Leïla Menchari, 1927-2020

On the same Parisian street, inside the same empty glass box, an artist manifested dreams; we’re happy to immerse ourselves.

12.24.2020

In the waning moments of this year, we think of Leïla Menchari. She was an artist of the most magical sort. On the same Parisian street, inside the same empty glass box, she worked loyally for over half a century. She materialized fantasies. She designed dreams. She time traveled. To anyone’s standards, let alone to our currently starved minds, she led her life with a vigorous curiosity and her creative endeavors followed suit. Tragically, the world lost Leila this year to a battle with COVID-19. So, it is armed with her adventurous spirit and her awe for the beauty in the world, that we enter the new year… with some trepidation and much hope.

On paper, Leïla was the Director of Windows at Hermès. In practice, she harnessed an imaginative childhood spent in Tunisia, the saturated landscapes and culture of storytelling never left her. After training at the Beaux-Arts in Paris, she began to work designing sets for stages, until she eventually secured a role at Hermes. It was within those very confined parameters that Leïla’s sophisticated imagination took flight. Without leaving Paris, she excavated the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, hung tangled and dripping jungle vines, carved mountain ranges and dressed felines in ballgowns. In a fantastic interview conducting by Vogue Arabia in 2017, Leïla explained this transition from stage to window and parsed the unique parameters of window displays:

“I had done theater sets at the Beaux-Arts and had loved it. But this theater set is far more difficult: there’s no text, no movement, and no distance. You have to cover everything: you’re a designer, painter, composer, theater director… Once I did a simple one with almost nothing in it: a beach, a reef sculpted from white marble which resembled a wave, a pair of sunglasses, and a swimsuit. And I had Eau d’Orange Verte sprayed into the street. Jean-Louis Dumas’ initial reaction was to say “But Leïla, there’s nothing there!” and then he saw a lady inhale the scent and he said to her, “Breathe, Madame, breathe,” and with that he attracted more people, passed on my story, and there was soon a crowd. The key is to be able to evoke things people have liked by expressing them differently. “

Hermes has published “Leïla Menchari: The Queen of Enchantment” as an effort to immortalize the indelible mark she left there and to honor the worlds she created at 24 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré. The images featured here are scanned directly from this book and chronicle what we found to be the most striking of an incredible oeuvre.

Cabines de Bains, Summer 1979
Orchidees, Spring 1980
La Legende des Cerfs, Winter 1980
La Comtesse de Segur, Summer 1982
Conte de Chats, Winter 1986
Porcelain chez Hermés, Summer 1989
Les Rogations chez Hermés, Summer 1990
Le Cheval de Sable, Spring 1993
Les Soleils d'or, Winter 1994
Partir d'un Pied Léger, Spring 1995
L'Afrique au caeur, Winter 1997
Solstice d'eté Edans les Etoiles, Summer 1999
Tresse... Trame... Tissage, Autumn 2000
Noel 2000, Winter 2000
La Beauté du Monde, Spring 2001
Kilim, Autumn 2002
Un Jardin en Méditarranée, Summer 2003
Cheval Surprise, Spring 2004
Spring 2005
L'Egypte, Summer 2005
Autumn 2005
Spring 2006
Spring 2007
Summer 2007
Autumn 2007
Spring 2008
Autumn 2009
Spring 2011
Winter 2012
With Annie Beaumel in decoration workshop at 24, Faubourg-Saint-Honore, Paris, 1965
Photographed by Edouard Boubat in the window of 24, Fauborg-Saint-Honoré, Paris, 1985
With Pierre Giraudon, in his workshop at Chilly-Mazrin, 1989
In her workshop at 24, Fauborg-Saint-Honoré, Paris, 1992
In Paris, 2010