Leïla Menchari, who turned store windows into art, dies at 93

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Leïla Menchari, who turned store windows into art, dies at 93
A display at an exhibition devoted to Leïla Menchari, at the Grand Palais in Paris. A longtime Hermès window dresser, she created fantastical worlds that held the gaze of passers-by. She died of the novel coronavirus. She was 93. Guillaume de Laubier via The New York Times.

by Vanessa Friedman

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- For more than a half-century, Leïla Menchari transformed the windows of the Hermès flagship store in Paris into exotic worlds that allowed any passerby, even for just a minute, free access to the fantasies of a luxury brand.

She built enormous winged feet and spinning meteorites and embedded a sparkling Pegasus within a jeweled geode. She brought in artists to lend their visions to the displays. In the process she elevated the store window into an art form unto itself.

Her windows at 42 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, the store’s address, became so famous that the Grand Palais in Paris in 2017 held an exhibit devoted to her work, “Hermès Takes Flight: The Worlds of Leïla Menchari.”

“Hermès wouldn’t be Hermès without Leïla,” Axel Dumas, the chief executive of the luxury house, said at the opening of the exhibit.

The filmmaker Josée Dayan made a documentary about her, and the French novelist Michel Tournier christened her “The Queen of Enchantment.”

Menchari died in Paris on Saturday She was 93. The cause was the novel coronavirus, her friend Carla Sozzani said.

“She taught us to look at the world through the prism of color,” said Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the artistic director of Hermès and a cousin of Axel. “She was a storyteller without equal.”

Menchari was born in September 1927 in Tunis to a family of wealthy landowners; her father was a lawyer, and her mother a court clerk and women’s rights activist. Menchari was the first woman admitted to the Beaux-Arts institute in Tunis. She also studied at the Beaux-Arts school in Paris, where she created theater sets that became a template for her windows.

She briefly modeled for the designer Guy Laroche before joining the decoration team at Hermès in 1961. She was appointed director of window displays and, in 1978, of the silk colors committee, which determines the palette for each season of the brand’s scarves.

She was also instrumental in bringing such Tunisian fashion talents as the designer Azzedine Alaïa to France.

She retired in 2013.

“When designing a scene, there must always be some mystery, because mystery is a springboard to dreams,” Menchari told Vogue Arabia in an interview in 2017. “Mystery is an invitation to fill in the gaps left by the imagination.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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