Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski Named Artistic Director of Hermès: First Thoughts
So all the rumors were right, and a mere three days after announcing Christophe Lemaire was leaving Hermès to concentrate on his own line, Axel Dumas, the brand’s chief executive, has crowned his replacement: Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, the 36-year-old current design director of the Row. She will start her new job just after the coming spring women’s show season.
This is interesting on two fronts: first, because of what it indicates about Mr. Dumas’s intentions toward women’s wear, and second, because it reflects a more general employment trend in the industry.
It seems pretty clear that in choosing Ms. Vanhee-Cybulski, Mr. Dumas is sending the message that he is committed to keeping his apparel line at the highest, most discrete end of the luxury market, as opposed to, say, moving toward a more buzzy, Instagram-oriented, sexy-livestream positioning.
Ms. Vanhee-Cybulski, after all, has perhaps the most impeccable track record of any designer when it comes to experience in understated-yet-ultra-high fashion: She began her career at Maison Martin Margiela (Mr. Margiela having been, probably not coincidentally, artistic director of Hermès women’s wear from 1997-2003); worked with Phoebe Philo at that current temple of minimalism, Céline, from 2008 to 2011; and then joined the Row, where she has been instrumental in crafting its aesthetic of ageless style in ultra-lush fabrics.
In other words: craft over costume. In addition, she’s French, which may sound ridiculously obvious as a factor, but given Hermès’s positioning as the quintessential French luxury house, and given the recent push for “Made in France” on the part of the French government, it adds a nice dimension to the narrative.
The quickness of the designer turnaround also suggests that Mr. Dumas had the change in mind from the get-go — it’s not uncommon for new chief executives (he took over from the former Hermès chief, Patrick Thomas, in February) to want to put their stamps on brands with new designers — as does his statement on the appointment: “Her talent and her creative track record will be great assets in the continued development of women’s ready-to-wear. She will devote herself full time to our house.” The key part being the last part.
Mr. Lemaire continued to design his own namesake line while at Hermès, and I guess they weren’t comfortable with that any more. It’s worth noting, because there is a growing trend in fashion to return to the days of yore (i.e., the days of John Galliano at Dior and his own brand Galliano) when designers did two brands in tandem: Alexander Wang now does his brand and Balenciaga; Jonathan Anderson does J.W. Anderson and Loewe; Tomas Maier does Tomas Maier and Bottega Veneta; Raf Simons does Dior and Raf Simons.
But I guess Hermès is not convinced.
Where this does echo a broader industry trend, however, is in choosing a relatively unknown name, at least outside the fashion world, to helm the house, as opposed to poaching someone else’s star. It is in line with the appointment of Julie de Libran, Marc Jacobs’s longtime No. 2 at Louis Vuitton, as creative director of Sonia Rykiel, for example.
And it is not unlike the current move toward corporate continuity apparent at Tiffany, where Frederic Cumenal, Tiffany’s president, is set to take over from Michael Kowalski, the current chief executive, when Mr. Kowalski retires next year; Calvin Klein, where Steve Shiffman, president and chief commercial officer, is set to take over from Tom Murry, now chief executive, next January; and Coach, where Victor Luis, the former president, took the C.E.O. reins from Lew Frankfort in January.
Grow your own stars! What a concept.
Also, just as an aside: Is it sheer coincidence that Hermès chose to make this announcement on the same day its rival, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton — with whom it has been embroiled in a dispute since LVMH bought 23 percent of the Hermès shares last year — is due to release its results for the first half of the year? Possibly.
But in doing so, Hermès did make itself the lead of the fashion news cycle. Given the strategic intelligence demonstrated by Ms. Vanhee-Cybulski’s appointment, I wonder…..