Hermès goes on Antwerp outing in the footsteps of Martin Margiela
The rendezvous was set for early in the morning of 22nd May at Paris' Gare du Nord railway station - destination unknown. The departure panel for the 8.25 am Thalys high-speed train simply featured the words: "Le sens de l'objet (the sense of the object)," the theme chosen by Hermès as the thread running through its collections and advertising for 2017. As it did for each of the last thirty years, the luxury leather goods label threw an eagerly awaited party to fête the launch of this year’s theme.
The party's invitation gave a clue to the destination: it was written backwards (à l'envers in French, which sounds very much like the word Anvers - Antwerp in French) and should have pointed the 240 guests, mostly journalists from all over the world, in the right direction.
Joining the party was Hermès' entire creative posse, featuring Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, in charge of womenswear, Véronique Nichanian, in charge of menswear, Christophe Goineau, Creative Director of men's silks, as well as the group's senior management with their family members, including Hermès' boss Axel Dumas, his number two, Guillaume de Seynes and Commercial Director Florian Craen.
The label's Global Creative Director, Pierre-Alexis Dumas, explained how the choice of Antwerp as a destination came naturally when thinking about Belgian designer Martin Margiela and his special connection with objects, this year's theme for Hermès.
Margiela was in charge of Hermès' women's ready-to-wear collections between 1997 and 2003, and he created a string of iconic objects such as the six-hole button - through which you can thread the shape of an H, the much-copied double-wrap watch strap and of course the Clochette handbag key ring, which Margiela morphed into a necklace.
Accordingly, the Antwerp outing organised by Hermès for its guests was steeped in Martin Margiela lore, as the designer was also the event's behind-the-scenes supervisor. After alighting at the imposing Centraal Station, with its 43 m-high steel arch, the guests were taken to a mystery venue. It turned out to be a huge brick building, the Saint-Félix depot, a former warehouse which since 2006 is home to the city's archives.
"I adore this place, for me it's the symbol of Antwerp and its port," said Bob Verhelst, a former collaborator of Martin Margiela, one of the many from the fashion label who played a part in making this discovery trip a success.
After walking through a labyrinth of long, white-walled corridors, the guests eventually settled in a vast function room, where models clad in black and flesh-coloured leotards and tights enacted for them, using words and gestures, some of Martin Margiela's signature silhouettes - created both for Hermès and for his own fashion house - fashioning a sort of imaginary catwalk show.
The audience were unaware of it, but in the afternoon they would admire the same silhouettes featured in the performance, entitled 'Slide Show' and skilfully directed by Olivier Saillard, at the 'Margiela, the Hermès Years' retrospective at Antwerp's Fashion Museum, the high point of a day full of surprises.
The exhibition showcases in parallel the designer's creations for Hermès and those for his own fashion label, revealing Margiela's talent and ground-breaking vision. In Margiela's own words, the pared-down designs he produced for Hermès make his own label's creations seem "baroque".
The exhibition culminates in a series of giant-sized pictures in which the performance's models, all of them former Margiela models, wear the clothes they choreographed - the real ones this time.
Also part of the day's entertainment was a banquet, served by over 100 young boys and girls dressed and gloved in black, which the guests enjoyed at a huge table laid out on the 'street', the endless corridor running across the Saint-Félix Pakhuis depot, while feasting their ears to the gypsy tunes played by the Klezmicnoiz ensemble.
After the banquet, blessed by unexpected sunshine, the guests strolled through the cobbled alleys of the harbour district to the old town and the Fashion Museum, not without stopping by Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts, the alma mater of many top fashion designers, Martin Margiela among them.
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