French fashion designer
Born: Bapaume, Pas de Calais, France, 30 May 1957. Education: Studied in Paris until 1975. Career: Designed hats for Venus et Neptune, Pablo Delia, Dick Brandsma, 1975-77; assistant for Tan Giudicelli, couture and ready-to-wear, 1977-80; assistant to Karl Lagerfeld, furs, ready-to-wear, swimsuits, and accessories at Fendi, 1980-82; designer for Chanel, 1982-83; designer for Cadette, Milan, 1983-85; founded own company, MCH Diffusion, 1985; opened boutique on rue Pelican, Paris, assistant at Lanvin for couture and ready-to-wear, and assistant to Diane von Furstenberg, 1985; designed fur collection for Chloé, 1987; created accessory collection for Swarovski (Vattens, Austria) and ready-to-wear collections for Charles Jourdan, 1988-92; partnership with G.H. Mumm & Compagnie, 1992; designed theatre costumes for Les Troyens, Milan, 1992; first ready-to-wear collection for Hervé Léger S.A., 1993; costumes for Trois Ballets, Opéra de Paris, 1994; Mumm controlling interest sold to BCBG Max Azria, 1998; Léger left company, 1999; opened boutique in Left Bank, 2000.
Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York, 1996.
"Day for Night Body Dresses Make All the Right Moves," in Elle (New York), May 1991.
Carter, Charla, "Hervé Legér, Paris' Newest Design Talent Proves He Knows How to Throw a Curve," in Vogue, March 1992.
Spindler, Amy, "Alaïa and Legér Loosen Up a Bit," in the New York Times, 20 March 1993.
Deitch, Brian, "Hervé's Legerdemain," in Women's Fashion Europe, December/January 1993-94.
Quick, Harriet, "Legér Wear," in Elle (London), April 1994.
Doe, Tamasin, "Splashing Out on that Curvy Feeling," in the Evening Standard (London), 21 June 1994.
Min, Janet, and K. Nolan, "King of Cling: Fashion Designer Hervé Legér," in People Weekly, 31 October 1994.
Menkes, Suzy, "Paris Silhouette in Flux," in the International Herald Tribune, 15 October 1996.
White, Constance C.R., "Azria Backs Hervé Léger," in the New York Times, 11 August 1998.
Avins, Mimi, "L.A.'s BCBG Takes Control of France's Hervé Léger," in the Los Angeles Times, 11 August 1998.
Walton, A. Scott, "Paris Fashion Week: Valentino, Celine and Léger: The End—For Now," in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 19 October 1998.
Menkes, Suzy, "Yohji Yamamoto Defines the Spring Season with Tenderness and Wit," in the International Herald Tribune, 20 October 1998.
Lowthorpe, Rebecca, "Designer Loses His Own Label," in the Independent (London), 21 April 1999.
"The Chic of It! Ex-Model Gets the Designer Boot," in the The Guardian (London), 17 September 1999.
Menkes, Suzy, "For 'Young' Designers, 40 is a Dangerous Age," in the International Herald Tribune, 7 October 1999.
Walton, A. Scott, "Fashion Week: Léger's New Look Emphasizes Youth," in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5 October 1999.
Donnally, Trish, "Shop Talk," in the San Francisco Chronicle, 4January 2000.
Menkes, Suzy, "The Comeback Kids: Customers, Old and New, Track Down Fashion's Hidden Assets," in the International Herald Tribune, 13 June 2000.
——, "In Paris, a Craving for the Exotic," in the International Herald Tribune, 17 July 2001.*
In interviews I try systematically to dodge the connotation "artist, designer." The French word créateur seems to me particularly bombastic. I usually avoid theories on fashion in terms of "art" and I hate definitions on style. On the other hand, I always insist on the quality of my work. People will always appreciate quality. Quoting Madeleine Vionnet, to her niece, I used to say, "We are not rich enough to buy cheap."
The quality "hand-sewn," or "good investment," or "good value," is a rather original attitude when one thinks about it. The dissertation on fashion has a tendency to glorify the short-lived, the novel, the whim, ostentatious consumption rather than the everlasting. I think it's a pity.
Two consumer types exist for me: the first, "crazy about fashion," or "fashion victim," will irrevocably conform to the fashion of the designers and systematically adopt their outlook. The second type of woman, the one I prefer, is fed up with the vagaries of fashion. She will not act as a guinea pig for the designer's "experiments." She does not give a damn about the trends, she refuses to be a feminine clothes hanger. My fashion is made for that woman, to help her to express herself. I do not use women to express my world vision.
If any designer heralded the shift away from the deconstructed, loose, long shapes of the early 1990s it was Hervé Léger. His clothes, based on the deceptively simple principles of Lycra and spandex-rich fabrics pulling the body into the desired hourglass shape, have made him the darling of the fashion world. Tired of the austerity of recession dressing and eager for a contrary style that would revive a sense of glamor and flatter the wearer with its overblown femininity, Léger's work was warmly embraced during the 1990s both by fashion opinion-makers and the rock stars, models, and minor royalty who are his most publicized clients.
His dresses have the properties formally associated with foundation garments: the ability to mold the body and keep it in place. They enhance the figure, metamorphosing the wearer into cartoonlike proportions with full bust and hips. If this exaggeratedly feminine image is in direct contradiction to the narrow adolescent silhouette that had preceded and has run parallel with Léger's vision, it has nevertheless struck a chord with women wishing to relish their sexuality and are unafraid of displaying their redefined body in the modern equivalent to tight-laced corsetry.
Chiming in with the postfeminist doctrine of Naomi Wolf and Camille Paglia, which promotes the reclaiming of the right to enhance and emphasize the figure, this trend, labeled new glamor, is unashamed in its devotion to the female form. It is the latter that undoubtedly inspires Léger, his creations geared toward maximizing the purity of the curving lines of his models. His most obvious predecessor is the Algerian designer Azzedine Alaïa, who rose to fame in the late 1980s with his clingy Lycra creations, which Léger so clearly referred to in the overt sexiness of his own work.
Léger, however, developed the style further, exploiting the stretchy qualities of Lycra and spandex to the full, so that the dresses became more restrictive and better able to maintain the desired shape. His signature outfits, known as "bender" dresses, are composed of narrow strips of these elastic materials combined with rayon, which are sewn horizontally like bandages to form the whole shape of the garment, sometimes with extra bands curving over the hips and across the bust to add emphasis. Even on the hanger, therefore, they have a three-dimensional quality, so reliant are they on the Olympian figure they at once create and emulate.
Léger produces innumerable variations of this "bender" style, all equally flattering, the fabric eliminating any faults in the figure to produce smooth hourglasses. For all their glamor, his clothes avoid brashness through their lack of any unnecessary detail or decoration; their interest is in their shaping and the subtle Parisian tones in which they are produced. He concentrates on classic black, navy, white, and cream, tempered by stripes of burnt orange on halter dresses reminiscent of 1930s swimwear and delicate pastels with dark bodices.
By the middle of the 1990s, Léger had softened the banded look a bit. His 1997 spring/summer line included dresses with elegant cutout midriffs and sailor suits with light organza jackets. Léger's evening line has always been strong, so during this time his challenge was to create a daywear line to hold its own. Transforming women into Amazonian figures or goddesslike nymphs, his name gained importance with the increasing desire to express rather than obscure the potential sexuality of clothing. His dresses have adorned the likes of Halle Berry, Tyra Banks, Celine Dion, Fran Drescher, Christine Lahti, and Gillian Anderson. The downside, however, to creating such a well-defined signature style is the perception of becoming repetitive. Léger was able to adapt his look to the latest trend but was still seen by some critics as being in a rut.
In 1998 Los Angeles-based BCBG Max Azria purchased a controlling interest in the Hervé Léger fashion house from G.H. Mumm & Compagnie (itself a subsidiary of Seagram & Co.). Azria felt the addition of Léger's line would strengthen his company's global presence. Léger remained the designer of his line and was promised "unconditional support." The relationship soured, however, when BCBG cut the budget and Léger refused to cooperate. He was fired just six months after the takeover, forcing him to start from scratch. Léger initiated a lawsuit to regain his name and set out in a new direction; he signed a contract in 1999 to design clothing for Wolford, an Austrian company known for its hosiery. The line debuted in the company's first store, based in San Francisco, in the spring of 2000 with ready-to-wear designs made of merino wool and viscose.
The following year, 2001, marked the opening of Léger's own shop under the name Hervé L. Leroux in Paris. Former clients, still enthusiastic about his work, have managed to locate him by word of mouth. The designer remains focused on eveningwear and creates custom pieces for clients who have the desire and the means (which usually run around $7,000). Leroux (Léger) continues to spotlight his innovative designs, now with an even fresher outlook. His summer 2001 presentation in Paris featured draped dresses, cut with tucks in the bodice, forcing the fabric to hug the neck, leaving the back strikingly bare.
Léger's concentration on the ability of clothing to create the desired flattering silhouette, through manipulation of fabrics and eye-arresting details, owes its legacy to his couture background. His time at great houses like Chanel, Fendi, and Chloé enabled him to witness the power of a thoughtfully cut ensemble to transform the wearer. His homage to the goddesslike form touched on the desire to demonstrate beauty through strong, clear lines and sexually charged imagery that his clinging dresses so literally embodied.
updated by Carrie Snyder