Pierre Hardy has had an illustrious career as an accessories designer, holding creative leadership over shoes and fine jewelry at Hermès since 1990 and 2001, respectively — including the launch of the Hermès Apple watch — and notable shoe collaborations with Balenciaga during Nicolas Ghesquiere’s tenure. He launched his own label in 1999 with pieces often described as architectural, graphic and geometric, with pops of vivid color — pushing the limits of form and structure beyond seasonal trends.
He had atypical, albeit very much artistic, beginnings that didn’t lend to a career path as a designer. Hardy trained as a self-proclaimed “very good amateur” dancer for 15 years, illustrated fashion reports for Vogue International and Italian Vanity Fair, worked as a stylist at Christian Dior, and taught fine arts in an academic setting up until four years ago.
On Thursday night, the designer sat down with journalist Melissa Ceria to close out the Art de Vivre program at the French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF). The two talked about Hardy’s career trajectory, including his 27 years of working at Hermès, thoughts on Ghesquiere, his first Pierre Hardy shoes, and the current state of fashion (and how he likes it).
Here, highlights from the conversation:
On his first impression of, and audition for, Hermès: When I started it was really a new way to do fashion. Hermès was not a fashion brand. That’s what I loved. That’s what pushed me to try. I did some sketches, maybe five groups, and said this would be my dream shoe if I was doing the shoes for the collection. It was so simple. It sounds like a dream today or naive today, but it was really so person-to-person.
On working with Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga: That’s a very different branch of collaboration. We were very good friends before working together, so it was immediate. There was no ranking. I was so happy to be behind him and help him to achieve what he was doing at Balenciaga. It was the most interesting thing that was happening in Paris at this time. It was so experimental, so ahead, so different than what all the rest of the fashion world was doing at this time.
On his first Pierre Hardy shoe collection: If you look at the first drawings, they are dry, they are rough. Not easy, not charming. I think retrospectively it was something very strong. Nowadays I’m not sure I would’ve proposed the same, knowing what I’ve learned. I was totally naive. When you start on your own it’s totally different. I said if I sold 1,000 pairs the first season I would be happy. It was 3,000. I was three times as happy. Once again, it was not easy. It was dull; the quality was not there. It was far from perfect.
How he copes with the frenetic pace of fashion: I think fashion is in a weird state of changing. Everybody is experimenting with different ways of distribution, showing, communication. It’s a big mess, actually. For me, as a designer, it’s very easy. I can draw a thousand pairs of shoes a day. The problem is when you make it, manufacture it, deliver it and to sell it. It’s all these together that’s a lot of work. It needs to be done properly. I’m not scared of the rhythm. Actually, it’s exciting. It’s never-ending.
Fielding a question from an audience member, Hardy gave his two cents on comfort versus design: We’re trying to make it more strong, more elegant, more fashionable. But more comfortable? Not my job. My job starts just after that. That’s a manufacturer’s job. Especially in luxury shoes. They have to ensure that the shoe is efficient and comfortable, whatever. My job starts right after, to make this beautiful. To make you forget it’s uncomfortable.