Hermés’ New Jockey: Luxury Group Hands RTW Reins to Gaultier

Hermès International tapped Jean Paul Gaultier to replace Martin Margiela as designer of its women’s ready-to-wear.

PARIS — Fashion’s revolving door spun Monday at Hermès International, where Jean Paul Gaultier was tapped to replace Martin Margiela as designer of its women’s ready-to-wear collection.

The change will take place beginning with the fall-winter 2004 season, to be shown in Paris next March. Margiela’s contract with the house expires after the Paris shows this October.

Gaultier will continue to design couture, rtw and men’s wear for his own house, founded in 1976 and famed for collections bristling with sexual innuendo and chockablock with multicultural references and Parisian chic.

The news marks an end to Hermès’ six-year collaboration with the reclusive Belgian Margiela and further strengthens the relationship between Gaultier and Hermès, which took a 35 percent stake in the house of Jean Paul Gaultier for $23.4 million in 1999.

On Monday, Hermès chairman Jean-Louis Dumas thanked Margiela for making a “major contribution” in defining and developing its women’s fashions, but said Gaultier’s creativity and imagination made him an obvious choice for the future.

“Jean Paul is a man of talent, and the idea was to give him a chance, and us a chance, to develop his talent with a new challenge,” Dumas said in an exclusive interview. “We love tradition, but we are not tradition-bound.”

At first glance, Gaultier’s sometimes avant-garde styles and out-there personality might seem even more at odds with Hermès’ conservative nature than the quirky Margiela. After all, this is the designer who put men in skirts and Madonna in a bustier with conical breasts. But since launching a couture collection in 1997, Gaultier has shown great finesse reinterpreting quieter styles like trenchcoats, pantsuits, tunics and shirts, all staples of the upscale Hermès wardrobe.

While acknowledging Gaultier’s taste for folly and provocation, Dumas said his arrival would mark no dramatic change in clothing at Hermès, which has stood for sporty chic, elegance, comfort and uncompromising quality since the Twenties.

“The challenge is to create a continuation of the Hermès style, which has the quality of being fashion and nonfashion at the same time,” he said. “There are few people who can understand this, but Jean Paul does.”
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