Did You Wear a Bandage Dress to Your Prom?
Hervé Léger, the man behind the iconic form fitting gown, passed away earlier this month in Paris. He was 60.
Hervé Léger lost his name and company in the aftermath of a corporate sell-off, then re-established himself with the private atelier Hervé L. Leroux. But his legacy will be defined by the bandage dress and show-stopping Oscar gowns. Hervé Léger died in Paris, October 4, he was 60.
The self-taught Léger trained as a milliner, sculptor, and hairdresser, but his gift for draping and love for women’s curves helped him create a bodycon legacy: first with his bandage dress, and later with draped jersey gowns when Léger became Leroux. Originally inspired by discarded hat elastic, the bandage dress became one of the defining looks of the 1990s, worn by Cindy Crawford, Iman, and Charlize Theron. The dress was later revived by BCBG Max Azria in the early aughts.
Today is a very sad day. I'm so sad about @hervelegerleroux passing away. The kindest, honest and most creative soul. You are a star, and you always will be. The finest! I will never forget this magic day in Paris together with you and your wonderful sister @hervelegersister I will treasure it forever. I will never forget the freedom you gave me and how you made me feel. You will always be in my heart. Always ❤️#HERVELEGERLEROUX Rest In Peace ❤️ My deepest condolences to @hervelegersister
Born in 1957 in Bapaume, France as Hervé Peugnet, Léger had three lives: first as Peugnet, then as Léger, and finally as Leroux. His mentor Karl Lagerfeld suggested ‘Léger’; the two met at a Chloé party in the early ’80s. Léger’s first job in fashion was assisting Lagerfeld at Fendi and Chanel. In 1985, Léger founded his namesake label, where the bandage dress was born. That famous dress sculpted the curves of ’90s glamazon supermodels, socialites, and actors on the red carpet. Hervé Léger campaigns were shot by Herb Ritts, Karl Lagerfeld and, in some of their earliest commercial work, Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin.
There are two Canadian connections to Léger. His first label was founded with backing from Seagram, the Canadian conglomerate controlled by the Bronfman family. Edgar Bronfman Jr.’s second wife, Venezuelan heiress Clarissa Alcock-Bronfman, often wore Hervé Léger to society events and chose Léger to design the gown for her 1994 wedding in Caracas. Sadly for Léger, his backer’s late-’90s asset selloff allowed BCBG Max Azria to acquire the brand. In early 1999, Léger was forced to leave his own company and abandon his name.
Léger’s longtime friend Karl Lagerfeld suggested his next name change, to Hervé L. Leroux. As Leroux, Hervé formed a new atelier with his sister Jocelyne Caudroy. Eschewing Paris fashion week, he showed collections privately, selling mostly from his Paris boutique and focusing on custom designs for special clients.
From 2004 to 2006, Léger was artistic director at Guy Laroche. The label had a licensing agreement with Vogue Patterns, allowing aspiring couturiers to study the master’s techniques. Another Canadian would enter Hervé’s life at this time: Ryerson alumnus Damian Yee first became Léger’s assistant, then his successor in 2006. Yee fondly recalls meeting the designer in his apartment above the Leroux showroom in Paris. Over tea and calissons, with Léger’s black pug snoozing in the corner, they reviewed Yee’s sketches. Hervé asked, “Can you start on Monday?” Léger was a “genius,” Yee said. “He took me under his wing to guide me in the art of making a woman feel beautiful.”
Though Léger’s stint at Laroche was brief, it produced one of the world’s best-loved Oscar dresses. In 2005, when Hilary Swank attended the Academy Awards to claim her second Oscar, for Million Dollar Baby, she wore a long-sleeved, backless gown from Leroux’s debut collection for Laroche. Dubbed “the Hillary,” it took twenty-seven yards of silk jersey, and sold for three seasons.
Max Azria’s 2007 revival of the bandage dress – reportedly based on a painstakingly assembled archive of vintage Léger – was a huge success at retail. In 2009, past FASHION editor Leanne Delap wrote about her experience with both vintage and contemporary bandage dresses. The vintage Léger won: “It felt tight at first but the construction is brilliant. Although it looks like it clings, there is actually well-boned lining, to put curves where one wants them and keep them from where one doesn’t.”
In 2013, the Fédération de la Haute Couture honoured Hervé with an invitation to present at the Paris couture. Earlier this year, when news came of BCBG Max Azria’s bankruptcy and acquisition by Marquee Brands, Léger expressed his surprise on Instagram with an enigmatic emoji.
Léger died in Paris on October 4, 2017 of a ruptured aneurysm. He was 60.