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.
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.