Ultra-Luxury Label Hermès Shows the Beauty and Mess of the Digital Runway Show

IMAGE Hermès

Along with the likes of 'strange times', 'new normal', 'corona economy', and 'self-isolating' (isn't isolating inherently... self?), 'phygital' is a peculiar and annoying term that has coincided with the rise and ravages of the coronavirus. Brands are trying to work out how you can present a runway collection without the cameras, peacocks, frows, and ceremony. An experience that is both physical and digital, but still engaging.

Until Sunday afternoon I didn't really think it could be done. Like a football match without fans, a fashion show without any of the real-life glamour seemed a bit hollow. At best a limbo state we all accept until regular programming can resume. Well done on the effort and initiative, but was it actually any good?

Hermès proved that, yes, it can be.


A "live performance" created with "the artistic collaboration" of French theatre director Cyril Teste, the presentation opens with an invisible narrator preparing for action. "Camera A in place. Camera B, OK." A green-eyed and long-faced young model in pale blue summer tailoring descends in a glass lift to the cavernous and white ground floor of the Hermès workshop in Pantin, a northeastern Paris suburb. Sad piano music begins to play as more models, in more pale blues and lots of stripes, and the creative director Véronique Nichanian appears in view, fussing with a zip and a lapel.

"Three, two, one, B."

Photo by Hermès.

Photo by Hermès.

Rather than attempting to create a simulacrum of what a fashion show used to look like – a runway, a straight line – the brilliance of the Hermès live performance is that it is wonky, its edges on display. We've all been stuck inside for 16 weeks. It has been weird. There are visible wires and cameras; crew in black t-shirts and skinny jeans hustle between the models; mood boards are stuck to the glass walls. Clothes hangers and monitors break the frame as the camera pans across. Torsos, tattoos, and last-minute adjustments.

Véronique Nichanian and Cyril Teste surrounded by models, crew, and the set for the Hermès 2021 show.

Photo by Hermès.
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Véronique Nichanian's work with Hermès is often underrated. The clothes here are soft, unfussy, smart, and understandable. Shirts are striped and untucked while suit jackets are unstructured and, in some cases, tucked into elastic-waisted trousers. There are leather sandals, steel blue holdalls, and a palette of stone, sage, and powder with flashes of bright yellow and abstract print. A model asks to go to the bathroom.

A high-end fashion show is, by its very nature, not a democratic event, but with its latest presentation, Hermès comes pretty close. At least it's a peek behind the curtain. On YouTube, the user LONELY BOY writes "Incredibly beautiful! Thank you!

The music reaches a crescendo, "two, one." The voice of the narrator, it turns out, belongs to Cyril Teste. "CUT!" The workshop fills with applause and whistles, before the camera comes to rest against a mass of wires and video equipment, a monitor, and a pale wooden desk. The fans are still in attendance.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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Finlay Renwick
Finlay Renwick is the Digital Editorial Assistant at Esquire.co.uk
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