Born: May 30, 1978 Nationality: French Lives: Paris Education: Antwerp Royal Academy, Belgium
Little is known about Hermès’ enigmatic Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, because minimalism is just the way she prefers things. With an insouciance for the spotlight that could rival mentor Martin Margiela, the words “Nadège Vanhee Cybulski” is barely searchable online. And so, upon appointment as artistic director of Hermès in 2014, critics questioned the prestigious house’s decision. Could a relatively unknown and “safe” choice fill the shoes – or heart-thumping suede boots – of predecessor Christophe Lemaire?
Then Autumn/Winter 2015 Paris Fashion Week happened. It served as a milestone for the French label as Vanhee-Cybulski not only made her Hermès debut, but was also the brand’s first artistic director in 20 years to not be designing for another house on the side. Whilst finding a head creative whose time isn’t split between different projects is an increasing priority to labels, so too is a seamless changeover between hires. The ideal is a new head who creates a disruption without too much of a disruption, and for the equestrian-rooted house, fashioning such a thing is imperative. Its ready-to-wear collection is the show-pony in the (runway) ring but still must assimilate with its commercial stable-mates: Birkins, scarves, ties and watches.
Inspired by such heritage, Vanhee-Cybulski’s focus was firmly on craftsmanship over costume. Minimalistic blue-black overalls, saddle pad-inspired coats and water-repellent wool gabardine trousers lined the runway (the latter enthused by the designer’s hatred of wet hems on rainy days in New York City.) The original Octogone bag now sported webbed leather strapping and the distinguished printed scarves were showcased as shirt-dresses and silk skirts. “It’s more about designing certain pieces that are statements, even if they’re discreet ones – the quilted red leather jackets, for example,” says the designer. “I don’t think a garment needs to have three sleeves to be experimental.”
Raised in a small town in North-Eastern France, Vanhee-Cybulski studied at Antwerp Royal Academy in Belgium. Her first major career highlights were working as a member of the Maison Martin Margiela design studio (2005-2008), then as leather goods and accessories director under Pheobe Philo at Céline in London (2008-11). Prior to accepting the latter role, Vanhee-Cybulski offered a glimpse of steel underlying her quietly-spoken demeanour by demanding a nearby apartment to live in because “there’s no way I was taking the train and schlepping all over London.” After Celine fulfilled her request, she settled in Pimlico and honed her knowledge of fabric quality, a skill Hermès’ chief executive Axel Dumas would greatly value just a few short years later.
In 2012, she joined the equally reclusive Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen as design director of their much-coveted label, The Row, in New York City, where she honed her non-ornamental and with feminine aesthetic. Vanhee-Cybulski succeeded Lemaire at the helm of Hermes in 2015, joining the ranks of influential former artistic directors, Margiela and eminent French couturier, Jean Paul Gaultier.