Once upon a time in the 70s of the last century, a young Fashion Princess lived an untroubled childhood in the idyllic French Alps. Along with her three sisters, the young girl enjoyed pastoral life in her native city of Grenoble in France. Skiing was the princess’ favorite leisure time activity. When her 12th birthday rolled around, her desire to distinguish herself from all the other skiers on the slopes began to burn strongly within her. And so, one night, she crept stealthily down to her mother’s sewing kit and removed a needle and some thread. With it she tailored a ski suit that was a thousand times prettier and a thousand times more ornate than any that had ever been seen in the land. The ski suit made with silver and gold-colored fabric instantly transformed the young Fashion Princess into the star of the slopes. A heady moment during which the young girl became aware that her self-made fashion bestowed her with a secret power, a power that singled her out. And she began to fantasize about using this secret power on all the young women of this world. Today, some 30 years later, this very French Princess rules the Fashion Capital of the world: New York.
speakfashion: Catherine, your first encounter with the world of fashion almost sounds like a fairy tale. Have your ambitions changed while you grew up?
Catherine Malandrino: No not at all. I grew up with this dream of changing women, to empower them. I first realized that when I got all these compliments from strangers adoring my uniquely designed ski suit. All of a sudden I was somebody. The suit made me feel like a superstar on the local slope. This experience triggered something. I knew back then, that the right design would bring confidence and strength even to the most insecure individual.
speakfashion: Is it safe to say that the feeling of being special through a unique piece of clothing basically triggered you to become a professional Fashion Designer?
Catherine Malandrino: Yes. I wanted to share this feeling with all the women in the world. I wanted them to have the same, wonderful experience. So when the time was ripe to leave my beautiful hometown I applied for a scholarship at ESMOD in Paris. And sure enough, I got in.
speakfashion: How come that a Parisian trained Fashion Designer hops over the pond and tries to make it in New York?
Catherine Malandrino: Well, that’s another story (hearty laughter). After I graduated from ESMOD I worked for Dorothée Bis, Louis Féraud and Emanuel Ungaro, before I started off at “Et Vous” in 1998. The latter send me over to New York on a business trip where I met Bernard Aiden, then a Manager for “Et Vous” America and – well, fell deeply in love with him. So much so, that I decided to leave my life in Paris behind and move to New York for good.
speakfashion: Wow, that sounds like a true adventure. But obviously, it did pay off well for you. So it definitely was the right decision, wasn’t it?
Catherine Malandrino: Yes, absolutely. I moved here and my career basically exploded. As a matter of fact, one of my first dinner parties was an invitation from Diane von Furstenberg who, at the very same evening, asked me to be the Head Designer for her new collection. Everything just was falling into place.
speakfashion: When did you first start thinking of establishing your own brand?
Catherine Malandrino: Well, I didn’t have so much time to think back then. I was busy designing for Diane but knew that I wanted to have my own label at some point. So I worked at DVF during the day and on my own collection after work and on the weekends. Back then I was working on the iconic ‘Flag Collection’ which turned out to be a perfect fit for Americans in the aftermath of September 11th. The collection combined American patriotism with European elegance. It certainly was the breakthrough for my career and an important milestone for my own label.
speakfashion: In your collections today you still play with the controversy of the two cities you love most: Paris and New York. Is that something we will see continuing in the collections to come?
Catherine Malandrino: Yes, no doubt about it. I am still in love with the French elegance, its romanticism and sentimentality. On the other hand though, I get this tremendous shot of energy every time I land and one of New York City’s airports. There is a big contrast between the two cities and I try to put this tension together so it appears almost as one united state of mind.
speakfashion: Besides your dream of combining the identity of these two inspiring cities, what else pushes you to work as a designer every day?
Catherine Malandrino: Honestly, I cannot imagine being anything but a Fashion Designer. I get so much pleasure out of designing new pieces every day and even more so because I know, I’ll bring pleasure to others. Fashion to me is about expressing a moment. It’s a part of your personality. And I feel very lucky to help so many different women to progress their personalities every day. Can you ask for more inspiration?
speakfashion: Most certainly not, Catherine. Thanks a bunch for sharing your story and all the best for the future.
|A feature story version of this interview recently appeared in the international Lifestyle and Design Magazine ‘The Brander‘, written by our very own Thomas Escher.|
|Catch up with Catherine Malandrino|
|Catherine Malandrino – NYC Headquater
275 W 39th St, New York City, Phone: 212.840.0106 ext. 125
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