Pierre Hardy

Explore the world of Parisian designer Pierre Hardy as he shares his passion for 60s ski culture, his love of art and explains how the little details make a big difference.


Pierre Hardy, Paris 2012

Photography by Bevan Agyemang

Let us start at the beginning of your aesthetic feeling. As a child, were you always drawn to art and design?

No, not at all - I was more into sport and physical activities, more than design. As a kid, design did not really even exist as a ‘real’ job. It was something for others. But actually, I loved to draw, and to paint, but design, properly, no, I never thought about it.

So like any child, you did all things, from sports to painting. But were you also the person drawing alone by themselves?

Yes, totally - I could draw by myself all the day long.

What was your first experience of ‘fashion’ or clothing that you were struck by?

One of the first things that I loved was a ski outfit, because it was different. For a kid, clothes are just a way to dress, but when you go skiing, you dress differently, in a very specific way. I remember my mother’s ski outfit, for example, back in the early 60s; it was really different from what she would usually wear. That is one of my first memories. I thought it was beautiful because it was very modern in relation to her ‘city clothes’ or her ‘everyday clothes’. The ski outfit was different, very specific, very designed too, very graphic, but very simple also. It had to be efficient, and back in the 60s it had to also be very elegant and very feminine; I remember the color, the texture, everything. Even as a kid I could notice that these were special and not ‘regular’ clothes.

In the early 60s, ski culture was truly the force of modernity...

Yes, you are right. Totally. It was about speed, performance, about extreme conditions also. So for me it was a very important moment. And we used to go very often to ski, at least 3 - 4 times a year, it was great.

You then went on to study Fine Art, and became an illustrator. What would be some of your most admired artists and art movements?

[Laughs] Thousands! But what I love is to combine very old things and very new things. For example, I am crazy about Caravaggio - for me, [his work] is the most powerful, it moves me so much, really. The feeling, the perception of the light, of the bodies, of the movement, its quite ‘Romantic’ in a way, even though it came way before the real Romantic movement. But also I like Botticelli - I think all the Renaissance, all of that period is very important for me. It looks like a ‘Lost Paradise,’ in a way. I am very in love with the this movement. I also love 18th Century French painting; it’s the perfection of an art, of a technique, of a ‘know how,’ of the apparition of a ‘new sensibility,’ of new intelligence, of a new ‘look.’ Of course, I am also very in love with Modern Art, Contemporary Art, from Sol Le Witt, to nowadays.

It was the International Festival of Contemporary Art [FIAC] last week in Paris - what are some of your current loves from the contemporary art scene?

Brice Marden, I love - I was at the FIAC last weekend, and I saw some of his work. Even Warhol - of course, he’s a Pop artist. But as a fashion designer I think Pop is very important too, because sometimes contemporary art are very abstract and far from your life in a way. But Pop Art is steeped in real life, deep into the actuality, the way they treat it and they way they look at it, and what they show; their reality is not so far from the way we are working in fashion nowadays.

Is there a shoe or accessory that you have designed that is directly influenced by a work of art?

Directly? No, never. I try to never illustrate a specific painting or specific artists. I think it’s very reducing and it’s almost insulting for the artist. It influences me, but I try to recombine it, to transform it. Most of the time people don’t even notice that it’s inspired by this or that. For example, see those shoes with the drapes [indicates heels made with ruched plissé straps] the first thing you see are the drapes - you think of [Issey] Miyake and [Madame] Grès, but for me the inspiration was totally Memphis [Art Collective] and [Ettore] Sottsass. It’s fine if people don’t see [the reference]; it’s great because art is art – once again, it’s a kind of abstraction, it’s a concept. I’m doing fashion, I am doing sensual objects, or feminine objects, and it’s totally different.

So to bring us back to present day, tell me about the founding of your house in 1999, and how things have developed since then? Did you have a set business plan or was the development more organic?

Pierre Hardy HQ Showroom, Paris 2012

[Laughs] Organic is the word! I started because I am very spoilt with my collaborations, because from the start I worked with famous houses and very talented people, but I noticed while doing this that there were some ideas or some styles that couldn’t exist in those collections. So I said, “OK, let’s invent a space, my space, where I can do whatever I want.” And it happened! And that’s it, I started with maybe 10 - 15 styles, and it worked – I have been lucky because the press has been responsive since the first collection, I didn’t have to wait, to insist, which was very encouraging. There was not a ‘strategy’ to become what we are now.

The shoe is undoubtedly a functional object, whether it’s a woman’s shoe or a man’s shoe. Somehow you manage to incorporate this element of ‘fantasy,’ this color into that functionality. How do you feel about the relationship between form and function?

It’s an old debate! [Laughs] It’s a classic. And I think that even in furniture design, for example, we are above this.

We can use our pure imagination now...

Our state of mind, our state of research, is beyond this, we have passed over this moment. I would say that, first of all, ergonomics are essential but it’s platform that you don’t have to talk about. If you can’t walk, it’s not a shoe, if you can’t drive, it’s not a car. You have to sit on a chair and you have to walk with shoes, you see what I mean? My job is after that. Once you overstep this moment of functionality, [that is when] my job begins.

For your men’s footwear, which are obviously more practical to start with, what sort of shoes are you inspired by - basketball sneakers, tennis shoes?

I think for men, the desire is to escape the ‘icons,’ but at the same time, the reality, and my own experience with the men that I see around me, is that they are not so beyond these icons; they still wear brogues, and tennis shoes, and sneakers, and desert boots, and cowboy boots. For women’s shoes sometimes you don’t know - “Is it a sandal? Is it a pump? Is it a boot? Or what is it?!” And they are ready to accept it. Men? No, we have to name it, to recognize it. Our fashion culture is very different, the approach is very different; we are much less daring and less versatile. We are more in a routine, and once we get used to a certain style, we always wear it and buy it, maybe. There are very few guys who are experimenting. So in the men’s collection, there are some elements that are very experimental [indicates neon orange high-top sneaker in perforated leather], and very different from a classic shoe. It’s also a fun to rework the ‘standards’ for men, to change and ‘tune’ them in a way – it’s like music, You work on it, you make it different, slightly, or a lot. Sometimes you just change the color of the material or the sole, or the size of the holes. There are some little details that make a big difference, and men are very careful about them. The thickness of the sole, the size of the stitching…they are very, very careful, very specific on it.

And as man yourself, you know how far is too far with these little gradations. How long do you digest an idea before putting it down on paper?

[Laughs] Two seconds! Maximum! [Laughs] I am quite quick. That’s one of the reasons why I love to work in fashion, because you have to be quick. Now there are at least four collections a year – we only have enough time to think about it, to consider it, to draw it and to make it real in the end. It’s a short time frame and sometimes it can be stressful or shocking but at the same time it’s very exciting. It’s almost an impossible feat but in the end it is possible. It’s a funny process.

Here at your Paris HQ, you have hundreds of different textures, colors and skins. What are some of your favourite more unusual materials that you have brought to your collections?

I am actually not so adventurous in terms of material. Most of the shoes are leather, because it’s the most comfortable thing, and when you are doing a luxury collection, it’s the most effective and valuable material to produce a good quality shoe that will last forever. Even the more exotic materials like snakeskin….it’s still leather. I think it’s more about how to create a surprise in the combination of two different or opposite materials. This summer, for example, there is jute canvas teamed with a metallic leather – two opposites – which I love. I think it’s a part of the modern vocabulary of art, when artists juxtapose one thing and another that are contradictory but in the end they make sense together.

And is that the statement? The re-combination, rather than the creation of the objects?

Yes, the combination of two things that make a new image and a new statement.

Warhol said “The most exciting attractions are between two opposites that never meet”. But you are making them all meet.

In fashion I think that experimentation is always present. Sometimes you try things and they work sometimes, and sometimes they don’t. But that’s the fun of the process. You never know how it’s going to turn out, it’s almost like a bet. Sometimes you are like, “It’s going to be good,” then , “Ah, non...” and sometimes you are surprised, like “ Ah, finally!”

You have mentioned that with your ideas, you manifest them as quickly as possible. How do you juggle all the different ideas for the brands you design for – Hermes, Balenciaga, Pierre Hardy? Do you have a special way of organizing them in your mind? Perhaps ‘boxes’ for them?

Yes, exactly! Boxes, or ‘houses’ that I am visiting. When I am here, at Pierre Hardy, I am working with myself. Of course I have a team, I have a studio, I have an assistant, but it’s more about which element can I change, which energy can I put in. It’s easier when I am working for Hermes or Balenciaga, because I am working with people. It’s very much a dialogue, so it’s much easier in that sense.

So when you are walking in the streets of Paris and you see something that inspires you, do you think “That’s very ‘Pierre Hardy’ or that’s very ‘Hermes’”?

Yes, that happens, of course. The universes are so different – there’s very little in common between the different collections that I am working on, so it’s not too complicated to juggle all my ideas.

Are there any other areas of design you’d like to explore? Architecture, maybe?

I would love to design a house, I really would, but at the same time think I would I feel very frustrated. I know I am not passionate enough to work one, two, three years on a project and then wait maybe three, five, sometimes ten years on top of that to see something achieved. And when it’s finished, do you still love it? I don’t think I would be a good architect. The way we are work in the fashion industry is very...

Pierre Hardy, Paris 2012

Gratifying in its speed?

Yes. It’s exhausting at times, but it’s also very dynamic, that feeling that things are not so important. You are not working for eternity. When you design a building, it’s going to be there for a century, at least. If it’s bad, it’s bad for everybody, you force everybody to see it every day! In fashion - okay, you presented a bad collection? There’s another one after that! There are a few bad looks in the collection? There are 20 more. I love this ‘lightness’ in a way. The process is not ‘light’ - to make it happen, to make it real…you have to fight to make it happen. But the result is just for the moment. That is the beauty of fashion, is that you put so much time and energy into making your collection perfect but will only stay relevant for three, maybe six months. Some styles stay, some styles are cyclical, but you can’t know that when you’re designing.

Now you have a women’s line, a men’s line, shoes, bags and jewelry, and stores around the world. What else can we expect from Pierre Hardy?

You know what’s interesting about having a brand is that you have to build it, and make it grow ‘organically’, as you said. Adding new objects, new kinds of objects, is a different way of expressing something that you love. It’s very interesting for a designer to see how an idea can be expressed in a different material, another shape, another scale. It’s like when painter is doing sculpture, or photography, or installation. It’s always the same story, but with different writing.

So anything is possible for the future of Pierre Hardy?

Yes...the aim is to become a real brand, with a global identity, something that people recognize.

What is your favourite type of shoe to wear?

I am quite basic... I don’t project the fantasy so much on myself. I don’t need it. My collection is the field in which I express myself, so I don’t need to experiment on myself. I am quite basic.

Sneaker, trainer?

Yes, I love those. But also I love black loafers, for example. My loafer, I find it very impeccable. It took some time for me to reach the perfect shape for that loafer. But I did, and I think I will continue it exactly as it is. That black loafer, for me, is perfect. It can be night or day, winter or summer. It’s weird because I haven’t worn loafers since I was 15!

What is your favourite shoe style? And where do you see that shoe walking in the world, in a perfect scenario?

For women, for me the perfect shoe is a pump, and I always try to include one in my collections. Going back to your first question, and to this period of when you become aware of fashion – the “Ah, this woman is elegant” moment – it was the Sixties for me. And the pump remains for me the most perfect expression of femininity, of simplicity, of strength; it’s very dynamic as a shoe. Pointy, Stiletto. Again, nowadays when I look back at old fashion magazines, there is such a natural elegance. Today, it’s a mix – it’s all very Barocco, it’s interesting.

So post post-modern...

Exactly. We are totally in a ‘decadence’ moment. It is interesting! But when you look at the magazines of the 60s it’s so clear, it’s almost nothing in fashion - just one line, a trapeze coat, and this little pointy pump. Maybe it sounds like a cliché, and I am not nostalgic for the image of women of this period, not at all. I think women are much more interesting and free nowadays. But the shape, I think, for me, that was a really strong moment.