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Pierre Hardy Talks Bella Hadid and the Challenges of Producing Shoes Quickly

Plus, why he thinks designers who can't handle the pace of fashion should do something else.
Photo: The Museum at FIT

Photo: The Museum at FIT

On Tuesday evening at FIT, in conversation with the fashion school's museum curator Colleen Hill, Pierre Hardy spent nearly an hour and a half describing, in detail, the inspiration and construction of his most iconic shoe designs — including those from his namesake line, as well as his work for Hermès (where he's designed men's and women's shoes since 1990), Balenciaga (where he collaborated with Nicolas Ghesquière on some of the most memorable footwear in recent memory) and even Gap, with which he collaborated in 2011. The main takeaways were that his creativity seemingly knows no bounds, even within the limits of a specific brand; he is seriously accomplished (many of his designs now live in museums) and a lot more goes into creating a shoe than meets the eye. 

We spoke with the animated French designer afterward about the possibility of doing another mass collaboration, the response to Bella Hadid wearing his Slider satin sneakers (three times!) and why the breakneck pace of fashion might be even harder for shoe designers — and why he's not complaining about it.

Bella Hadid has been wearing your sneakers all over the place — are you a fan of hers? Is she someone you would have envisioned wearing them?

I never think about who's going to wear what I'm doing because it's very tricky. First, it's always wrong, you never know. Also, the pleasure of fashion is the surprise: Oh she's wearing it? Great. She's a fashion girl, she's the 'It' girl now, thank you! It's great. I'm happy with that, it would be stupid to be a masochist to say, 'meh.' No it's great. We have to accept it as a gift, as a compliment, because she could have any shoes in the world, and she just picks this one.

When someone with a huge following wears something of yours, does it move the needle? Do you see a sales uptick?

Not yet — we had some calls at the shop for example, but not that much.

Would you ever do another mass collaboration, like with Gap?

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Yeah of course, depends on who is asking. It's always interesting to go and do the opposite of what you're doing every day because you learn a lot, and when you come back to your own core work, it changes the way you see it and the way you find solutions. It's always interesting to ask yourself the question of, 'What is fashion? What is chic? What is elegant?' But from a different point of view. It's like playing a role, in a way.

Everyone keeps talking about how the pace of the fashion industry is too fast for designers and burns them out, but the conversation mostly revolves around ready-to-wear designers. Do you feel it's easier as an accessories designer?

No. For shoes it's even more [challenging] because part of the shoe is very handcrafted, but part of it is very industrial, so that's the issue with shoes. It's very in-between. Part of it's very manual and very artisanal and the other one is a big production with machines and factories and you have to match this — speed [is not] easy.

And about creativity, I think we have to adapt. It would be totally dangerous to say, 'I need my time; I need to retire myself for six months in, I don't know, Marrakech or a mountain or an island to create.' No! You have to deal with reality; otherwise do something different.

On the industrial side, have there been any technological innovations that have helped to speed things up?

A little bit in the sample [making] process. For example, now there's a machine [where] you make a drawing, you give it to the machine, you scan it and it can transform the sketches into technical drawings and then into a 3-D visualization; you can correct it, and from this 3-D visualization you can create the heel or even create the pattern. Otherwise, for the material itself, to make the shoe — especially at a certain level of luxury — there is some material that doesn't match.

So how do you keep that mental balance? Do you have any rituals to stay sane and not stressed?

I do sports. Every morning, physical activities if I can. I try to do the things I love and to avoid what I don't. I know it sounds simple, but that's what it is. Even things that I don't like that much, it's for the result. You have to find a balance of the things that are not the best or greatest thing to do and what is pleasant.