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Ester Manas : Big Again, Fashion and Femininity 3.0

May 20, 2018

Winner of the Galeries Lafayette award at the recent Festival de Hyères, Ester Manas – graduated of La Cambre Mode(s) – is preparing to see her collection offered in the French department store

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Text by Marie Honnay
Photography by Balthazar Delepierre

Winner of the Galeries Lafayette award at the recent Festival International de Mode, d’Accessoires et de Photographie de Hyères, Frenchwoman Ester Manas – educated at La Cambre Mode(s) and living in Brussels – is preparing to see her collection offered in the French department store next December. This interview was the opportunity to discover the universe of an atypical, simultaneously strong and fragile designer, who, with her BIG AGAIN collection, is giving us a lesson in fashion and femininity 3.0.

TLmag: With your characteristic outspokenness, you told us, when we crossed paths at Hyères, that you would have preferred to compete at the festival as a Belgian designer. Why? 

Ester Manas: In terms of fashion, I owe everything to this country. When I first arrived in Brussels, initially to study graphic design, I hadn’t even thought about studying fashion. But after a year, I discovered that I was fascinated by 3D design. It was during my first year in fashion design that I heard about the festival. For the students of La Cambre, Hyères is a significant goal. We all dream of finding ourselves part of the big family of festival award winners. Today, I still live in Brussels. My circle of friends and relatives is here. When I came to Belgium, at 18 years old, I immediately felt an immense sense of benevolence from the people. Even though I was 1,200 kilometres from my native city of Toulouse, I was immediately at home. 

TLmag: The BIG AGAIN project – which won you an award at Hyères  first began taking shape at the beginning of your studiesTell us about it 

E.M.: For our entrance exam for La Cambre, we had to create a magazine that expressed our universe. Mine, baptised BIG, denounced fashion’s dictates on thinness. Advertisements and the media love everything big, so I don’t understand why society continues to reject large women. This discrimination has always shocked me. 

TLmag: The collection that appealed to Galeries Lafayette is the ultimate result of that first project. What occurred in between the two? 

E.M.: Between BIG and this series of pieces, five years passed. In the fourth, I tried my luck at the festival with a classic collection focussed on pieces for thin girls, size 36. I failed the selection trials. In hindsight, even though I was disappointed, I realised that this way of looking at fashion didn’t suit me. So I reoriented my reflection. It was when I saw an extendible table in an Ikea catalogue that I felt a ‘click’. I said to myself, that’s the solution: extendible pieces. I suggested to Tony Delcampe (director of La Cambre Mode(s), ed.) that I base my work on Ophélie Mac, a ceramist who really inspires me. I think he liked what she was doing, so he trusted me. 

TLmag: For your work, selecting the models was crucial. 

E.M.: Yes, in the sense that I was looking for girls whose bodies spoke to me. I met them in the restaurant where I was working, and at school. I even did research on the internet. I asked them to speak to me about their bodies. Based on their testimonials, I tried to produce a complete wardrobe mixing sportswear and work wear. Certain details were very important to me. In particular, I designed raised collars that require the women to walk with their heads held high, to be proud of who they are. 

TLmag: In your collection, all of the pieces are adjustable, so they can be worn and shared by friends. 

E.M.: I know by experience that a girl who wears size 48 can feel terribly frustrated to not be able to wear the same clothes are her size-36 friend. So I imagined elastic pieces that can be adapted depending on a woman’s morphology. 

TLmag: This open-mindedness regarding the body is strongly anchored in your generation, wouldn’t you say? 

E.M.: I am part of a generation of designers who want to give a real sense to their work. Look at the collection that won first prize at Hyères this year. Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh proposed pieces that question the destruction of the seabed. I think that our generation is characterised by this honesty that emerges from our ideas. 

TLmag: Your award will enable you to get a foothold in the reality of the sector: a sector that can be complicated and even cruel. 

E.M.: At Hyères, we had the chance to be sponsored by many companies, which enables us to create collections using high-quality fabrics. It’s a real opportunity. During my studies, I had to struggle pretty hard, every year, to finance my work. My end-of-year collection cost me 10,000 euro. My parents took out a very large loan, as did I,  so that I could complete my studies. It all required a lot of sacrifice. So clearly, assistance from Swarovski or Woolmark, and then this award from Galeries Lafayette, is a golden opportunity. It’s a unique chance to discover the other side of the profession. At La Cambre Mode(s), I was pushed to develop my creativity, and to construct a universe. Thanks to this collaboration, I will, for the first time, learn to cost pieces and to develop a store-ready collection. Being given the possibility to develop even further my work around playful and adjustable clothes absolutely thrills me, as you can imagine. 

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