How could we not fall for a designer whose particular penchants include girls with gap-toothed grins, the way women dressed at horse races in 1926, and white? (Which, she insists, is anything but a non-color.)
For Delphine Manivet, finding the wedding gown as an object to devote her creativity seems the result of three things: a sense of fantasy she's held onto fiercely since childhood, a respect for her instinct above all, and fate. In her early twenties Delphine left coursework in economics and moved to Paris to pursue her persisting dream of becoming a fashion designer. She soon found herself working at Rochas, and as it happened, beginning a search for her own wedding dress. When she couldn't find anything that seemed right, she decided to design her own.
The symbolism of the wedding gown itself, eighteenth century portraits, Brigitte Bardot, and Madeleine Vionnet are inspirations among many which Delphine brings to the table when beginning a new collection. And whether it's a painting that broke boundaries or another luminary designer (a predecessor you might say) whose respect for women was inarguably reflected in her silhouettes, it's clear that the individual girl is what Delphine finds inspiring, and thus the focus of her work. Her challenge, she notes, is finding what is self-evident in every one of her clients and then reminding them of it. Precision of cut, lightness in draping, a luxurious fabric, and simplicity, she believes, are the best ways of revealing a woman's unique femininity.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
When I began designing wedding gowns, my only goal was to create dresses that myself and my friends would want to wear. To me, a wedding gown should have sense of airiness, authenticity, and a streamlined silhouette. I also enjoy marrying modern with vintage, like the way an old, yellowed lace looks next to bright white cotton. Each collection is a search to find a nice balance between dream and simplicity.
Can you speak a bit about your design process?
Every day is an opportunity to gather inspiration. Of course I look to fashion past—the fine stitchwork on Marie-Antoinette's dresses, the ingenuity of Jeanne Lanvin—but it's also very much about the women of today, observing them and striving to understand what makes them feel beautiful. If I have an idea for a dress, I document whatever I can about it and then let it rest. As I do this I create a collection from which I can pull, add to, and adjust at any time. It's only when I feel a design is complete—when all of the elements such as textiles, lines, and details are there—that I decide to sketch it. I'll make as many sketches as necessary until it matches what I imagined.
What role does the city of Paris play in your designs?
Paris is mostly a "know-how" reference in terms of fashion; it's the encyclopedia of couture.
How would you describe the 'je ne sais quoi' so famously attributed to Parisian women?
This goes beyond the "very chic under any circumstance" quality. It's interesting to note that Parisian women are those in Europe who work the most while having children. They are women and mothers at the same time and need to stay feminine and elegant in all circumstances.
Share with us a best-kept Parisian secret?
Cheesecake at the Café Costes in the Village Royal just next to our showroom, rue Boissy d'Anglas in the 8th arrondissement. It's a true culinary art.
Your favorite places to look for vintage finds?
I've loved rummaging through flea markets, charity sale boxes, etc. since my mother took me as a child, and I've never lost this need to look for pieces so full of history. Today, I'm addicted to the French auction house Drouot for the older pieces; and for vintage pieces, I love the store Chez Paulette, rue Bichat in the 10th arrondissement.
What are your favorite fabrics to work with?
Calais lace, mousselines, pleated silk, and embroideries are all part of my world. I have a profound admiration for the work the centuries-old mills, with whom I partner with, carry out. It's fuelled my passion for beautiful fabrics. I feel as if I've inherited a fragile, disappearing art.
Could you tell us a bit about the lace used in the Appolinaire Blouse?
It's based on an 18th century motif, made exclusively for my brand.
What inspired you when designing the Swan and Mickael Gowns?
What the Swan and Mickael have in common is "suivez-moi jeune homme" which means: follow me young man. On dresses worn by women in the 19th century, there were sometimes two panels of lace left floating at the back of the dress to entice the men to follow. The expression, and these two gowns, was inspired by this forgotten detail.
How do you decide on the names of your dresses?
I give each dress a man's name. For me, it's a way to pay tribute to the man who is never included in the process of choosing or making the dress, but counts in the choice for sure.
If you could dress anyone who would you love to see in one of your gowns?
Without a doubt Vanessa Paradis. Not only is she a childlike woman (which I love) but she has a particular kind of beauty and a lot of personality. She has created a style that is personal, unique, timeless, and now a reference.
How would you describe your everyday style?
Being a working mother, I need to be ready in ten minutes. I'd rather spend more time sleeping than in front of a mirror—that's my beauty secret. So I make simple choices. This same secret extends to my designs: simplicity well-carried out.
You mention the design of your salon is considered down to the scent. What music are you playing?
Norman Cook's Remix of “Brimful Of Asha” and Petula Clark's “My Love”. I match every collection with a playlist that's then heard in the store.
What does 2012 hold for Delphine Manivet?
To make many more young women happy on this important day, and to continue to expand my little fashion house.
Photography courtesy of Elizabeth Messina, Cecile Burban & Thomas Vollaire.