After being nominated for the prestigious LVMH Prize and winning the H&M Design Award, Ester Manas was asked to design for Galeries Lafayette at the ‘Festival de Hyères’. Ester Manas and Balthazar Delepierre are the designers behind one of the hottest fashion labels of the moment. It's inclusive “one size fits all” message is unambiguous. Serge Carreira, Head of Emerging Talent with La Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode is a fan. Both took part in the recent ‘Sphère’ showroom project launched by the Federation aimed at finding promising young brands. FashionUnited stopped by and caught up with the pair.
You're a team and you're both designers. Does that make you stronger?
Ester Manas: Yes of course, we complement each other. We met at the ‘La Cambre art and design’ school in Brussels. I was studying fashion and Balthazar specialised in typography before branching off into fashion. There, we found encouragement and an outlet for our skills in model making and graphic design. I became top of my class with my "Big Again" collection because I couldn't find a garment in my size (French size 44). If you look in premium and luxury brands, again and again the sizes stop at FR40. That's how we came up with our new “All Inclusive Out Now” logo.
Balthazar Delepierre: It's true that we came along at the right time. Our message is about inclusiveness and empowering women. But it’s not especially political. Our starting point was that “real” girls are not on the catwalks. Instead they're all around us, they're our friends, they're girls we meet throughout our lives, they're out in the street, and we wanted to design for them.
This is what inspired the “Big Again” graduate collection
Manas: Yes... It all happened so fast. With this collection, we won several student competitions, followed by the H&M award and the ‘Festival de Hyères’ in 2018. So we enriched and embellished this first collection, which was my graduation project, in order to make a capsule wardrobe for Galleries Lafayette for summer 2019. We had to convert these fully handmade pieces to a collection that could be mass produced. We learned a lot. So spurred on by these events, it seemed natural to launch our own brand in time for winter 2019-20.
How did you organise yourself in the beginning in order to go from “just starting out” to being a label “to be reckoned with”?
Manas: We had to act fast to find solutions to build a small business quickly. We bought end-of-series stock fabrics from fashion houses. That's the first thing we did. Then we designed prototypes in our Brussels studio. And then, completely by chance, we discovered the Mulieris workshop, a stone's throw away from our studio, run by women for women on a back-to-work scheme. Everything came together in this really logical way. We produce locally.
And there was an instant buzz…
Delepierre: Yes, from our point of view. Our third collection is selling like hot cakes. We have a strong presence in the south of France and in Germany. At the moment, our collections are on sale in four retail outlets, in Los Angeles, London and Nice, as well as via our e-shop. Thanks to ‘Sphere’, we've sold a lot of pieces and things are likely to evolve. It's great. What's more, as designers, we want to start a conversation with our clothing, which is the ultimate communication channel, rather than merely deliver a “message”. We are designers, trying to create beautiful products that are for everyone and can be worn by everyone.
Are you going to stick with the one-size-fits-all concept? Isn't it difficult to come up with fresh looks within this framework?
Delepierre: We believe that this is a strong statement, providing us with a basis on which we can offer style and innovation each season. It’s a statement which will never go out of fashion.
Manas: My main goal is to get away from the homogeneous approach to bodies; to produce a garment that evolves with a woman's body, a garment that grows with it. We have one size available which fits women from size 34 to 50. Throughout her life, the female body changes and evolves. We offer a sustainable garment, with no size variations, no overproduction and therefore no wasted stock. We’ve thought of every aspect of the business.
Model making skills are obviously key to what we offer. Discreetly voluminous raglan sleeves on trapezoid-shaped jackets that are loose over the chest, oversized designs that can be constricted thanks to gimmicks like drawstrings under the chest, at the waist or hips, and expandable “double” gatherings.
The collection boasts a truly modern streetwear vibe
Delepierre: we are inspired by our circle of friends who are in their mid-20s. Our oversized jackets have functional removable pockets whose tabs tighten around the body, or we offer offbeat peplum jackets and cape-style dressy jackets, etc. We use our friends as models. And we always shoot the garment on two sizes: a size 36 and a size 44-46, so that the buyer can see that the piece fits both body-types.
Manas: I want our clothes to make women feel more confident, more empowered. Far from the stereotypical image that the media reflects back to us. In fact, my winter collection is inspired by a little girl who tries on her mother's clothes and dreams of being a grown-up, of becoming empowered and of broadening her horizons. We tend to be more inspired by “moments” and "highlights” than merely having themes running through our collections. For example, last summer, the collection revolved around well-being; that great feeling after a post-beach shower when you slip into a sensual off-the-shoulder top that glides over your sun-drenched skin before sitting down to relax on a terrace. That's the message I wanted to get across.
Many young modern designers seem to distinguish themselves from their elders by placing a lot of importance on “meaning” in fashion in terms of inclusiveness, responsibility, etc. Do you see yourselves as belonging to this trend?
Manas and Delepierre: There are so many labels today! What's the point of creating a new label that has nothing to say, that doesn't bring anything new to the table or add value? Again, the garment is a vector. It must be beautiful and be a marker of quality. We want to “create”; our job is to embody style. But the era of the almighty artistic director - the one we are taught to be in fashion design colleges - seems to be over. We're not expressing our ego; we're speaking to women.
Moreover, if our generation is searching for meaning and wants to act responsibly when it comes to fashion and production, it is because previous generations have paved the way. They got the ball rolling, enabling us to have more freedom. The challenges have evolved and so has society.
This article was originally published on FashionUnited.FR, translated and edited.
Photos : Ester Manas