The house of Hermes never shouts, preferring instead to let its work and actions speak for themselves. This applies even when it makes a major move such as introducing a new creative director of fashion accessories.
Having previously never existed, the role is meant to bring a single cohesive and cross‐sectoral creative vision to the brand’s gloves, belts, hats and fashion jewellery studios. Think of these as the outer planets in Hermes’s solar system of 16 ateliers, helping to complete every ready‐to‐wear collection and no doubt contributing to the brand’s stellar growth (according to Reuters, overall sales increased by 22.9 per cent in the last quarter of 2022.)
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Still, barely a word went out when the appointment happened in February last year – no press release, no fanfare. (The trade journal Women’s Wear Daily was the only publication to directly report on it after learning about the news.) Not even when the person in the position possesses the cred and freshness many other fashion labels would gladly go to town with today: Clemande Burgevin Blachman.
Born in Paris to art‐loving antique dealers, the 46‐year‐old is something of an industry insider’s secret with deep connections to fashion’s intellectual cool club. Following a PhD in literature at the Sorbonne and a stint in publishing, she employed her fine eye professionally – first to her own brand of bags and then at the illustrious ad agency BETC, where she was involved in the redesign of the identity of Paris’s Museum of Decorative Arts.
Having grown up among art and antiques, and worked with some of the most progressive minds in branding and fashion (including Raf Simons), Clemande Burgevin Blachman brings to Hermes an eclectic yet refined eye and a keen curiosity for craft and innovation as its first creative director of fashion accessories.
Next came what some might call a career highlight: moving to New York in 2016 to join Raf Simons at Calvin Klein, overseeing visual merchandising, artistic collaborations and the entire home division. So tight is she with the Belgian wunderkind that she continued to work with him at his namesake label in Antwerp after he split from the American fashion giant. Her last post pre‐Hermes was with another star in Simons’s network, as consultant and right‐hand woman to Pieter Mulier in his creative director role at Alaia.
This is Burgevin Blachman’s second official interview since her arrival at Hermes (the first was with the French newspaper supplement M Le magazine du Monde last September) and we’re meeting at the brand’s corporate office in Paris at 9am on a Monday smack in the middle of Fashion Week. Two days before, the maison had presented its Fall Winter 2023 women’s ready‐to‐wear runway show, marking the debut of her designs for women at the label. These include streamlined, modernist interpretations of jockey hats; equestrian‐inspired belts with punkish undertones; and leather‐sheathed costume jewellery sculpted to resemble abstract musical instruments or the studs on the brand’s Collier de Chien bracelet – all whimsical yet oh‐so‐sophisticated.
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Burgevin Blachman is dressed down in a plain black knit and jeans, and even though nothing seems amiss, she lets on that she had forgotten to throw on some jewellery so that she could make it on time for our session. “Fashion accessories are something that I depend on, but it was too late for me to turn back and I can’t help but feel naked in a way,” she says matter‐of‐factly. Oh yes, she’s also charmingly down‐to‐earth; calming even.
Here, the newest creative honcho to join the Hermes community discusses her unconventional upbringing, her obsession with objects, what she has discovered about the house of Hermes, and how she intends to add to it.
Costume jewellery at Hermes for Fall Winter 2023 reflects Burgevin Blachman’s love of inventive shapes and use of materials. Says the maison’s creative director of fashion accessories: “When you wear a piece of Hermes costume jewellery, it has to be in sync with the body and come with a sense of comfort, ingenuity and quality.”
HOW DOES YOUR ECLECTIC TRAJECTORY INFLUENCE YOUR NEW ROLE?
“On paper, it might seem eclectic, but to me, everything I’ve done or been involved in is very cohesive because they’ve all been about my passion, eye and appreciation for beauty. I come from a family of enthusiastic polymaths. My mother, for example, has done a lot of things – from advertising to dealing with antiques to being an artist – so it’s a mode of working that is to me very natural. Before this, I worked 10 years alongside and was reporting to Raf Simons and he didn’t have a fashion background – he studied industrial design. He taught me how to think of the creation process as an object. You need a good narrative and here’s where my literature studies come into play because I’ve always tried to build a story with whatever I do creatively.”
SURELY, GROWING UP WITH PARENTS WHO DEALT WITH ART AND ANTIQUES HAS RUBBED OFF ON YOU.
“I was like Wednesday Addams as a kid because nobody wanted to come over to my house – its aesthetic was too much for children. My parents were into Art Nouveau, so everything was big on curves. There was also a period when they were into Art Deco, so we could not run about and had to take care of everything on display. However, perhaps because – as an only child – I spent so many hours looking at all these objects, I started to develop a grasp on proportions that I’ve found has helped me very much when I design products. It’s almost as if the 3D images of what I want to create in my mind come with measurements … For me, good proportions come with intuition and culture.”
HOW DID YOU FEEL VISITING THE EMILE HERMES MUSEUM, WHICH IS LOCATED ABOVE THE BRAND’S FLAGSHIP STORE ON FAUBOURG SAINT‐HONORE IN PARIS AND HOUSES THE PRIVATE COLLECTION OF ART AND ANTIQUES BELONGING TO ITS NAMESAKE – THE MAISON’S THIRD‐GENERATION PRESIDENT?
“We have this famous auction place in Paris called Hotel Drouot, which was the playground of my parents, and entering the Emile Hermes Museum reminded me of it because you see all these peculiar objects. There are so many, yet your eye tends to gravitate towards some more than others. My favourite piece is this little mirror from the 18th century called Miroir un Transformation. Think of a beautiful little box in leather. When you open it, there’s one side with a mirror and on the other side, you have sheets of transparent paper hand‐painted with motifs such as a moustache. It’s a very daring object because it meant back then that if, for example, you were a man, you could turn your reflection into that of a woman or an animal. That’s what amazes me most. I think you can always conceive the future by looking at the past and seeing this, I thought, wow, they had invented Instagram filters the same way Warhol had invented the selfie.”
One of Burgevin Blachman’s goals as Hermes’s creative director of fashion accessories is to revive craft. Pictured here: her take on the brand’s iconic Collier de Chiene bracelet – part of the upcoming Fall Winter 2023 collection – refreshed with a leather sheathing technique that results in a novel cool matte finish
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE HERMES FASHION ACCESSORIES?
“There are a lot, including pieces that I got from my family. One is the Etriviere belt (its modest squarish buckle cleverly incorporates a letter H motif). And for something more iconic, the Collier de Chien bracelet with its metal studs. My mum wore it; as a teenager, I was obsessed with it; and when I got my first, I was like, ‘wow’. If you think about it, when you’re in your 20s, the idea of this accessory, meant for an animal but which – thanks to a client – became a belt and then a piece of costume jewellery, is very audacious … I’ve also learnt to appreciate new accessories. Take the Clic H enamel bangle – the way it opens and closes is super clever (twist the H‐shaped hardware to reveal its click clasp). Before joining Hermes, it had never caught my interest, but after trying it for the first time, I learnt how well made and organic it is, so much so that you can’t feel it on the wrist. When you wear a piece of Hermes costume jewellery, it has to be in sync with the body and come with a sense of comfort, ingenuity and quality.”
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THE WIT THAT’S SO INTRINSIC TO HERMES ACTUALLY GOES ON FULL DISPLAY IN SINGAPORE FROM APRIL 14 TO 23 AT HERMESFIT, A TRAVELLING INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE THAT SEES THE BRAND’S ACCESSORIES INTERPRETED AS EQUIPMENT IN A BESPOKE HERMES GYM.
“The concept started prior to my arrival at Hermes, but I’ve seen the edition in Paris. There’s something very whimsical about it. It’s all about that fantasy that I have as a creative director: of having fun and doing things differently. Why not turn a fashion accessory into a sports device?”
DO YOU THINK THAT FASHION ACCESSORIES ARE STILL LARGELY SEEN AS COMPLEMENTARY TO READY‐TO‐WEAR?
“Actually, for many people, they form the entry door to a luxury brand. Because of the price point, which is sometimes more affordable than that of a bag or a piece of ready‐to‐wear, they talk to a broader audience and I love the great deal of responsibility that comes with that. It means that the products need to convey the right values and aesthetic. Fashion accessories are also an important part of one’s life – that first piece of jewellery gifted by one’s mother, for example … Personally, I really love the idea of accessorising. I’m pretty consistent with the way I dress, so accessories give a touch of fantasy as well as function. I love wearing gloves, because I don’t want to touch things that I’m not familiar with, and that sense of protection that comes with wearing a cap.”
An archival fashion editorial featuring a model dressed like a jockey inspired Burgevin Blachman to design riding hats chic enough for everyday wear for Hermes’s Fall Winter 2023 collection.
ONE OF THE STANDOUT ACCESSORIES YOU’VE DESIGNED FOR THE FALL WINTER 2023 WOMEN’S COLLECTION IS THE HEADWEAR. TELL ME MORE ABOUT THAT.
“Upon arriving at the house, I really dug into its past and its archival images, and I remember an editorial from the ’50s in which the model was dressed as a jockey. This picture has stayed in my book because it’s so modern. Of course, all the roots of Hermes are related to the horse and when you start digging through them, you learn so much about the animal. Prior to the 20th century, it was at the centre of economics, so it was very important to everybody. All the equestrian equipment is also an incredible source of inspiration. That got me thinking about riding caps and how women might love to wear them because they’re so exquisite, but how do we make them modern and not look like a helmet?”
WHAT ELSE SHOULD WE LOOK OUT FOR FROM THE COLLECTION?
“I really want to revive craft, so we’ve used this technique called gainage (French for sheathing) to create a whole range of metal jewellery that’s covered in leather. It’s something that I really want to spotlight and we’ve almost become this crazy leather‐wrapping studio. In the end, you can’t even tell what the pieces are made of – that’s the beauty of leather. We also started a line of exceptional, very precious pieces that we call Haute Fantasy. The idea is to put on the map very specific crafts such as embroidery, which can only be done by hand, and laser marquetry, which takes hours to complete, to complement recruitment products such as the enamel bangles, which also boast incredible workmanship.”
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO CHANGE ABOUT THE WORLD OF FASHION ACCESSORIES?
“Right now, we’re in a very logo‐driven era and my goal is to be less so. If you think about the golden era of costume jewellery in the ’50s, it was all about beautiful craftsmanship – not logos. The beauty of a fashion accessory also lies in how it’s something you can interpret and wear in any way that you want – by now, you might have seen the image of two women in front of the Hermes Fall Winter 2023 show wearing mini handbags as hair accessories. There’s a lot to explore, but what I want to make sure of is that we always design the right product: one that you can wear; that can be incorporated easily into your day‐to‐day life; yet also gives you the freedom to accessorise. We have the freedom of creation at Hermes and it would be wrong not to use it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity
This article first appeared in the April 2023 Community Edition of FEMALE