work for his own label. Maybe the nomadic notion of travel was the common ground. To the plangent pluckings of a Chinese zither, sweeping caftans, elongated kurtas, elegant kimonos were offered in tones that ranged from the neutrals of desert tribes to imperial red, orange, and jade green. The details—obi belts, tassels, and quilting—and accessories like lacquered bracelets and pendant neck pieces looked East, too.
But travel Hermès-style is rather more luxurious than the relative folksiness of Lemaire's own forays. The designer's access to the Hermès ateliers gave his work here a sophisticated polish that was overwhelming in its creamy, styled-to-the-ultra-max-ness. Maybe that's why the sporting activities that were referenced were falconry and archery, rather more elite and arcane than the equestrian pursuits that are more fundamental to the history of Hermès (and that Jean Paul Gaultier used to such glorious effect with his sign-off collection last season).
Another characteristic of Lemaire's own work is the way he blurs the lines between menswear and womenswear. That came into play today at Hermès with a group of tailored pieces: strict in an oversize, double-breasted tweed jacket with narrow leather lapels matched to a black leather mini and leggings; much less so in a brick red suit with wide, cropped trousers. Some models carried downscaled briefcases. They were as chic as they were severe—and just as unlikely to replace the Birkin in the hearts of Hermès worshipers worldwide.
Exactly how those faithful followers will interpret Lemaire's efforts remains to be seen. He touched on Hermès emblems—like the silk scarf rendered as a top, or the glossy calfskin cut into a coat, a blouson, a long skirt—and everything was delivered with nonpareil artisanship. (There was no other way to justify the hybrid leather pant-boot piece that Lemaire showed too much of than as a challenge to the atelier.) He also managed to impress his own personality on the collection. What was missing, however, was a sense of the effortless, casual luxury that Véronique Nichanian brings to Hermès menswear. But that's the sort of thing that comes with time.