Ester Manas Aims to Bust Fashion’s Size Ceiling
PARIS — While fashion is making strides to better reflect its customers, one area still feels underserved in the designer segment: inclusive sizing.
Enter Ester Manas, a semifinalist for this year’s LVMH Prize for Young Designers, and one of the 10 brands making their debut on the official Paris Fashion Week calendar this season.
Cofounders Ester Manas and Balthazar Delepierre have caught the industry’s attention with their novel approach: one-size-fits-all adjustable clothes that accommodate everyone from a U.S. size 2 to a size 18 — and soon up to a size 22 — thanks to adjustable belts, straps and snaps.
The Brussels-based duo won the Galeries Lafayette Prize at the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography in 2018 with their “Big Again” collection, and went on to design a capsule line for the French department store chain.
Now they are ready to take their brand to the next level, backed by a new partnership with business accelerator Tomorrow London, which will handle sales from this season, which also marks the launch of their first handbag line.
Though they are unable to travel to Paris due to restrictions designed to limit the spread of COVID-19, joining the French capital’s official lineup has proved a silver lining of the pandemic for Manas and Delepierre, who are both holding down part-time jobs to finance their label.
MM6 Maison Margiela RTW Spring 2021
“Doing a digital presentation puts us on an even footing with much larger brands, even though our budget is obviously much smaller. It’s amazing that we have access to the same audience and the same platform,” Manas said in a Zoom interview.
The couple met while studying at La Cambre in Brussels. After stints at Balenciaga, Paco Rabanne and Acne Studios, Manas grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of offer for women her size. Delepierre noted that even among emerging fashion brands, the label remains an oddity.
“We’ve taken part in a lot of design competitions, and what strikes us is that still today, we’re the only brand proposing an inclusive wardrobe, not just in terms of communication,” Delepierre said. “We always think it’s funny that the moment there is a size 8 model on a catwalk…”
“Everyone collapses, all of Paris is in a tizzy,” Manas said, finishing his sentence. “That’s really ‘bodywashing,’ the size equivalent of ‘greenwashing.’ It’s all for image. At the end of the day, where is the product?”
Balthazar Delepierre and Ester Manas Courtesy of Ester Manas
The duo incorporate inclusivity and sustainability into every aspect of their business, from the design to the look book to the shopping experience. In addition to reducing waste by producing only one size, they use recycled fabrics and manufacture the pieces locally, in a vocational training workshop for vulnerable workers.
Julie Gilhart, chief development officer at Tomorrow London, said with the right support, the brand has a lot of potential.
“Not only is it inclusive sizing, but it has some sustainability to it. It’s casual and easy, and it looks like a completely merchandized collection. You would never know it had a size inclusivity to it. It just looks stylish,” she said.
“They’re addressing a market need, they’re going about it in a great way, and they need for people to understand this new kind of story,” Gilhart added. “It can grow to be one of those go-to brands.”
Their spring 2021 collection, titled “Superhuman,” is a tribute both to cartoon superheroes and the real-life women who inspire Manas on a daily basis. She took her cue from female-focused Nineties kids’ shows like “Sailor Moon” and “Totally Spies.”
“A lot of young designers seem to thrive on disaster. We have a hard time with all this dystopia, and would rather come up with positive solutions than constantly criticize the state of the world,” Manas said.
Thanks to the magic of make-believe, their digital presentation is going to transport the models into dream environments — much like their last look book, which featured models Photoshopped into settings that included an awards show red carpet, a boardroom and the United Nations.
Designing the collection during lockdown allowed the pair to fine-tune their approach, after the whirlwind of participating in the LVMH Prize showroom in Paris in February.
“For the first time, we had a lot of time to design the collection, which has almost never happened before, because we’ve had to deliver collections with frankly indecent deadlines,” Delepierre said.
“In our first three collections, we experimented a lot with each type of garment and tried new techniques. This time, we took a step back and figured out which systems work, and which systems are charming but not necessarily practical,” he added.
The enforced break also helped them realize that while they need to grow the brand in order to be able to work on it full-time, it’s best not to run before you can walk. The label currently has four points of sale: their own web site, Printemps.com, Hattori in Nice and Please Do Not Enter in Los Angeles.
“We realized when we got to the LVMH showroom that we had the smallest set-up of all 20 brands in attendance, and the smallest budget,” Delepierre said.
“We were next to people we admired and it was really awe-inspiring, but we realized we still have a lot of room to grow, and it’s very nice to think that we might have the time to do that,” he added.
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