BoF Exclusive | Getting to know Christophe Lemaire, the new Artistic Director of Hermès

Christophe Lemaire | Photo: Nicholai Fischer, Fashion Editor: Sam Ranger

Christophe Lemaire | Photo: Lydia Gorges

Last week, Christophe Lemaire was named Artistic Director of Hermès for womenswear, replacing longtime incumbent Jean-Paul Gaultier and catching industry observers everywhere by surprise. In this exclusive excerpt from an interview with Lemaire in b magazine given prior to the announcement of his appointment, BoF gets to know the new man at one of France’s most prestigious luxury brands.

PARIS, France Almost 20 years since starting his own label, the designer Christophe Lemaire is still relatively unknown; embracing a level of anonymity, he says, is key to his brand. Building his experience alongside Christian Lacroix and Jean Patou as well as Yves Saint Laurent and Thierry Mugler, Lemaire launched his own brand in 1991, the success of which brought the designer to melting point — Lemaire admits he was close to a breakdown.

“I was always a bit on the side of the fashion circus,” he says. “When I used to have my own fashion shows at the end of the 90s, now that I look at it, I realise they weren’t really mature enough.” Taking a break from his label in 2003, Lemaire focused on his role as artistic director at Lacoste. Returning in 2007, today he is self-assured, more confident and more defiant than he used to be. “It was a positive crisis because it was like stepping back and asking myself real questions about my motivations. I have come back much clearer in what I want to say.”

“I was never really attracted to the star system and the whole media-obsessed fashion of the 80s. I really think it was something that preserved fashion more than it served it,” he reflects. Fingering his “bible” his copy of Cheap Chic Update: the 1970s fashion guidebook he discovered after meeting its editor, Carol Troy, at a dinner in late-1980s New York – he confesses his design philosophy is in stark contrast to his beginnings.

“Fashion for me is less of this runway culture, when I am designing, the goal is the person who will wear it. I was always more interested in creating refined and creative, wearable fashion than just images.” Modern, workingwomen from the actor Lauren Hutton to the photographer Ewa Rudling are immortalised on the pages of Cheap Chic Update, dissecting personal style and discussing the importance of a good white T-shirt over fad clothing central to Lemaire’s sartorial philosophy.

Growing up, the young Lemaire was interested in the quality of life objects could bring and was first attracted by industrial design. “For me, style, fashion and clothes were part of a more global interest in the stuff that surrounds us. Now I have rediscovered why I wanted to make fashion and I’m extremely clear about what I want to do.” Lemaire talks of his clothes in a way that relates them to a kind of costume or uniform – costume to be worn for the theatre of life – it is paramount that his collections work in the everyday. “I can only do 50% of the job,” he smiles. “It’s commonsense that style is very much linked to the person who wears the clothes. I never believed that fashion could be some style that you could buy. I can only try being as precise as possible in the way that I make clothes that will underline a personality.”

“When you have beautiful fabric and you reduce it to the maximum essential design you can mix it and play with it and then you can tell your own story. I don’t believe the designer can tell you which story you can tell.”

Dal Chodha is the Editor of b Store London’s bi-annual publication, b Magazine and contributes to global trends magazine WeAr. This article is an excerpt from the Spring/Summer 2010 issue of b Magazine. The full interview can be read here.