Purple Magazine
— S/S 2015 issue 23

Pierre Hardy

portrait by Gianni Oprandi

shoe designer
on human geometry

interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
photography by PIERRE EVEN
portraits by GIANNI OPRANDI


OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have to isolate yourself to do your work?
PIERRE HARDY — No, not at all. There are plenty of things I do in vivo, way more than I did before. I used to sketch everything, 10 or 20 years ago. Nowadays I sketch a lot less. Drawing is a way to verify an idea, to make sure it works. In the past, I used the sketch to help me visualize the idea; I drew everything very precisely. Now I sometimes miss that need to sketch.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s also a way to hold onto the beginnings of a creation. And it’s a way of taking your time…
PIERRE HARDY — Yes, our rhythm has sped up considerably. The collections are not the same; we used to have six months to design a collection. Now it’s a month, maximum — and there’s also the “pre-collection.” There are two collections per season, and of course you still need the time to actually produce the line. The time for creation is no longer the same.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Why do you sketch less?
PIERRE HARDY — I now work mostly on models. We now launch more products, which we have manipulated in 3-D, with real objects we deconstructed and glued back together. We do more real-time futzing and fixing, so fewer sketches.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you use 3-D printers?
PIERRE HARDY — No. There is stuff that is better. There are programs that can take your drawing and transform it into three dimensions, then you can work with it in detail and correct the drawing and its volumes. At the same time, it can generate your patterns almost simultaneously. But I don’t do that stuff yet. I’m much more low-tech. I like playing with my models, everything being handmade…

OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you inspired by futurism and sci-fi?
PIERRE HARDY — Yes. I like the idea of projecting yourself into the future, prospecting. But innovation has nothing to do with the technology of the way you achieve it. Here, the process takes place in a studio where we shape, we cut, we put stuff back together. We use a computer to print things, but not so much for creation. More for the final polishing of our ideas.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is it still possible to create new shapes?
PIERRE HARDY — When you look at fashion photos, the shoes and the hairstyles are the two things that allow you to date them precisely. They are extremely strong stylistic indexes. These days, we’re so mired in a stew of vintage repetition, you have no idea! There are attempts, at Dior and Céline, for example, to not continually reminisce. I seek newness and innovation.
I do not copy. I reinterpret.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have a lot of people working at the design studio?
PIERRE HARDY — There are three of us.

Black-and-white printed lily lamb leather heels, PIERRE HARDY

OLIVIER ZAHM — And you work together?
PIERRE HARDY — Yes. It allows us to immediately communicate an idea, to let it go, to come back to it. There are things that can be done without me. We experiment a lot; it’s really like a laboratory. Afterward, my assistant ties it all together, and I look at it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You don’t draw the heels?
PIERRE HARDY — For heels, it’s important to draw them because they must be exactly how I want them — the curve of a high heel must be perfect, down to the millimeter even. When we do a new kind of heel, I draw it very precisely. I need it to be exactly like the drawing. It is not an idea or an impression.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You also design jewelry lines for Hermès. Does jewelry offer you more creative freedom than shoes?
PIERRE HARDY — Shoe design is about maximum constraint! There is zero margin for error. But with jewelry, you have an infinite margin. You draw a circle — and it can turn into a link in a chain or a heavy necklace or a little bracelet. You don’t know until you place it on the body. Jewelry is limitless. You can go from micro to mega… With shoes, there’s a physical norm that is absolutely defined before you can even begin. But I think I have now totally incorporated that constraint — when I design or when I have an idea about a shoe, I know exactly how it will look on the foot.

OLIVIER ZAHM — The heel is such an essential point… Do you like to work with height?
PIERRE HARDY — It isn’t so much the height of the heel that excites me; it’s the design, the proportion, the balance that it has with the shape or, on the contrary, its contrast.

OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s something you impose upon yourself in your creative process. If you come upon objects with too many connotations of a period, do you take a step back?
PIERRE HARDY — Yes and no. I try to reformulate the past because at the same time, there are things I adore, archetypal silhouettes that are quite perfect, elegant, which I have always wanted to find again. The little cubic heel, the mini-heel, a bit low, which we are seeing a lot. But I am looking for new solutions. For example, on this season’s little cubic talon — I turned it 45 degrees. Which gives it some bizarre perspectives, slightly shifted relative to the axis of the shoe. In that archetypal register, I’m seeking a variation that will render it more modern and surprising, something of today.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What’s the most difficult part of creating shoes?
PIERRE HARDY — For me, it’s not having clothing collections that would justify further creation of very different shoes. It’s easier when you are working on a whole silhouette because the shoe is either a prolongation of it or a contrast; there’s an echo, a dialogue that allows you to imagine absolutely amazing things. I do not do ready-to-wear clothes, so I cannot count on an existing silhouette. Except when I’m working at Dior or Hermès.

portrait by Gianni Oprandi

OLIVIER ZAHM — You seek a necessity in your shapes. You don’t want your work to be gratuitous.
PIERRE HARDY — Yes, I refuse to do “gadget” work. That’s another rule of mine, which also leaves me with very little margin.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You try to surprise yourself?
PIERRE HARDY — Yes, innovation is what drives me … and it is my only weapon. Otherwise, I would just think about making money.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you achieve novelty today?
PIERRE HARDY — For example, for the first time this season, there were flowers this spring in the collection, but I tried to deal with them in a different way. They were photographic flowers, neither drawn nor painted, not in 3-D. They weren’t particularly realistic either; the colors are a little off, a little acidic in the style of Warhol or Gilbert & George, a bit distorted, processed like stained glass. At the same time, it’s necessary to offer things that people are going to like, to recognize. When you don’t recognize anything, you need time to appreciate it, then to appropriate it. And time is what we have the least of in fashion. If it doesn’t work right away, it will never work! So I look for a balance between how people will come back to something they loved, while also discovering something they have never seen.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is it the novelty that makes it sell?
PIERRE HARDY — It’s more the repetition, the copies, and the vintage stuff that make money! Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming. But I maintain my need for the new; it’s what works for me.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s part of your identity.
PIERRE HARDY — I also have super-classical, super-simple designs in my collections — in the high heels, for example. I find them to be very beautiful, but that’s not what people are looking for. They want something more bizarre, more eccentric.

OLIVIER ZAHM — I didn’t know you used to be a teacher — you attended the École Normale Supérieure!
PIERRE HARDY — Yes, but I studied the plastic arts, not philosophy or mathematics. Those were the best years of my life, complete freedom.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s rare for academics — as cultured as you are — to become creators.
PIERRE HARDY — Yes, it’s true. The two mind-sets are completely contradictory. Teaching is about analysis and meta-language — knowing how to speak of things that have been done, not producing them. So it is rare to step through that looking glass. I think I had no choice… I don’t know.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And you became a businessman, too.
PIERRE HARDY — That’s probably the hardest part for me. Pierre Hardy the company has 30 people on salary. Which is nothing compared with some of our competitors, featured in fashion magazines like yours; I am probably the smallest house, 100 or even 1,000 times smaller than certain brands. I learned to create, but I didn’t really learn how to manage a business. It happened in quite an empirical fashion, but that doesn’t matter. I learned that this process could also be inventive, another form of creation that is actually quite interesting.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What interests you in the creation of your own brand?
PIERRE HARDY — The evolution of the brand, giving shape to the very beginning of a signature and watching it grow; learning how to program it so that it evolves in a specific direction. The brand becomes the womb, the place from which all objects emerge. Conceptually, it’s like a mold. You see that the line of products of a brand really are shaped by the same mold. And the managers of those lines are always trying to shape the mold, insofar as they can imagine it, which is generally quite limited. And there are so few places where the mold is strong — this is why I have stayed 25 years at Hermès. That is what is interesting.

OLIVIER ZAHM — At Hermès, you made things evolve both in jewelry and in the shoe lines. You changed the mold.
PIERRE HARDY — Yes, it is constantly evolving, but we don’t want it to become a monster. With the good brands, where it all works, it’s because there’s a link between the products that come out of that mold and the machine itself.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is there a Pierre Hardy style after 15 years?
PIERRE HARDY — I am an artist. I love shapes and colors, geometry, balancing the volumes. At the same time, this geometry is like the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci or Le Corbusier’s Modulor [an anthropometric scale of proportions, based on the height of a man with one arm raised], or the golden ratio. It’s still geometry, but it is completely linked to the human body.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s human geometry.
PIERRE HARDY — Yes, physical, corporeal.

Natural and gold calf leather Scarpa heels, PIERRE HARDY

OLIVIER ZAHM — Can we even say sexual? Are you interested in fetishism?
PIERRE HARDY — Not at all, no, not at all! It’s because I am a plastician. It happens to have been the shoe that took on that importance in my life, but it could have been something else.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You feel like an artist, with shapes, colors, volumes…
PIERRE HARDY — That is the way it always begins. Here’s the thing: I never tell stories — if there is one, it always happens a posteriori. Once the collection is done, we’ll say to each other, “Hey, that’s interesting. It makes you think of…” And then I can build a certain story. So, for example, the “story” for last season had to do with visiting the atelier. I had realized that shoes begin with a raw canvas, with plain linen; with simple, basic shapes; high heels; sneakers; all that. Little by little, there are little changes, manipulations, cuts, collages, painting, putting things together. Then we move on to volumes. It’s like visiting a fictional studio, a virtual space. The collection reflected that journey, but I didn’t know it at the beginning.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So for you the referent is fashion, the fashion world… All the collections, not just one…
PIERRE HARDY — It’s true that I look at fashion. I love it. I do my own personal synthesis of it each season… There is such proliferation; I have to trust my gut and trust what I like. I work on what I truly love. Does that create a style? I have no idea. In any case, variations around a style.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is Pierre Hardy a Parisian style?
PIERRE HARDY — From a creative point of view, I am very French — you can’t reinvent yourself! Sometimes I would have liked to be Japanese [laughs], but I am definitely French! It is an essential component of my creation. It’s like Purple. I wonder if your magazine could exist somewhere besides France. I think we are the manifestation of our global culture, in spite of ourselves. And then you own it, or you don’t. I personally do not wave the flag.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you separate the creations for your line and the creations for the brands for which you work, like Dior and Hermès?
PIERRE HARDY — Oddly, people are surprised when I say I’m doing a collection for Dior or Hermès. It’s easy. It’s so much easier than doing one for me, in my name only. Because in any brand, there’s a multifaceted referent or denotation, but it’s extremely defined. At Hermès, there’s an endless sedimentary depth of inspiration. In a way, the well can never go dry. There’s so much material to work with, 150 years of history. And all of it is inspirational, right up to the last collection, where those shoes will take their place. When I’m at home, I’m balancing on a tightrope…

OLIVIER ZAHM — So you’re an observer of fashion, of the collections, and of what’s going on.
PIERRE HARDY — Yes, during Fashion Week, I look, but I rarely go back afterward. It can be quite disturbing. I do it quickly, sort of skimming. I work a lot with the dregs, the foam, with what’s left. That, too, is part of fashion, working off these elements. But it doesn’t matter. That’s just how it is. However, there is a level that stands out, which is where I try to work.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you saying that you try to capture what’s in the air?
PIERRE HARDY — Yes, and how I can transform it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And how it can feed into the context of your work…
PIERRE HARDY — Yes, but at the same time no — because it’s now too late for me.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You have already filtered and reshaped it elsewhere?
PIERRE HARDY — I don’t really know. It’s quite solitary in the end.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your shoes are part of fashion. They evoke a collection that doesn’t exist.
PIERRE HARDY — I would love for them to be like an index, that my shoes could be the beginning of building a whole silhouette. In a way, I am looking for a fashion statement. But it’s still rather abstract.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Why are you so reticent about fetish shoes, those “objects of desire”?
PIERRE HARDY — I prefer talking about the physical rather than the sexual. First of all, because I think it would be kind of insulting for women to think they would want to be sexual 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I think there are moments when they just want to feel good, to be beautiful.

OLIVIER ZAHM — A shoe that is an object of desire is not really part of fashion.
PIERRE HARDY — Because sex is not related to a particular moment in time… And it’s always the same stuff, you know, the spike heel, the strappy S&M shoe, the shiny little black boot, something glittering, something red… For me, this is not a creative space; I have nothing to do in it. You can be more or less illustrative; you can be quite literal, but it really isn’t interesting for me.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you experience the evolution of fashion today?
PIERRE HARDY — I don’t know if fashion is declining, but it’s definitely in a more decadent period, though not in the depraved sense. This is not a moral judgment. Values change; the meanings of words change. And their new meanings are hard to pick up, to define. Sometimes they’re backward or reversed; odd things come out of them… There are people like Rick Owens — I love his work. It’s not my taste, but I really like what he does. I find it quite beautiful. Oddly, there is a kind of ingenuity in his violence, a rather exemplary purity. And in the work of Nicolas Ghesquière, there is a personal conviction; he believes in what he does. There’s no cynicism behind it. There are so few people like this who try to create something that is truly autonomous.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, with whom would you like to create shoes?
PIERRE HARDY — My collaboration with Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga was a rather ideal exchange and difficult to replicate elsewhere. It was much more than a collaboration; it was a complicity, a collusion. I believe that in a good collaboration, you need to maintain just the right tension, not too close, not too far. With Nicolas, it was absolutely ideal.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How about with Comme des Garçons?
PIERRE HARDY — She [Rei Kawakubo] is way too crazy for me [laughs]!!! I love her because she is my exact opposite… She does absolutely what I am incapable of thinking of in terms of women, the body, elegance. My complete antithesis. She’s a genius … with whom I might want to create shoes.

OLIVIER ZAHM — At the same time, you’ve diversified. You also do accessories, scarves…
PIERRE HARDY — It’s one of the things that happen in creation. You’re looking for a pattern for an image, a bag, prints — you say, “Hey, this would be nice on a scarf.” It’s like the little ring that can be a link in a chain or a belt. You design a pattern, then once it’s there on the page, you can ask yourself if it’s for something in leather or a silk scarf that will be two meters by two meters. It is one of the organic opportunities in creation.

Navy, black, and natural nappa calf leather Atelier heels PIERRE HARDY

OLIVIER ZAHM — But you won’t go as far as designing a garment?
PIERRE HARDY — You know, I often think about it, but having been close to people for whom this process is both a profession and a passion, I see the depth and intensity required in order to succeed, and we’re not talking making t-shirts with cubes on them. Heels I can do. Fake handbags with spike heels I can also do. I created jewels for Hermès, and when we looked for metal patterns for some shoes, we got ideas for bracelets, for example. It was not in the least a strategy of diversification. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think about it. I would like to do more. For the moment, my house is not yet strong or big enough to take on a larger product line. It would mean involving other professions, other factories, other contacts, other staffs — and we just don’t have the means to handle that for the moment.

OLIVIER ZAHM — This makes me think that a shoe is a jewel for the foot.
PIERRE HARDY — Sometimes, yes. Or it is a kind of ephemeral make-up. Whereas a man’s shoe, we want it to last. The older it is, the more we love it. For women, it is not at all the same positioning. It’s like make-up; it needs to be bright, new, and shiny. Then afterward, it’s done; they’re done, forgotten. I have never seen a woman waxing her shoes, never! They don’t care about them at all; they’re like a hairstyle: you do it, then you undo it. I like it, though — it’s a drive, a dynamic.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So do you check out what they’re doing in make-up every season?
PIERRE HARDY — Yes, often. Beauty involves different kinds of women — types. With clothing, I don’t know what will happen each season. But with the types, I see better, more clearly. And that’s one of the things I liked at Balenciaga; it was much more than fashion. Each runway show was like looking at a new species of woman.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Listening to you talk about your work, I imagine you would also be able to run a magazine.
PIERRE HARDY — I was invited once or twice to contribute to some magazines. I loved it. I like the image; I like doing it. It turns out that I’m a creator of objects, and it was a fruitful, productive encounter. It’s fun to do something that works; it’s satisfying, so you continue. We are like eternal children looking for instant gratification, but I think, for me, it could’ve been something else. So if one day it isn’t a shoe, well, then it will be something else.


[Table of contents]

S/S 2015 issue 23

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS






purple BEAUTY

purple LOVE

purple TRAVEL

purple SEX


purple TRAVEL

purple NIGHT

purple STORY


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