Raphaële Lenseigne tailors bold leather ornaments for her Antwerp based brand, Adult. She makes high-heels that size from EU 36 to 46, aiming to share the privilege of having cheeky shoes that fit and to question sizing standards. Above all, Lenseigne wants Adult. to tell unexpected and joyful stories in a decadent and humorous way. She stands against the idea of productivity that maintains the majority of high fashion brands: Adult. don’t have stock and its pieces are the most artisanal they can be. To fight and trangress.
Hello Raphaële, at first, I want to know a little more about your experience studying in Antwerp Fashion Department. Why did shoe design interest you the most?
Arriving in Antwerp to study fashion was a strong epiphany. I fitted in a crowd, I felt kin. Designing garment collections was almost just an accessory to that powerful new feeling. And shoes, I love them because, creatively, I find them to be a condensed version of what garments have to offer. To create a story with garments, you need multiple pieces, while shoes stand on their own: individual and erect, regardless. And first and foremost, I’m a story teller, so it inspires me most to work with protagonists that stand on their own.
You approach campaigns with a rich and frivolous point of view that can sometimes be ironic. What inspires Adult. in its brand vision?
Humour is the corner stone of it. Do you know the saying bleak is chic? We’re kind of at the opposite of that. I want to propose a version of chic that celebrates joy. Basking in glorious and decadent feelings of bliss.
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In your own words, your brand wants us to celebrate ourselves via pieces that look like forbidden fruits. Can you explain this a bit further?
We promote indulgence. Through our pieces, we want to encourage you to play with your appearance, with the different facets of your identity. We encourage versatility, which in many ways is a transgressive social standpoint. Our pieces are colourful, acidulous and tempting. And they also invite you to look at yourself in a slightly different way.
And I also see us at Adult as peaceful anarchists within the fashion landscape: we don’t do stock projection, we produce our pieces following millennia-old artisanal techniques and material categories. We prefer mechanical machines to electric ones. Our idea of productivity is much less fast-paced and more customer-driven than your typical high-fashion brand. There is something about this that always made me feel like I was transgressing a bit, making an offer that is almost a bit outlaw.
How do you start thinking about a specific shoe? What comes first, the specific story each one carries or their design?
Always the story. I’m a storyteller, and so everything we produce at Adult is a story. Whether it be the shoes, or the visual campaigns, or the website. We’re aiming to take you on an adventure and stimulate your imagination.
I’m intrigued: why do you design only heels? And why is the size range between a EU 36 to a 46?
I think heels are a very powerful object. I still remember the night after I wore my first pair: I could hear their sound echo in my head all the way until I fell asleep. I’s exhilarating. And about the size-range: I told you how arriving in Antwerp and fitting in a crowd was an epiphany. Well that crowd expresses itself through its attire. Flamboyantly, fluidly and unconventionally. Here in Antwerp I became part of a community that loves few things more than to shapeshift and wear things they wouldn’t be expected to wear. A lot of my taller friends were struggling to find heels that fit them. And I always considered it a privilege, to be able to find heels in my size so easily. So when I started designing them, it made sense to share that privilege.
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Some of your designs are hand painted by yourself. Why do you work like this and how does it change (if it does) the way you design and work for your brand?
I am trained in Fine Arts (the Antwerp Fashion Department technically delivers fine arts education and diploma) and with garment design, I have always missed a form of spontaneity. Everything has to be anticipated, which sometimes made me feel quite constrained. Shoes and leather offer much more versatility in my opinion: you can apply long-lasting treatments on finished products, the material itself can be ever modified, sculpted or changed. As for painting, you know I love this medium too (our visual campaigns have always been adorned with rich and somewhat surreal paintings, made by me). That’s what I do, here with Adult: paint alternate, joyfully transgressive realities. Bringing that onto the shoes was a logical step of the process.
Recently, you designed a limited-edition clutch, that is very sex. How was this first experience? Are you planning to have a bag line in the future too?
Yes! Maybe you know that we relocated our production chain from Italy to Antwerp in 2020? It was first an answer to supply chain problems generated by the pandemic. But it ended up being the best decision we could have made, because it taught us to take our future into our own hands, both creatively and ethically. Anyway, from that point forward, I was able to express myself in a much more versatile way, and get even more closely acquainted with the endless possibilities attached to leather craft. We’re currently working on a new, extended product line. It will include bags of course, but not only!
Also, your campaigns and everything that surrounds Adult has a picturesque way of doing. What are your art inspirations? What came first for you, arts or fashion?
Art, for sure - I’m not always convinced with fashion’s way of doing things, and rarely inspired by the content itself. And my art inspirations are broad. It goes from the Flemish masters like Brueghel or Bosch: they move me to the core, there’s nothing I can do about it, all the way to Chindogus, these Japanese objects that are developed for one single use only (check it out, it’s brilliant). I also have a very strong inclination towards Outsider Art. Aside from Adult, I have been developing collaborations with outsider artists since I was still a student. It taught me so much.
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How do you work with the idea of ornaments and or ornamentation?
It’s all fun. Ornaments are here for fun. I find it strange that fun is a concept that is so detached from adulthood in our societies. Why? It’s almost like there is something undignified or irresponsible about it. I think ornaments, clothes and accessories, are maybe one of the most accessible ways for adults to have fun. I also associate the idea a lot with the art of disguise. Versatility and shapeshifting. Those are all moments of getting closer to yourself while having fun. I value that greatly.
I think we are living in a time where the idea of individuality, personal identity, is often associated with a sense of heaviness or struggle. Or maybe, that we are growing attached to it in ways that make the other feel like a threat. With ornaments, or disguise, exploring your personal identity becomes a potentially interactive act. I support that with much more faith. 
Your zebra print use seems sort of obsessive, am I wrong? What do you think about obsessing over some designs or ways of designing?
I didn’t think of it this way, but there is definitely something of that. An obsession or an inherent mechanism, almost like breathing: it’s here, you don’t question it you just do it. And these Bengal stripes, to me they are blown-up fingerprints: unique, individual and mysterious. It started as a pattern laid over a shoe, and then I proceeded to covering everything with it. During lockdown, I painted my clothes, my tiny objects, my furniture at home, and at some point my product bottles too. It was a way to keep my project close when everything around seemed to shatter into a thousand tiny pieces. Adult is at the heart of me, its fibres are my fibres, this obsession, as you call it, is the language we share with one another.
And, to finish, can you say a little bit about the future for Adult Antwerp?
It’s a lifelong project, that brings its load of surprises and discoveries as it goes. Late 2020 we relocated our production in-house to overcome pandemic-induced supply chain deficiencies. What was at first a survival move ended up becoming the a very fruitful decision. It made us see some clear sustainability issues associated with traditional leather-goods production. In 2021, we started researching the ways solid leather-waste can be used and repurposed. In 2022, we look to complete this research with a real-life case study.
When we launched in 2018, our ambition was to revolutionise the gender-constrained fashion landscape. Three years later, we aim to become environmental pioneers of the leather-goods industry as well.
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