Manuel Manufactures is the name of the brand, so the handmade/artisanal work is important for you, this introduce your clothes more like artworks than just dresses, is this your concept of fashion?
I started this project as a way to reconnect to myself after working for luxury fashion houses like a bulldozer for eight years. The way I design and find ideas happens always in a very organic, intuitive way, by making the ideas in 3D, I directly feel the story, draping and carving lines and building the structure on the mannequin. I started experimenting with all the leftovers I had collected for all those years, many plastics I had found or fabrics from my travels, all with their own story. My main intention with this (ongoing) project is to express the fragility in which we live, when you consider the current state of the world, whatever role fashion has to do with that. I only use scraps and pieces that I once found, that were forgotten. In a way, I see myself like a seeker, an artist trying to make sense of our world. And I believe fashion has such a powerful voice and place, for its stories speak to so many people.
You are from Switzerland, but your own line of clothes has many Oriental, especially Indian features, how could you describe your fascination for the east clothing?
I travelled to India a few times as a child. And I still have some silk I bought in the sari shop from when I was like 10. I returned there when I was 30, and met an Indian painter, who set up a studio in Chennai for me to work in with two Tamil embroiderers. In 2020 I undertook a 3 month residency with the Swiss Arts Council of New Delhi, where I was able to meet many local and international designers, and exchange with craftsmen and design students. My fascination comes from their very strong relationship and understanding that the resources they work with comes from their land, the people they work with are from their land. The value of this craftmanship blew me away when I saw the finest embroidered textiles at the Sanskriti Foundation in New Delhi. In an age where the new generations are drawn to computer jobs, there, standing in front of these textiles, I was witnessing one of the most valuable expression of intelligence…The work of the human hand.
Your pieces are usually realized with very complex craftmanship processes like hand dying, draping and embroidery, where have you learned these procedures and how did they become your focus in design?
In each of my pieces, the process is the story and the story is inspired by how I live. I’ve always been making and figuring out as a child, so I’m always creating something with what I have at hand. I was working with Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga and later for Paco Rabanne, and always making ideas in 3D, crafting the finest textile samples, drapes or finishings. So I learned a lot there, how to bring clear ideas and translate emotions into the garment.
Later in my own project, we would go to the oldest natural remedy shop in old Madras, where everyone is yelling to be next in turn for their natural remedy order. I met once two twins with the most beautiful hair below their butt, they were coming to get a specific plant to help their hair from thinning. They said the government changed the water supply and since then their hair has grown thinner and thinner. These kinds of stories are in my dresses. I love how color holds a story, and using natural dyes especially more, as I use accidents as part of the experiment. I feel the colors are still changing since the dress was made. It’s evolving, maybe decaying too. I like it.
What inspires you more to design? And what is your creative method of working?
I like stories. Be it in my consulting jobs for fashion brands or my own line and work, design is for me intricately connected to emotion: a specific story or feel you want to convey. So maybe that’s why I’m procrastinating production, even though I could be doing it. In the process of making, that’s where I tell the story. It’s not pragmatic, I never really use patterns, and if I do, I get bored and start changing as I cut. All those years making clothes have given me a sharp eye on patterns. I mostly free-drape and sculpt on the doll a lot, meaning there is no trace of what I do mostly. That’s what’s different from the cycle of a garment when being designed for a commercial or production purpose, the chain is so long and involves so many different people. I tell my story through my craft: my energy goes into a moment, and that moment is ended when the piece is finished.
You did collaborate with many successful brands, but your aesthetic changes radically when it comes to work on commission. How difficult it is to stay true to yourself when you design for other brands?
This is a good question. For me, being true to myself is expressing one of my client’s story in the most beautiful and accurate way for them through the ideas and designs I create for them. When it comes to my work, I express what is important and relevant to me. When I left my fixed job in Paris, I was in such a rebellion against all the system, the waste we were creating and I acted upon my urge to change myself, even if it meant being a little more true to myself. My grandfather was a marine biologist in California, my other Swiss grandfather was protecting birds, and yet I was in one of the most polluting industries in the world… And just like my childhood heroe Jane Goodall tells “ If you want leaders to listen, use the power of storytelling”. Some go scream in the streets, some tweet, some create. Eventually, we all walk in the same direction, and that’s what’s wonderful.
The sustainability theme is one of your brand’s core values, what do you do to constantly improve this aspect in your creations?
I was thinking in a new way about this word. It is interesting to see how it is mostly (over)used as validating a process or giving yourself a pat on the back for being a good citizen or doing a good deed. I think sustainability is not an end goal, and we clearly cannot talk about sustainability when that end goal is monetary profit. Sustainability is not ordering an eco cotton poplin when half of your team has gone into burnout (me included) because of such poor values and leadership management. Sustainability IS the people. Beyond any need for a new capsule or fall winter collection, I think sustainability is just recognizing that we are all playing the same game thats’s called life.
If there were another path you could use to express your creativity what would it be?
Opera! Dance! Video! Installation! I have designed my first movie costumes for a 1900 feature film based in the Swiss mountains last summer, and that creative process was really inspiring. You go into the scenario, you sense and feel all the atmosphere. I also make a lot of my own books and editions, with images, texts and drawings from my travels. And I love to share my experience with the younger generations. I teach sometimes and have always loved working with my interns, untangling questions about life and trying to inspire them to pursue their own path.
Future plans you want to share with us?
Maybe working again in Paris. Establishing little by little my own line and my atelier in Lausanne, And definitely I have had this vision of a large textile installation of all my dresses floating in a large gallery space, with my paintings on the wall and one of books.
Photography: Marco Giuliano / @marcogiulianoph
Styling: Anca Macavei / @ancamacavei
Fashion: Mariel Manuel / @manuel_manufactures @marielmanuel
Editorial assistant: Inga Lavarini / @ilavarini
Styling assistant & Interview: Silvia Valente / @silviavalentevi
Ania at Wonderwall Management / @aramania @ww_mgmt
Weronika at Next Models Milan / @weroniikabogusz @nextmodelsmilan