Take two of the world’s top men’s designers and ask what is special about their trade and the answer is “millimeters and microscopic detail .
Yet at the very high-end Paris couture houses of Hermes and Ungaro, neither Veronique Nichanian nor Franck Boclet would ever trade the nano craft of male sartorial perfection for the more flamboyant, excessive and faster-moving world of female fashion.
Hermes’ Nichanian, a soft-spoken slight vivacious brunette around 50, originally trained to work in womenswear but by a fluke of destiny landed her first job three decades ago with men’s supremo Nino Cerruti. She has never looked back.
“I haven’t seen time go by, she said in an interview as the big men’s annual fashion shows started in Milan last week, followed by Paris later in January.
“The menswear world is enthralling and is probably just very me. I’m a very rigorous, precise person, I love details and I love refinement.
At ultra luxury brand Hermes, a onetime saddle and leathermaker globally renowned for its high quality goods and just as high prices, Nichanian says her 12 years there have been perfect. “This is a house known for its exceptional fabrics and leathers where I have total freedom to work with the most beautiful and most refined of raw materials.
Boclet, who moved to Ungaro last year after training as a textile engineer then designing at Arrow, Courreges and most famously for Smalto, likewise is a fanatic for detail who can expound at length on the cut of a shoulder, the trim on a pocket or the millimeter more, or millimeter less, of this season’s perfect trouser leg.
“Thinking football, said the trim impeccably turned-out short-haired designer, “we have a smaller playing field than women’s designers.
“They have wider possibilities of expression, in the way clothes are cut, in the fabrics, in the excess. To me the most important thing is for clothes to sit right and be well-made. I am a maniac for how a garment hangs and for perfect tailoring.
But keeping at the cutting edge of fashion is tough business, Boclet said, with designers forced to produce a brand-new collection every six months, a deadline not imposed on other creative artists.
Womenswear wizards had it far easier with an intrinsically wider palette of colors, trimmings and volumes, plus the fact that styles can change from year to year.
Not so in the more sedate world of the male wardrobe.
“Creating for men is more difficult I think, said Nichanian, “because you have less room to maneuver and because the collections we show on the catwalks are the real thing, they are the clothes then sold in the boutiques, not one-off items for the shows and the photographers.
While scores of encyclopedic works on female fashion have tracked the hem’s ups and downs, waistlines or lack thereof, or the coming of trouser-suits for women over the past half-century, the evolution of men’s fashion seems a minimal, dreary story by comparison.
Suits, ties and shirts have been around after all for as long as anyone alive today can remember.
Not quite so, said Nichanian.
“It’s true that the change in styles come down to a centimeter or a millimeter, she said. “But there has been a huge change in the fabrics, which used to be extremely heavy. With the new lightweight fabrics around now, the clothes are constructed and structured differently, and that needs know-how.
“I travel the world seeking exceptional material, technological fabrics in Japan, dyed cloths in India, linens and tweeds in Britain and Scotland.
Being technically savvy, agreed Boclet, was the key to success in designing for men. “Creation in men’s fashion is all about fabrics, volumes, detail, respecting proportions, he said.
And contrary to popular belief, men’s fashion had indeed evolved over the years, albeit at snail’s pace, according to both designers.
Men had broken out of the strict dress codes of yesteryear, mixing casual jeans or leather with suits whatever their age and whenever, said Nichanian, known for soft cashmeres and flannels and leathers as well as taste for color. And today’s male silhouette was definitely leaner.
“But I make garments, not a fashion line, she said. “I like men of all of styles and all ages, wearing whatever suits them best.
At the house of Ungaro, Boclet fingers a strawberry-colored taffeta jacket perfect for clubbing, astrakhan furs and boiled cashmere knits, items he is throwing out at this month’s Paris Autumn/Winter 2010 catwalk shows.
“I want to tell men to be like women, to be free, not to seek a style – because your style is the way you are, the way you talk, that’s what makes you, you. And each day a man should just pick out what he feels like wearing, he said.
“My idea is to create collections where men can find a style, not impose a style on them.