Hervé Peugnet was born in 1957, and after working as a hairdresser and milliner, he turned his hand to fashion. In 1981 he got the chance to work for Karl Lagerfeld at Fendi. Lagerfeld advised Peugnet to change his surname as it was too difficult for Americans to pronounce. Hervé chose Léger when he created his first collection in 1985.
In 1986, Azzedine Alaia created a collection that used Lycra bands, spawning the age of ‘body-con’ fashion. Léger may have copied Alaia’s idea or independently developed a similar style. He said he had been inspired by seeing scraps of Lycra trim in a work room and wondered how they would work sewn together. Léger launched his ‘bender’ dresses, as he called them, made of knitted bands of Lycra in 1989, and offered them every year for the next eight years. Although he used other materials to create other fashions, it was these bandage-like dresses for which Léger became known.
The Canadian Bronfman family who owned Seagram’s Group bankrolled Léger’s business when they were diversifying their portfolio (outside of liquor) in the 1980s. However, due to the economic recession of the 1990s, over-extended projects, and many poor business decisions, like the Canary Wharf development in London, Seagram’s sold off Hervé Léger in September 1998 to BCBG Max Azria Group of Los Angeles. Not liking his new boss, Léger quit in 1999, losing the rights to his own name. Hervé took the new last name of Leroux in 2000.
Max Azria was surprised to discover that the Léger bandage dresses weren’t as simply made as they appeared. The back catalogue had been ransacked before the buy-out, so Azria had to buy back samples for the company archives, mostly on eBay, as well as from a former muse of Hervé Léger. In April 2007 Max Azria relaunched the Hervé Léger ‘bender’ or bandage dress, and the next year presented the Hervé Léger by Max Azria collection at the Fall 2008 New York Fashion Week.