French shoe designer Pierre Hardy aka “fashion’s favourite brainiac” is celebrating 20 years of his eponymous label this year.
Previously, Hardy has held coveted roles for Dior, Balenciaga, and Hermès spanning almost 3 decades—which have helped cement the designer’s place as a celebrated and deeply respected figure in the fashion world.
Pierre Hardy has a special global exclusive collection to celebrate this milestone. The 20 Years Capsule Collection, available at OnPedder, is inspired by Hardy’s most iconic archival models. The collection conjures a vibrant celebration of the designer’s signature elements, including architectural and geometric lines, pops of vivid colour, and artistic nods.
We sat down with the man himself and talked about history, longevity, and legacy in this day and age.
Congratulations on the 20 years of your label! In doing your eponymous brand, what’s the greatest fashion lesson you’ve learned? Don’t be scared to change your mind. Don’t be scared to do the contrary, to go against the norm. Because that’s fashion. There is no idea of continuity. There is a string that you can follow but go in many different directions.
What do you think drew you to this career in particular? What was the AHA moment? When I saw my first collection, when I held it in my hands and I discovered it looked nothing like I’ve seen before, that it’s really me as if showing yourself naked on stage, and then suddenly you understand that it’s very different from working with a brand, behind a screen, behind a brand name. It’s you, it involves all that you are, all what you love, everything. That was the turning point.
What’s the key to staying relevant—especially in this day and age? I don’t have the absolute answer. For me, it is to propose something that is unique, that people recognize as an identity.
What’s your unique design aesthetic? What separates Pierre Hardy from the others?
It’s always graphic. It’s curvy, pop, minimalistic, abstract, and radical! And when I try to express one idea, I stick to it as strongly as possible.
Some people study fashion then build their own labels. Some people study fashion then work for brands. What’s your advice? To create your own brand today, you need money. When I did my own brand, first I worked for somebody else. Very few groups now accept to build a brand around somebody who is nobody specifically. So most of the designers now work under another name. There are only a few designers who work with their own name.
How should an aspiring shoe designer make it today? Your advice?
I think what new designers should bear in mind is identity. Everyone is looking for identity especially in designing shoes that all look the same. So I try to make my aesthetic clear: that this is who/what I am, this is what I like and convey that message strongly. What you see is what you get.
Take us back to the beginning of your career. What have you learned in your tenure at Dior and Hermès?
In Dior, I learned a lot about the icons of a brand: the monogram, the colours, the sign, the typography, the history—and how to play with these elements and transform them into a shoe collection.
In Hermès, I learned much more—and much more differently. I learned honesty in design, the product, the creation process. Ultimately, I learned what luxury was.
You constantly draw inspiration from art, geometry, and architecture. Walk us through your creative process?
I rarely look at archives or documents or moments of the past. I really believe in memories of what you keep in your mind and how you translate in the now. If you just replicate, it’s not new.
With today’s technology, what has changed in your design process and the shoe industry—if there is any? Technology helps me illustrate my idea; showing images became so much easier, faster, and more efficient.
We could believe that the more you do something, the easier it becomes but no. It’s never the same for us, and the collection is never the same. And the world around changed a lot in 10 years. Although the fashion system has been revolutionized in a way, it has become much more complex.
Also, I think the changing of system of communication, like with fashion magazines and social media, it’s totally changed the idea people can have about fashion.
The empowering of the big companies also changed a lot, especially in the accessories department. They noticed it was probably the way to gain more income, over ready-to-wear.
Which shoe model and/or collection is most special to you and why? The Blade. It’s the first shoe I created. There were 3 different heights and colors: black, red, and white. When I think about it, it was quite radical—and a bit stiff I would say. But people recognized it, especially the US press; they were the first to notice it, support it. It’s the essential, the iconic shoe I’ve designed.
What’s the story behind the Blade?
Probably like any little boy, the first image of fashion you have is your mother and the women at this growth period between five to 10. They were all wearing stilettos; it’s the image of elegance and femininity.
When it came to doing shoes in my own name, it triggered this memory. I kept the base of the shoes but turned the heel into something more modern, more today, not just to repeat the shape of something that I still love. Otherwise it’s useless. So I tried finding a shape that can evoke this sharpness—elegant and feminine but tough.
Sporty sneakers are having a moment. What do you think of the athleisure, streetwear-heavy trend as of late? Are you for it or against it? I am for it. But designing sneakers is challenging. It involved different know how, factories, people, techniques, and processes—it was like starting a new job! You have to create everything from scratch—from A to Z. It’s unlike designing stilettos; it was an adjustment. When it comes to designing sneakers, it was a very, very different world.
You have done a number of collaborations. How important are these partnerships in building a brand? It’s always good for your brand—or both brands. It’s always a dialogue; it’s always a conversation of two different aesthetics. In this exchange, I always discover something about myself. It obliges me to cultivate my ideas and match it with my collaborator. It’s always like learning something from someone.
When I do collaborations, I try not to do something too close to what I have already done, to make it more interesting. Coming from two different points then finding the point where it’s going to match, it’s fun.
Where do you see the future of footwear?
Footwear is like food. We always need shoes to walk. The shoes we have today are nothing different from our grandparents. They are unlike the shoes we see on sci-fi films either.
Women will always want to look taller or thinner or sportier like the sneakers trend as of late but how are shoes going to look like in the future? I don’t know.
Where do you see yourself or the brand in 20 years? What’s in Pierre Hardy’s pipeline? I would love to know [laughs]. Flexibility and adaptation both as a creative person and brand are needed now more than ever.
We would love to open a new shop in New York, maybe another shop in Paris. But it’s very complicated now, as opposed to 10-15 years ago because the times are changing, the markets are changing, so nothing is fixed. Let’s wait and see.
On Pedder is the only retailer globally that is celebrating Pierre Hardy’s 20th anniversary. Get the Pierre Hardy 2o Years Capsule Collection in stores today.