Beautiful. Elegant. Sophisticated. Feminine. Whimsical. Love. Tenderness. All of these words to me symbolise what a wedding dress should be and represent. And Delphine Grandjouan creates the perfect wedding dresses that capture to me what a dress should make you feel on your important day.
The French born designer Delphine Grandjouan, fell in love with the romantic west of Ireland in her twenties and has been settled there ever since… rooting her inspiration in the haunting dance between mountains and sea that she can gaze at daily from her design studio… she moved seamlessly from her philosophy studies to fabric design ( signing off the Riverdance velvet devore used by Joan Bergin for the lead dancer’s outfit, that has graced the Show’s posters for the last 20 years), then evening wear (selling her fashions to the U.S. and Middle East markets from the Paris Fashion Week shows) to finally settle at home with the increasing demands of her award winning couture bridal wear business House of Delphine.
I am certainly not alone in my love of her creations – she has won Irish Brides bridal designer of the year 2007, 2008, KFW Designer of the year 2009 as well as regular features in the national press and magazines, Delphine has well earned her reputation as one of Ireland’s leading bridal designers for her elegant and understated style, with uncompromising attention to detail and attitude towards the quality of her fabrics and finish. And I am delighted to be featuring Delphine today on Floralesque.
Can you please tell us a little about your background and how you started in fashion design?
I was born in Nantes, Brittany, a beautiful Harbour city on the Loire River. Very atmospheric and Nostalgic…a great many artists came from there poets, writers, painters… a great great uncle of mine Jules Grandjouan painter and political illustrator, lover of Isadora Duncan, (who travelled with her to Russia just after the 1917 Revolution and sheltered in her german school when he was banned from the french soil for political reasons !), wrote an illustrated portrait of the city entitled : Nantes La Grise…
My mother always had a very creative view of education, taking me out of school to travel to Paris, to do dance workshops, view exhibitions, go to concerts ….we went to live for two years in Morocco… so I had a pretty unorthodox childhood and I always wanted to dance but as things went on I ended up studying philosophy in Nice… and shortly after that moved to Ireland. This place made me feel much happier…the mountains and the beautiful bay outside Tralee have always had a great significance or me and to live here finally gave me a sense of beeing rooted and let me try to start on a path that I felt was truly mine. I took up silk painting in the lovely old house we bought and it all went on from there really … painting on fabrics and making clothes with them merged my passions for art and movement…
I have read that you are self-taught apart from a course at Mallow College of design – I find this so fascinating. Do you think that this gave you an edge with your creativity?
Because of my passion for movement, I first worked intuitively, pasting my fabrics onto the mannequin, like sculptures using patchwork techniques and creating hugely créative and intricate one-off pieces that Constance Harris noticed and featured in a dedicated shoot that she styled and edited in April 1999… I always think of this as the true start of my existence as a designer. These pieces, however, were nearly impossible to reproduce… that is why I then decided to attend Mallow College for a few years to learn the basics of pattern making. It was greatly beneficial and enjoyable and helped me greatly.
I knew I wanted to work in the bias, as a great fan of dance, vintage cinema and John Galliano, nothing else would do for me but to master that difficult and costly technique! It was hard but eventually, I established my own blocks and have been working with them ever since… so yes I would say that working by yourself means you keep your individuality quite intact in the sense that you go and look for the information you need and therefore get much better benefit from it… the same way it is easy to find the answers, once you have formulated the question!
What made you choose to focus House of Delphine on bridal wear?
I started with handpainted evening wear, and also leather day wear and sheepskin coats that I designed, did the intricate patterns for and which were then made for me by Pat Gartland. I started doing Paris fashion week shows in theTuilerie gardens. At some stage at one of those shows, someone suggested I should translate these evening wear pieces to bridal wear… I had never thought about it because my clothes were all about colour !… but I tried and again Constance was very enthusiastic, did a lovely feature in the Sunday Independent Life Magazine (New year 2004) with a gorgeous shoot from my friend and mentor the amazing Mike Bunn…and that’s how I started my made to measure bridal wear back in Ireland!
Do you have a favourite fabric to work/design with?
Yes, 100% silk satin or crepe… I only work with silk but these heavy silks I mould and twist to my heart’s content to make my gorgeous bias-cut sheaths!
And of course Lace, I work exclusively with french lace, and my suppliers are so wonderful… (they put photos of my designs in their catalogue alongside the most well-known couture houses and brands it is a real boost!) I love pasting lace on the mannequin and interweaving patterns to create ephemeral webs, light as air… this is what I enjoy most in my work, it is like making magic, I rarely get the chance to do it, but when I do, I feel that that is what I was put on this earth to do!
Your pieces are just beautiful with such stunning silhouettes – where do you find your inspiration from? Are there any eras that inspire you in particular?
Definitely, the 20’s and 30s Art Deco Period is my favourite era and a constant inspiration along with the precursing Art Nouveau period just beforehand… I find this is the time when the human soul was at it’s freest… from the Pre-Raphaelites onward, with great female artist like Sarah Bernhard and Isadora Duncan, breaking the bounds of convention, the view of women changed…and the link between the heightened view of womanhood and nature, was expressed in dynamic form, through movement, and the entwined curved patterns that started to make their way into every area of life. These were famously illustrated in the Works of the illustrator Mucha (who painted many of Sarah Bernhard’s posters), the furniture designer Mc Intosh, the wallpapers and tapestry designer of William Morris and so many more, which heralded design in all its forms (architecture, interior, furniture, clothing etc..) as way of life, integrated with art rather than separated from it.
This dynamic which was a social one as much as an artistic one, (promoting a creative way of life as the only way to empower the individual as it pairs work with satisfaction), continued on through to the incomparable, decadently luxurious, thoroughly modern Art Deco period… where fashion and cinéma, joined in as new and hugely creative artforms, with women like the painter and designer Sonia Delaunay, the designer Madeleine Vionnet or the painter Tamara Lempicka who use to paint her sitters in the latest Vionnet gowns… creating the world where adventure and refinement worked together to give birth to a new definition of empowered womanhood… where beauty had to be twinned with comfort to allow for an active lifestyle. This is how bias-cut came into its own!
Although I am sure that your days vary greatly, what is the favourite part of your day?
If the day is nice and I am not rushing away on the road to the other side of the country, I like to do my little yoga exercises is a pool of sunshine in the morning! That is a favourite, peaceful and free time for me.
Who are your favourite designers at the moment?
I had a great love and admiration for Valentino, who is sadly retired, but I do like the work of his successors, who worked with him and have kept to the spirit of his brand with their subtle and slim High waisted Renaissance figures. I also have loved Elie Saab’s work for years and I have to say he never disappoints. He is a real couturier, who can work lace and embellishment to perfection, flow and volume to technical prowess and never lose the overall feel of controlled and sober élégance of true couture perfection. His latest bridal collection is to die for!!!
Although I am sure hard to choose as you have had some amazing career moments, but what has been your proudest moment to date?
My award winning moments were quite special inasmuch as I never really expected them to happen! Winning the Irish Brides Magazine Bridal designer of the year twice in a row was really spécial, it made me feel recognised and confident as a designer. It was a life changing event for me the first time and a real confirmation the second, especially as Eddie Shanahan whom I respect hugely was a judge that time and Constance Harris was to the public too!
The inaugural Kerry Designer of the year award was really special too as we got to present and show our work to the judges and it was such a privilege to exchange with Louise Kennedy and get to know Don O Neil, with whom I’ve been friends ever since!
Do you have any advice for those that are thinking of getting into fashion design?
Never give up and never take anything for granted!
What does the future hold for House of Delphine?
As you may know, I have started a new fashion range since the Autumn, you can view my collection on my new website and online store. It has been really great to get back to more intense pattern making and to experience collaborative work. I truly love my bridal work, the gorgeous sculpting of the gowns on my customers and hand embroidering of ephemeral lace, this work is very hands on and work intensive in a very practical intuitive way, which I adore as a slowly evolving process…but it has been fun having to deal with collection plans, creating my own very special ready to wear block and establishing the technical chart for a completely new and different suite of products.
I am really pleased with the result as I believe we have created products that are true to our ethics and brief, inasmuch as they are classic pieces, specially constructed to allow for fit and flow, in beautiful quality fabrics and made to order in Ireland.
I am already working on Winter 2017 and am hoping this dynamic is going to invest my bridal wear with new life and energy on each side of the business responds to and informs the other… It has been such a privilege dressing all these beautiful brides for so many years for the most special day of their life, and seeing them come back and looking after them once more after they have had children perhaps and giving them that special feeling once more is a really wonderful and strong experience for me as a woman, helping other women being their most positive selves!
A massive thank you to Delphine for the interview. I loved learning more about her path to being a designer as well as the inspirations behind her wonderful work. I also have a new list of art deco artists to look into and learn more about! If you are dress shopping – I would certainly check out the House of Delphine website. Or looking for a beautiful accessories – I love their silk collars especially this Celine green one on her new website also. They are also on Facebook, Twitter and have a beautiful Instagram.
If you enjoyed this interview in the ‘Floralesque Meets’ Series, then you can click here to read more exciting interviews with designers, creators, artists, photographers, entrepreneurs and more – enjoy meeting the makers!
All images kindly provided by Delphine for use.