Vaillant Studio is a luxury Parisian womenswear label, set up in 2019 by former ballerina Alice Vaillant. Using beautiful upcycled Calais lace and drawing upon her experience with Gaultier, the Paris Opera Ballet and more, Vaillant produces bespoke ready-to-wear ranges mixing vulnerability, poetry and sensuality, to dazzling effect. We spoke to the designer herself to learn about the creative process behind the SS22 collection, Pacha, as well as French female icons, and the quest for sustainability as a young brand.
Could you introduce yourself and Vaillant in a few words?
I was born and raised in Paris, I lived in Montreal for 4 years and then I moved back to Paris 5 years ago. After 12 years of being a professional ballet dancer at Paris Opera ballet school, I stopped to do fashion. I worked for Jean Paul Gaultier and Nina Ricci before launching Vaillant in 2020. Vaillant is a Paris based womenswear brand.
Who are your clothes for?
The Vaillant wardrobe is for every woman who wants to feel comfortable and sensual, but also wants to express a certain form of freedom in the way that they dress. Comfort and structure are really important for me when I create a piece. The Vaillant woman is strong but also sensitive. It consists of a hybrid wardrobe which provides for day and night.
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After 12 years of ballet, you decided to leave the Grand Ballet Canadien in Montreal after just one month there. Was this a long time coming and was entering the world of fashion inevitable for you? Or was it a more of an impulse decision?
Before Montreal, I also was a dancer at Paris Opera Ballet. I think it was always in the back of my mind. When I was young, I was always keeping drawing books full of clothes and cutting into my own pieces. It sounds a bit cliché, but it has always been a part of who I am. When we dance, we interpret the vision of the choreographer in our movements. Eventually, the time came for me to try and show my own vision. Also, it was the very act of being around the costumes and the Atelier of the Paris Opera ballet that developed my interest in the finer details of fashion.
You previously worked as a designer for both Jean Paul Gautier and Nina Ricci. What elements of these fashion houses did you want to emulate at Vaillant? If any?
It was the best way to learn. I’ve always been a fan of Jean Paul Gaultier, it was a real dream come true when I started there. It helped me to understand the rigour of haute couture and the knowledge behind the fabrics. It was precise manual work but with complete creative freedom that I found really inspiring. It nourished me artistically and culturally. I was also lucky enough to work alongside Lisi Herrebrugh and Rushemy Botter during their first season at Nina Ricci. It was interesting to assist them at the start of their journey there and to see how they had their own artistic direction while respecting the codes and values of the house. They really inspired me to think about the running of a business and the organisation behind a luxury house.
One of the most identifiable traits of Pacha, the new Spring Summer 2022 collection, and Vaillant as a brand in general, is the focus on asymmetry. As something that really amplifies the artisanship behind each garment, how crucial is it to the image of the brand?
I always start my collection with a concept, an obsession and then I move it into 3D. It’s a way for me to translate my work.Pacha plays with transparency and superposition. The work around the fabric is really important at Vaillant, we explore a lot of fabric transformations in our studio. The savoir-faire that we develop in house is also one of the key elements of our brand.
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You recently described the Fall Winter 2021 collection as “Chateau Marmont meets Castel, the famous Parisian club where Serge Gainsbourg went.” Has the fashion of any of Gainsbourg’s female contemporaries, like Jane Birkin, Francoise Hardy, or Bridgitte Bardot, influenced the image of the brand?
Naturally, I am very inspired by these women. Catherine Deneuve in Belle de jour was a particular revelation, as well. But how can you not admire them? They epitomise class and elegance à la française, or at least as it is perceived.
But I am not nostalgic of the past. I think that the 21st century has given us so many powerful women, because of their art, their commitment to the battles they fight and not only because they have been elevated to the status of icon. Today, women are far more than the neat and polished allure that was once imposed on them. The woman-child, femme fatale, etc. all of that is outdated in my opinion. Among the women who inspire me – the list would be long but what they’d all have in common is what they embody; women that are the moment, that represent our era, who aren’t afraid to shake things up, who are unapologetic! The women who inspire me are the ones pushing the boundaries. This is the Vaillant spirit.
Pacha appears to have taken a more minimalistic approach than some of your previous ranges. What was the thinking behind this creative shift?
My work and my vision evolve constantly throughout the collections, it’s capital for me to bring newness to my work. For this collection, it was important to have a complete wardrobe with pieces that we can be worn in daily life but can also evolve with time and age.
In this day and age, no conversation about fashion can avoid the topic of sustainability. Your Fall Winter 2021 collection was made largely from upcycled vintage nightgowns from Calais. Do you find that your creative process naturally accommodates sustainability? Or do you have to lead with sustainability and work the creative process around that?
For us, it’s natural and important to find sustainable solutions for our garments. It’s not necessarily my way to create but it goes with it automatically. I think it’s necessary nowadays to work like this, especially in France, where we have access to such beautiful savoir-faire, such as the Calais lace that I use in my collections.
As a young brand, it’s always hard to deal with sustainability because the minimum orders for green fabrics are usually way too big for us. The more we develop, the easier it will be for young brands like ours to find solutions and open more doors.
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Look No.22 of the Pacha collection is a beautiful reinterpretation of a wedding dress, accompanied by a tassel-adorned veil. Would the brand consider taking commissions to produce bespoke wedding dresses?
I find the union of two people beautiful. I’m obviously open to it, but we’re not at this stage yet. However, there will be a lot of new things happening in the next couple of months!
In previous interviews and articles, Vaillant ranges have been compared to a variety of different eras, including the 1960s and the 1990s. Is there a particular era that you see as your main inspiration? Or does the brand aim for a distinctly timeless image?
The most important thing for me is not get stuck with one vision, but to have multiple inspirations that evolve with my desire throughout the seasons. Pacha was definitely more inspired by the 70’s, but more than ever I want my brand to be inspired by today for the women of our era.
The Fall Winter 2021 range was titled Move in Adagio, a reference to your background in ballet, as well as a reflection on a more sustainable future. What was the inspiration for Pacha? A famous Ibizan club, perhaps?
All my collections have a common point, they all start either from a memory or a desire. For this collection, I wanted more lightness. I got inspired by my travels and what I wanted to pack in my luggage this summer. Pacha is also about dance, but also movement – the freedom you have when you’re dancing ’til dawn.
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