Ever wanted to own a vintage piece by a French luxury brand but couldn’t afford even 20-year-old Dior or Chanel? If you pay a visit to Charlotte Bialas, you’re halfway to your dream come true.
The Swedish-born designer prides herself on traveling the globe to acquire exquisite fabrics made specially for the world’s biggest fashion houses, from the 1950s to 1980s, which she formulates into her own one-of-a-kind designs. She got the idea after discovering, to her horror, that most textile makers burn their stock after a season’s production. “Of course in fashion, there is almost always overproduction and waste,” she explains. “I thought, That is such as shame. I just wanted to prove that there is so much we can still use.” Her use of every single scrap of fabric she buys underscores her ecological credentials: “Even if it’s just to make a little change purse, I will use every bit that’s left,” Bialas vows.
Each piece she creates is based on a single geometric shape—circle, triangle, rectangle or square—but she manages to convert these simple forms into strong, normally non-Western silhouettes, such as that of the Japanese kimono, the Indian sari or the Greek peplos, all of which are easy for women of all sizes and ages to wear. Ironically, many of her customers are Japanese, yet they demand more European shapes, while those living on the Continent are more attracted to Asian styles.
“People seem to want whatever is exotic to them,” she explains. For that reason, she has ventured beyond the confines of couture and is now searching for stunning prints from around the globe. “Mali has a fantastic printmaking tradition, and there is some beautiful traditional cloth being produced in small villages in China and Japan that I’ll be using in future collections,” she promises.
Oddly enough, the designer’s career didn’t begin with a focus on printed textile. After taking a quick course in draping, she (along with a partner) opened her first shop in Paris in the 1980s. At the time, she claims, it wasn’t difficult to find transatlantic clients to buy boutique designs from France’s capital, and before she knew it, she was selling to Barney’s in New York and Holt Renfrew in Canada. By the late 1980s, consumers were tiring of the trend for stark minimalism as exemplified by Helmut Lang, Jil Sander and Calvin Klein, and the buyer at Barney’s encouraged Bialas to produce more designs in print as demand for these grew.
“There was something in my Swedish side that always felt comfortable with print,” she explains. “Growing up, I was surrounded by printed textiles on curtains and furniture, so it just felt right.” Her passion for vintage fabrics has endured for the past 30 years, and she loves merging the quality of, say, a Pucci silk from the 1950s with a customer’s own design—she’s even created bespoke wedding dresses.
Today, there are Charlotte Bialas boutiques around the world, from Amsterdam to Australia, and her success in women’s wear has spurred her to consider designing a new line for the home, including wallpaper and soft furnishings. No matter what Bialas puts her hand to, you can bet it will be cut from a different cloth.
You can find her clothes in the United States at:
715 Elm Street, Winnetka, IL, 60093. (847) 441-7784.
In France at:
5, rue Debelleyme, in the 3rd Arrondissement. 01 57 40 69 10.
In Australia at:
Easton Pearson Sydney
30 Glenmore Road, Paddington, NSW 2021.
Editor’s note: Can’t make it to Paris this year? Then do some online shopping with our French partners.