In the Atelier of Alexis Mabille
Alexis Mabille is intent on women ditching their little black dresses this season and embrace the colours of the rainbow.
Saturday morning, 11am
Alexis Mabille’s Couture Spring/Summer 2012 runway show is only two days away, but all is quiet in the French couturier’s spacious atelier located in a small quiet street not far from Republic.
Appearing extremely relaxed, Mabille is still trying to select models for the show and is now watching videos of catwalks and commenting on the models’ suitability to one of his assistants. The day before, he had auditioned over 150 models but he has not yet completely finalized his line-up. “I’m looking for very specific models for this collection. They must be very tall, with a very strong, dynamic look. But they must also have separate identities,” he explains.
For his new couture collection, Mabille was inspired by a sentence in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time: “It’s only women who do not know how to dress that are afraid of colours. A dress may be brilliant without vulgarity and quiet without being dull.”
Titled Colour Therapy, the collection is a bouquet of monochrome colours, with each bold look worn by a “femme-fleur” (woman flower).
“Frankly, I'm tired of seeing women wear black so, this season, I’m very tough with the fashionistas,” he laughs, adding more seriously that the cheerful monochrome theme allowed him to create a collection of clothes that had no direct link in terms of shape or overall design, but still look united by the colour-play.
From shocking pink and tangerine orange to icy blue and moss green, his collection promotes a fearless approach to colour, though their aggressiveness is always counterbalanced by the use of uber-feminine fabrics like Chantilly lace, organza and duchess satin and with touches of frivolity in the designs throughout – cascading ruffle sleeves, trains, delicate fringe works, tassels and bows.
Mabille says he likes to give a certain impression of light-heartedness in his design, “otherwise it can get very boring.”
“My style is quite playful and frivolous; there are fun ideas in each collection. Basically, they’re all rather classical designs even bourgeois, but they have a lighter twist, a sense of contradiction,” he adds. An oxblood evening boat neck sheath (which was later worn by Dita Von Teese at the Sidaction Gala Dinner) epitomizes this sense of contradiction; while the overall cut is rather demure, a sheer top yoke and lace insert along the waist and hips provides plenty of sauciness.
“There is a lot of work on the fabrics in this collection, particularly lace, which uses different techniques including appliqué and encrustation embroidered by hand. Sometimes you even have lace on lace effects. All of this looks very simple but it’s a lot of work in the atelier!” Mabille notes.
Mabille is also planning another dramatic runway show to reinforce the distinct colour block of his collection with a full-face colourful make-up and an over-sized paper flower in the same monochrome colour on top of a standing up plait, all in the same matching colour.
“I got the idea from a famous photo by Irving Penn of his wife, the iconic model Lisa Fonssagrives,” the designer explains. In the photo, Fonssagrives’s face was suffused with pink from the sunlight coming through her umbrella
“Each model will be perched on 15cm high heels, and, with the flower, each silhouette will be about 2.20m tall. I’m really looking to create this impression of a long, graceful stem,” he adds.
For his previous Haute Couture collection, inspired by animals from the Fable of Jean de la Fountaine, Mabille had only worked on evening wear. This time, the twenty-one monochrome looks, named after flowers, offer his clientele a mix of daywear, including a kaftan, as well as evening wear. Many of the designs continue to incorporate his signature bows, albeit very discreetly – casually dropping down from a shoulder or tied at the back like a train.
“This season is all about wearability,” Mabille explains, “It’s great to do more theatrical works, like I did last season, and this time, the proportions are still spectacular, but it’s also very wearable, which obviously is very important for clients.”
Mabille says he didn’t have any specific woman in mind when designing his collection because he likes the idea that any women can appropriate his designs.
“A couture collection is about proposing an idea. After that, you work case by case with each woman to see how you can adapt this idea to her. Couture is not about imposing a style every season like in pret; it’s a collaborative work with a client. Very often we can do a completely new creation based on an idea which has nothing to do with the original dress. You can just keep an emotion,” he notes.
Mabille’s large desk is littered with books, drawings, pieces of jewellery and the large paper flowers that have been prepared to adorn the models’ heads on the runway. He proudly shows off the long leather gloves, each with a row of delicate button on their inside. “We’ve had a hard time having them especially tinted to match the outfits,” he concedes.
Many of the dresses are already completed and now hang wrapped under sheer plastic. In the spacious atelier above his showroom, where assistants are now preparing the prêt-a-porter collection which is being opened to clients’ viewing this afternoon, the atmosphere amongst the seamstresses appears religiously studious. While some music plays quietly in the background, there is no talking as each of the skilled workers is fully concentrating on their needlework.
At the 2012 runway show, Mabille launched a confident collection that incorporated beautifully cut sheaths, a smoking with Spencer jacket, a large raglan coat with plenty of red-carpet-ready gowns like a lace detailed, wide-neck, pale pink gown with a drop-waist pleated tulle skirt and a large satin bow at the waist adorned with crystal appliqués that was worn a few weeks later by Katy Perry at the MusiCares Person of the Year Tribute to Paul McCartney.
First published in Couture by Designaré – Vol 2 (April 2012)