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Fashion

Pierre Hardy on almost 20 years of luxury footwear – ‘fashion is unpredictable, and that works to my advantage’

  • Hardy never trained to be a footwear designer. He has a teaching degree and had dreams of becoming a professional dancer
  • The designer is also the creative director for Hermès’ men’s and women’s shoes
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2018, 7:32am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2018, 6:15pm

Pierre Hardy will reach a career milestone next year, when he celebrates the 20th anniversary of his eponymous shoe label. But even after all these years – plus a decade working with other brands – he still can’t predict what women want to wear.

“Who knows what women want any more? Look at the seasons, all the shows. Nothing is clear because there’s such a mix of influences. There are no more divides because fashion is just one big melting pot. You can wear whatever you want, any time you want. It’s about freedom,” says the legendary designer, who is in Hong Kong this week to launch an exclusive collection at Lane Crawford.

Hardy is still one of the most respected talents in the industry precisely because he doesn’t believe in rules. This is evident throughout his extensive portfolio of work, which has ranged from the radical – see the Instagram-worthy Lego shoe for Balenciaga – to classic and chic, as evidenced by the Hermès’ Oran sandals, which feature a simple leather upper forming the shape of the letter H.

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He was even one of the first to dabble in designer sneakers, launching streetwear-inspired high-tops way before Gucci and Louis Vuitton got in on the act.

“I liked the fact that sneakers create this idea of youth, no matter what your age. You can wear anything but if you swap your shoes for sneakers, you immediately look younger, dynamic and active. I see them lasting for a long while but then again, anything can change,” he says with a laugh.

Hardy’s approach to doing things differently may stem from the fact that he never trained to be a footwear designer. He graduated with a teaching degree and almost embarked on a career as a professional dancer. After stints as an illustrator contributing to magazines like Vanity Fair, he began assisting a shoe designer and later joined Christian Dior in the late 1990s.

“I never considered this as a profession, but it was a pleasure for me to draw and invent new shapes. What I love about shoes is that they are sculptural objects. I didn’t learn couture, but because I loved fine arts, I looked at composition, colour and materials. You can play with these aspects in shoe design more than ready-to-wear [footwear],” he says. “Clothes can’t exist unless on a body, but shoes can have life without the body. You can really elaborate with shoes, which is what I like.”

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While Hardy is best known for his long-term collaboration with Hermès (he’s creative director for men’s and women’s shoes, and jewellery), it’s his own footwear brand that best embodies his creativity. When it first launched in 1999, it was known for its experimental designs that were “contrary to what people were expecting me to do, or what I was expecting me to do,” he says.

Hardy’s designs challenge the notions of elegance and femininity, resulting in new silhouettes, often punctuated by graphic bold colours and clean lines. His unique perspective on design, coupled with a more intellectual approach to fashion, has attracted a cult following with fashion editors and fans alike.

“I always try to draw the clearest and most radical line within my work. If I am doing a sneaker, I try to make it as dynamic and sporty as I can. Pumps should be as sleek, feminine and sensual as possible. I try to value the main characteristic of each thing I am treating and make it the strongest it can be,” he explains.

This approach has somewhat changed over the past two decades as the industry has evolved. Footwear is now a fully-fledged category that is both extremely competitive and profitable. The advent of new technologies such as social media, shifting retail models and e-commerce also comes into play when creating a collection.

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“All of these elements influence what I do. Shoes today are photographed all the time, and showcased from a 360-degree angle, so the tiniest details are important. You have to think about all of this, even before it has been bought and worn.

“That being said, sometimes I think, ‘Screw this,’ and do the opposite of what I ‘should do’. What I propose may not be expected, or commercial, or what the market is demanding, but it’s important that it’s what I believe in. Shoes are a big part of fantasy, so in the end I choose the power of fantasy. It’s like cooking – you don’t want to eat the same thing every day,” he says.

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As a result, Hardy’s collections have many layers to them and feature a mix of on-trend styles that are designed for the moment, while others are an expression of his creativity and vision.

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His latest autumn-winter collection references femme fatale film characters, and features a mix of feminine-meets-masculine styles in couture fabrics with sporty details. The classics are still there – including the bestselling sneakers and pumps – but updated with a little twist, be it graphic coloured stripes or bold gold buttons. He has also created two exclusive styles for Lane Crawford, including an ankle strap pump and high-heeled loafers with a statement arched heel.

“It may be my 20th anniversary next year, but I prefer to look forward than look back. We started to look at our archives, but it’s difficult to find a line that connects everything over the years. Honestly fashion is unpredictable, and that’s something that works to my advantage,” he says.