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  • Writer's picturePatrick Cabasset

Amandine Labbé: the unsubmissive eye of the runway show

Amandine Labbé is responsible for 3rd-year ESMOD Paris students specialising in Performance and Artistic Design and has served as Artistic Director for the school's events since last April. She is also one of the people responsible for the success of the ESMOD Paris end-of-year runway show. We wanted to know more about this woman with a passion for art, fashion and inclusive design.

In addition to her role at ESMOD, Amandine Labbé is also co-founder and Creative Director of revolutionary prosthesis company U-Exist in Roubaix

Amandine Labbé captivates as much with her deep voice as with her professional and artistic choices. Even her decision to study at ESMOD, for example, was somewhat unexpected.

Coming from a rather artistic family background, she hesitated between becoming a ceramist (her mother was a gallery owner specialising in ceramics) or a costume designer. A friend who was taking costume classes at the Ecole des Arts et Techniques du Théâtre de la Rue Blanche arts and theatre school advised her to take a more vocational route instead, but she passed the entrance exams for several higher education schools and chose the most technical course available at the time, at ESMOD Roubaix, the size of which, in 1999, appealed to her. Her goal was then to become a costume designer, but she discovered the work of Thierry Mugler, Alexander McQueen and other extreme creative talents and was definitively won over by the world of fashion. After graduating from ESMOD International in 2001, she joined shoe firm Charles Jourdan on an internship and remained there as head of the women’s collections (excluding shoes), licensing and international operations, under the artistic direction of Jean-Philippe Bouyer, until 2008. It was thanks to him that she learned to love what she hated: a sexier feminine style and colours that could seduce, the exact opposite of her more avant-garde tastes.

Her father, a psychiatrist with a passion for art brut, had previously passed on to her his rather unusual taste for curiosity cabinets and indirectly for the history of human prostheses. Amandine’s two favourite Parisian museums are still the Musée de l'Armée (Army Museum) at Les Invalides and the museum of the School of Medicine at Odéon, where she realised the progress made in developing prostheses and orthopaedic supports for human mobility. For her, the Man of the Future, the body 2.0, stems from this research, as does her drive as a specialist collector. Far from voyeurism, these testimonies to the evolution of physical aids for humans - orthopaedic supports and prostheses - support her own research at specialist company U-Exist in Roubaix, where she had also been Artistic Director since 2014.

“There’s more to fashion than just dresses”, she maintains. “If you’re comfortable with the medical and orthopaedic world, you can also contribute to progress and help others”.

Amandine Labbé backstage at the ESMOD Paris 2022 runway show

Planet ESMOD: How long have you been putting together the school’s runway shows?

Amandine Labbé: Last June was my fourth show, but I really did have carte blanche then, from the set design to the choice of teams and the production. I also worked with Raphael Cloix to give the brand platform he created for ESMOD a tangible form. The runway show had to highlight the school’s codes, values and objectives, including a matching visual identity.

P. E.: Why did you choose a concert pianist to provide the music for this runway show?

A. L.: We wanted to shake up the technical aspect traditionally associated with end-of-year runways shows and I wanted to put the artistic side of the students’ work back in the spotlight. When the runway show’s coordinator, Claire Châtaigner, contacted composer and pianist Karol Beffa the idea really appealed to him and he was very keen to get involved by creating the music for the show live, the idea being to highlight the emotion that each silhouette and each student’s research brought about. It was important that this moment suspended in time be nothing short of magical, at the end of what had been a particularly difficult year for these students. Just like the pieces improvised live during the runway show, each of the 240 silhouettes became a work of art.

Pianist Karol Beffa during his improvisation accompanying the designs featured in the end-of-year runway show

P. E.: The trends featured also changed over the course of the runway show, didn't they?

A. L.: Yes, we chose to focus not on ESMOD’s specialisations but rather on the work of each student individually, with the exception of the Lingerie and Accessories specialisations, and again, I combined some lingerie silhouettes with other looks. When we break it down by specialisation we lose sight of the school’s DNA. By telling stories and highlighting trends, the runway show is also a way to put students on an equal footing when it comes to design; after all, we don’t know what they're going to go on to do, or what pathway they will choose beyond their specialisation.

Sometimes I’ve even helped them to streamline their silhouettes and give their work greater impact by selecting certain pieces over others, but that’s something I always do in cooperation with the student.

Nowadays there are no longer any rules when it comes to fashion: the individual makes their own rules!

P. E.: What kinds of trends did you focus on for this show?

A. L.: This selection was guided more by emotion than simply trends. I wanted to alternate high-impact moments with softer ones and highlight the tailoring and the cut of certain pieces. Schools are the main platform for research when it comes to cuts, so this aspect had to be visible. I also highlighted the military dimension of some of the designs. I would normally have tried to tone down this idea, which comes up quite a lot, but that’s unfortunately where we are today, so why not use this research, and then finish with the more bizarre, mutant creations that this generation are so inclined towards, often revolving around the series Stranger Things. Their forms of expression, in terms of both the body and mutation, where the prosthesis garment is concerned, are very poetic and rather soft, while their research into deconstruction and reconstruction and their carefully considered backs and fronts expresses their freedom of thought. Nowadays there are no longer any rules when it comes to fashion: the individual makes their own rules!

There was some pretty crazy tailoring research going on, though; a serious, maybe more traditional side, incorporating things like asymmetry, uni-gender and fluid effects, as well as some more over-the-top tailoring with almost optical chequered designs. I was surprised to see so much colour in the current climate, actually; colour block effects, prints from the 60s and 70s, even the ethnic element was quite funny. In fact, behind every garment lies the personal story of the individual student.

Behind the scenes at last June’s runway show

P. E.: What would you say characterises the class of 2022 as a whole?

A. L.: Well I’ve only been at ESMOD Paris for a year, after several years at ESMOD Roubaix, but what surprised me was to see so many different concepts, so many personal stories that are so rarely taken at face value. They actually went so much further with no indication of any of the lows or difficulties they had experienced during those COVID years. They managed to overcome their personal feelings, took a step back from their collections and agreed to let go to some extent. It’s often quite clear that something has happened, even in visually harsh, radical experimental tailoring. The clothes are often more protective, more ‘cocoon’-like on the inside. They’ve freed themselves of the immediate past in order to look to the future. From the most standard of profiles to the most contradictory, they all agreed to let go. It was a very hard year for them, but there were ultimately very few drop-outs. I’m truly amazed by their success, and they've taught me a great life lesson!

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