Infused with radiant mystery, power, an aura, cavalières, if not Amazons, stride forth in the lines of this new collection. If asked, they might not even recall these last few months, preferring to remember more uncomplicated times. For some women, being stuck in a rut, remaining motionless, are purely abstract ideas, for they are all about movement. It is urgent now to live again, to venture forth into the unknown, to gain a new lease of life. It is a time of rebuilding: so much remains to be explored, beginning with womanhood, a concept that has changed quite a lot these past few years. Time flies, which is surely a sign that we need to reinvent ourselves.
This collection is an expression of the desire to explore the sensuality of new mythologies.
The checkered pattern works like a painting that gets right to the point, with a gesture as pure and simple as adorning the human form with rectangles.
Clothes as suitable for nightlife as for everyday life; opposites no longer opposed; contradictions fly out the window as classifications disappear into the play of fabrics and pleats. A clou Médor opens and closes a clasp; a suit is cut parka-style, ignoring the rules of tailoring. The padded anorak makes an appearance, and though there are pants, they are cycling pants.
In counterpoint, trim such as one finds on cashmere blankets. And long jackets, coats and ponchos with integrated scarves supplying the protection one needs to feel strong, without ever hindering movement. Something to wear while taking the present in stride.
How can we put on a fashion show in today’s world? When times are challenging, we must challenge our own habits. Let us feel free to connect with other cities, other cultures. Let us attempt to be creative together—albeit from a distance. Let us dare to do what we have always done with passion: initiate a dialogue with other art forms. Let us innovate; let us produce what can only be called a triptych. More than a fashion show: a living performance, in three acts. At the heart of this three-part performance is a socially distanced Paris fashion show at the Garde républicaine, broadcast live on various media. The “prologue” takes place not in Paris but in New York, at the Armory Show, where choreographer Madeline Hollander will start things off with a free interpretation of the movements gleaned from Nadège Vanhée-Cybulski’s collection.
At the close of the Paris show it’ll be over to Shanghai, where dancers under the direction of choreographer Gu Jiani will conclude the triptych, injecting renewed energy and strength into the collection.
Breathing life into clothes by making them our own. Dancing a collection to infuse other bodies, other cities, with movement—even after the show is over.
Might those three moments in different parts of the world conjure up a new woman? Who knows, so swift is the pace of life...
And finally, to preserve this utopian project (what could be more utopian than fashion?), we asked Sébastien Lifshitz—a genre-crossing filmmaker steeped in modern dance and fashion—to film the last stages of the triptych’s conception.
From New York to Paris, from Paris to Shanghai, three different ways of breathing life into clothes through movement.
Three singularly different approaches, creating a sequence. What more satisfying way, in 2021, to inhabit the world together?
A Paris show supplemented by two choreographies, each an expression of a culture and a continent. Nadège Vanhée-Cybulski, how did this idea come about?
Nadège Vanhée-Cybulski: Very straightforwardly, out of a question: how in these socially distanced times can we continue to be creative and, more importantly, be together despite it all? If we cannot go anywhere, if we cannot travel, then the show will have to come to us... And that is how we came to the idea of something beyond an actual, physical performance. Then we decided to connect three distinct places, so that the collection itself would travel to the three cities and find its own way of inhabiting the space.
N V-C: I was more interested in ubiquity. I wanted to know how the collection could feed off and contribute to the energy of three very different cities. We wanted artists to take over the project and interpret my work using their own language, their own discipline. That is why we chose local choreographers. When I was introduced to the work of these two young women—Madeline Hollander, and Gu Jiani—it seemed like a no-brainer. I fell in love, actually, for each has her own way of expressing female power. There was something exalted in their approach to dance. This passion characterizes Gu Jiani’s work, which constantly strives to strike a balance between risk-taking and poise.
We wanted to present the contemporary woman in movement. Dance is the language of the body, the transmutation of a state of mind, of the spirit.
Gu Jiani, how did you react when you were invited by Hermès to join this innovative project?
Gu Jiani: After the immobility that has hemmed us all in for so long, my initial reaction was to resist the lazy idea of creating a choreography using outfits by Nadège.
I had to look elsewhere, and meditate on the spirit of the collection, its values, its vision of the moment we are all experiencing, and compose a choreography inspired by these clothes. The movement interprets the clothing, not the other way around. This approach is in fact very different from my usual way of working; the outfit is almost never the starting point of a new creation. Which is why the first time Nadège and I spoke we discussed what was most important to us: the dialogue between clothing and dance. To find common interests and shared values.
Nadège, how did you present this new collection to Gu Jiani?
N V-C: I avoided speaking in general terms. I wanted to meet her ever since I saw her work. In fact, I believe I used different images for each choreographer. Gu Jiani made me think of geometry, a geometry I perceived in her choreographies, and which I then found in my collection. It was a kind of port of entry, a way of initiating dialogue: the tension between verticals and horizontals. The color chart also played an important role. I wanted Gu Jiani to feel inspired by our graphics, and free to explore the essential—that is, what lies behind the clothing, for we are both focused on showing that women are as strong as they are sensuous. A woman in movement. Gu Jiani chose the Tattersall equestrian check because it defines a framework in both the literal and figurative sense.
Gu Jiani, how does one go about interpreting a collection through movement?
G J: It was crucial for me to grasp that Nadège wanted a choreography steeped in Chinese tradition, in a certain culture of movement, and that she desired a true collaboration. She supplied a generous number of visual materials including her mood board, references and photos of the collection, so I was able to freely come up with ideas... and so we ventured forth together and forged a common interpretation of the clothing.
N V-C: It is a pleasure to see my own language interpreted in a form I am unfamiliar with, and which inspires me. It is an incredible privilege—and even more so now—to be able to show one’s work to and share it with someone from an entirely different background. I must say it shook up my work habits.
Experimentation in classical or neoclassical forms has always been my way of making my own voice heard whilst hopefully making my influence felt on the Hermès brand. I like to search the archives for a particular pattern that the collection might completely reinterpret.
Is this taste for experimentation what you meant by the risk-taking you were discussing earlier with Gu Jiani?
N V-C: For me, risk-taking is the very definition of experimentation. We are all caught up in a moment of reflection about what we can do better, and differently. We need to rethink certain things positively; if not, all the questioning linked to the pandemic will have been fruitless. We can and must welcome different sensibilities into our own work.
For me, communicating with Gu Jiani and the production teams was enriching; far from keeping me from working, it helped me look differently upon certain aspects of my work.
Gu Jiani, how did you incorporate the Hermès boxes into your choreography?
G J: The first video which I believe struck Nadège and her teams was a choreography in which I played very athletically, very energetically, with boxes. In China, boxes are ubiquitous. It is such a commonplace object that everyone can relate to. I noticed that composing a choreography out of boxes had intrigued the creative team in Paris, where boxes symbolize gifts, presents, surprises. Here again it was interesting to see how each of us managed to surprise the other by just being ourselves.
Using boxes like building blocks on the stage invites the audience to look at them differently, like sliding walls, partitions that can be played with.
Obstacles turn into bridges. Spaces are transformed instantly. So we are dealing with the concept of rules, which for me is symbolized by the Tattersall pattern.
N V-C: When Gu Jiani decided to use the box as a theme— a universal object—it was both startling and intuitive, since the box is fundamental to Hermès. Our orange boxes have a long history; they are part and parcel of Hermès. It seemed appropriate to include them in the staging since they symbolize our identity. The history of these boxes is synonymous with the boldness but also the quality one associates with Hermès. Boldness means finding solutions and reinventing oneself using what is available, and building something beautiful despite the constraints of the moment—while reaffirming one’s creativity. Originally the boxes were white, but because of the scarcity of white paper during the war they changed, orange being the only readily available color. Thus orange became symbolic, and is now a kind of common denominator in this triptych.
Nadège, you were saying that your new collection attempted to attain a balance between affirmation, strength and sensuality through femininity...
N V-C: The idea was female sensuality completely reappropriated. Women’s sensuality was forever described, filmed, photographed, and painted by men. The choreographers we approached were women. This was not fortuitous. We are living in a time when women need to take control of the narrative, express their sensuality as they see fit, far from all stereotypes. It is an ongoing process—and a wonderful challenge—for today’s women, and for fashion.
G J: Yes, I agree with Nadège, I share her vision. For centuries men imposed their idea of feminine sensuality, whereas nowadays women can affirm their own vision. The idea of an independent woman is no longer a contradiction in terms. All of this points to new movements that we dancers can begin to explore.
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