Pierre Hardy’s office and atelier is located through an exceptionally peaceful courtyard behind the brand’s showroom in a picturesque corner of Paris’s 6th arrondissement. “It’s very quiet here,” Hardy observes, before pausing to add, “Maybe too quiet!” The lively designer certainly fills the space with an abundance of creative energy, which he channels into his namesake brand. Since its launch in 1999, Hardy has continued to cultivate an elegant, playful, and modern perspective on footwear—a perspective so unique he’s been called upon for countless collaborations with iconic fashion Houses like Christian Dior, Balenciaga, and Hermès.
Below, he tells us in his own words about his artistic approach to shoe design, as we tour his creative space.
The Window: Did you always know you wanted to design shoes?
Pierre Hady: I only discovered what I love about shoes after I started designing them. I actually never chose shoes, but stumbled into it by chance. I was working in fashion and somebody asked me to draw a collection, and I did it. It wasn’t a vision or strategy. I was an artist first and foremost—drawing and painting.
And what did you end up loving about shoe design?
What I love is that, in the beginning, shoes are almost like a sculpture. Then, they become a fashion accessory—something girls want to have and wear and that makes them feel strong, beautiful, sexy, or fun depending on the mood. Shoes become something sensual and feminine, but in the beginning they are forms. My job as a designer is to combine different elements like color, material, volume, and the heel dimensions together to compose something that is beautiful. It’s not that disconnected from sculpting, painting, or drawing. It’s just about connecting those concepts with a practicality—a shoe has to fit and be comfortable. When people ask me about comfort, I always say “Well of course, but that’s not my job!” A car has to break and turn and go backwards, that’s the base level! As a designer, my first issue is making something beautiful and the function is a given.
Tell us about your creative process. Do you work with specific themes for each collection?
Often, it starts with the shape of the heel—something new—and from this aspect, I try to play with that newness to draw lines that can become a shoe. Generally speaking, the story comes after. It starts abstract, always. There’s often a type of woman, silhouette, and allure that I want to channel, and that leads me toward a certain type of shoe. In the atelier, we play with so many ideas and see what inspiration happens along the way. It’s very experimental, and sometimes it’s by chance that something gets created after several transformations.
How is your art background translated into your designs?
For me, the sketching process is very important and where the whole design process begins. It’s the fastest way for me to check to see if an idea has any validity. I am lucky I have the gift of art, because it’s easier for me than articulating an idea verbally. I think of the drawing as 3D, even though it’s on paper. This aspect is important, because the body—the leg and the foot—is asymmetrical, so nothing is the same on both sides. It’s very important to have a pre-vision of the 360 degrees. I love the anatomy aspect of designing shoes. As a shoe designer, I have to be obsessed with this aspect and know just the right points of tension. I started dancing at 13-years old, and that has certainly helped me in the sense that I am body conscious.
Where do you look for inspiration regarding color and shape?
I have lots of tear sheets, but because I am not organized I lose them! I have no ritual. Usually, the collection is the result of a collage of concepts, and since it has to be ready at a certain point in time, it’s just about landing on the mix of inspiration that go together. It’s about knowing when and how to edit these ideas. I see inspiration everywhere—I can look at your shoes and think about what I love about them and how I’d design them better.
How does this environment influence your work?
I hate to sit at my desk! I can’t be stuck in meetings or doing desk work for too long. I’m in the atelier a lot, because it’s more efficient for me to be sharing ideas. I don’t need to be isolated to consider concepts—I’d rather be collaborating. Because of the fashion rhythm now, it’s a permanent circle of motion, which doesn’t bother me. I like that consistency.
Tell us about the interesting mix of objects in your space.
It’s a mix of things I love. I am drawn to things with a sense of geometry to them—spheres, cubes, and random shapes. I like the contrast of manufactured, industrial shapes and naturally occurring ones like coral or pure iron. I like when natural and manmade mimic each other in a way.
This whole space has a distinct feel. Is your apartment also similar?
Yes, it’s very similar, but even more black! Recently, this very sophisticated guy told me that my style was kind of rock ‘n roll, but I never would have thought that. I guess it’s just that I love black—always black wood floors and all furniture in black whether marble or velvet.
Do you think Paris as a city is reflected in your designs?
In every way it’s there—in every thing that I do. It’s very difficult to define though. We say that all Italians are born with Michelangelo in the eye, and that makes them different from other people in the world. For French people or New Yorkers, it’s the same. There’s a certain inherent aesthetic that comes from one’s environment and culture. Paris is very balanced in terms of size and architecture—with a mix of modern and old. This really gives a sense of time and history. Maybe living in such a historic context also drives the desire for something new and even a bit futuristic. Memory is important for finding things beautiful, but as a designer we need to also introduce something new and different.
On that note, how do you continue to evolve and stay relevant?
For me, fashion is my way to express. For some, it’s a way to make business, but for me it truly is a creative process, and luckily I’m still finding ideas that I love and that I think are beautiful. I want to continue to achieve and create, even if one day it’s not only shoes or fashion. With a shoe brand, it’s difficult to express a total aesthetic because it’s just one thing—it’s not the entire vision of the woman like it would be with couture. You’re only ever telling part of the story. I will find ways to continue to add to that story in different ways as time goes on.