The love affair between Hermès and Japan is an old, passionate and faithful one. Like all great romances, it started innocently enough when, in 1911, Prince Kan’in Kotohito, the Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese cavalry brigade, approached the esteemed French house to produce a bespoke set of harnesses for his trusty steed. Soon Hermès were supplying saddlery to the entire Imperial House and by 1961 their products were made available to the Japanese public. Fast-forward to 2016 and the brand now has 40 stores across the Land of the Rising Sun (including those in airports), and while every other luxury house jostles to strengthen its position here in the wake of the Chinese downturn, none can boast the integrated and sincere relationship that Hermès enjoys.
For Veronique Nichanian, the softly-spoken head of menswear at Hermès since 1988, that relationship is not just professional, it’s deeply personal. “I first came to Japan 30 years ago and I’ve returned 52 or 53 times,” she says, sat in an office at the top of the Tokyo flagship store; situated in the heart of the Ginza district, it’s a 12-metre-wide slip of a building designed by Renzo Piano and made from 13,000 glass blocks. “I love Tokyo, I have so many friends in this city. I should live here, really – I’m not even joking!” Nichanian might be full of cold and sniffling, but her enthusiasm for the city remains undiminished; asked for her must-see recommendations, she takes a scrap of paper and excitedly scribbles down a list of in-the-know addresses and draws a map detailing all the backstreet routes.