Hermès’ spring and summer 2019 runway show, presented at the Hippodrome de Longchamp horse-racing track at the edge of Paris, melded maritime and equine inspirations for a collection that not only tapped into the big color story that has emerged at the Paris Fashion Week shows (neutral shades here, predominantly browns) but also did something else. It allowed Hermès to join a handful of other luxury brands that dipped their toes tentatively into the arena of gender-fluid (or at least less gender-focused) dressing.
“It is a game of reflections,” began the show notes. “We sail into the horizon, along the edge between two worlds, between the sky and land. And in the same moment, we are sailing on the sea.
“Words break together on the shore: Sailor or saddler? We turn them every which way ... Why choose between them?”
Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski’s collection set out to prove that it wasn’t an either-or proposition by using the sailor’s smock as the starting point for minimalist tops and dresses trimmed in leather; and a horse-groomer’s apron to inspire dresses, jumpsuits and tops cinched and knotted into place with boating ropes and bridle-bit fasteners. The cylindrical shape of a leather tote referenced a horse’s feeder nosebag, and utilitarian cargo pockets were sprinkled liberally throughout. (The cargo pocket, once the sole province of vacationing middle-age men in shorts, is another thing we’ve seen all over the runways this week — in upscale leather fabrications.)
As a nod to its 1837 origins as a bridle and harness maker to the carriage trade, Hermès always has a deep bench of leather on offer, and in the spring and summer 2019 collection, the most memorable manifestation came by way of strappy leather mesh that showed up in skirts, trousers and dresses, some of which had leather straps and snaps at the waist to cinch the silhouette into a slightly more hourglass shape.
There were a few pieces (think zip-front jumpsuits and leather jackets) that could qualify as unisex and others (particularly the apron dresses) whose silhouettes could easily accommodate customers wishing to cross the gender-defined collection lines. But the overall idea wouldn’t have even crossed our minds but for two things.
The first was the Maison Margiela “Co-ed” collection, presented earlier during Paris Fashion Week, with the stated goal of “breaking free from binary stigmatization” by offering genderless wardrobe staples. And the second could be found tucked into the closing lines of the Hermès’ show notes: “And they ask themselves: Have we never once thought what if Corto Maltese had been a woman, Lord Jim a Lady? Penelope a man and Odysseus his wife?”
Good questions all.
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