For forty years, Leïla Menchari masterfully directed the decoration of Hermès boutiques. This great fashion designer has just passed away.
She was much less well known than her great friend, the stylist Azzedine Alaïa, who passed away in 2017. Leïla Menchari was also a stylist, artistic director and decorator. Leïla Menchari has just succumbed to COVID-19, at the age of 92. The mythical showcases of the Maison Hermès, at 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, we owe them to her. For fifty years, she imposed a style and influenced a whole generation of decorators and managers of visual merchandising and window decorations and scenography for other major brands and department stores in Paris and around the world. Her artistic influence was considerable. In particular, she was known for creating, in spaces of barely a few square metres, pocket theatres, tiny spaces in which she unfolded boundless worlds, dream worlds, alternating minimalism and grandeur.
Born in Tunis, Leïla Menchari developed a passion for the world of fashion at a very young age and soon to become a luxury designer. Coming from a well-to-do family, granddaughter of the last Sultan of Touggourt (regent of a state that existed in southern Algeria from the 15th to the 19th century), as a teenager she had set her sights on her studies, which would be her “salvation”. “She was, in her own words, “the first woman to come out unveiled, the first girl also admitted to the Beaux-Arts of Tunis. ” She still studied when she learned French with the Missionary Sisters of Africa in Carthage. Her parents let her fly to France where she continued her studies at the Beaux-Arts in Paris this time.
In 1957, she began working as a model in Paris, in the Guy Laroche house. She also discovered Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the theatres of Paris and its splendid sets. At Guy Laroche, she discovered French elegance and Parisian Haute-Couture. In 1961, at the age of 34, she knocked on the door of Hermès, looking for a “food job. “The Hermès team was seduced by this woman of character with an artistic vision that the saddler could sense in her. Soon, she was promoted to assistant to Hermès head decorator Annie Beaumel, who asked her to “draw dreams. “She soon became the first designer, and in 1978 was appointed by the group’s CEO, Jean-Louis Dumas, to be in charge of the saddler’s display windows and director of decoration at Hermès. She became the artistic muse of the brand, renewing the windows of the luxury house each season, establishing a style and shimmering colours, a permanent link between East and West.
In 2017, in an interview with Madame Figaro, she agreed to share some of her secrets, declaring: “I am someone who shows. Leather, silk, the quality of things. I try to tell a story, to tell what Hermès is, to all audiences, foreigners, Parisians, children, even those who don’t dare to enter the shop. I choose a theme, I talk about it with my team, I want people to talk nonsense, because behind every thought is an image that might interest me. I’m very influenced by surrealism. I let myself go to my own fantasies, which are rooted in observing nature and in my passion for craftsmanship. I imagine spider webs made of embroidered silk thread, dew beads, coral sculptures, shells. After that, I have three months to make this decor, find the right craftsmen, and set everything up before the curtains rise. I am totally free to create what I want! »