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  • Writer's picturePatrick Cabasset

HOW DO WE BECOME CREATIVE?

At the age of 28, Mathilde Alloin already has 8 years’ experience in the world of lingerie - a specialism that she practices in a way that is mindful of human, ecological and social impact through her Skinswear brand.


Mathilde Alloin at the presentation of her Skinswear collection. Photo: Carmen Woreth

Not all ESMOD students have that natural sense of creativity. Some need the right people around them, an appropriate trigger, someone to guide them closely or perhaps some other form of support that allows them to ‘unlock’ their creativity. Mathilde Alloin experienced all of this during her time at ESMOD between 2011 and 2014,

the success of her lingerie company Skinswear proving that creativity can indeed be learned.

Born into a world that was a far cry from those of fashion and design (her father a trainer in the French Navy and her mother a stay-at-home mum), Mathilde Alloin didn’t take her education lightly. As soon as she graduated from ESMOD as a lingerie designer, she started working for one of the best lingerie designers around while at the same time continuing her studies. After a year at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in innovative management in the fashion industry before moving to London to complete a Master’s degree in fashion management at the prestigious London College of Fashion. But this very philosophical young lady would never have completed such an impressive course of study without the impetus ESMOD gave her in life.


“ESMOD gave me the strength and tools to explore my creativity” - Mathilde Alloin.


Planet ESMOD: At what point did you feel that the creative aspect of fashion took hold of you?

Mathilde Alloin: Design was something of a curiosity to me when I started my studies, but I didn't feel comfortable with it. It was only really in my third year at ESMOD that I woke up to it, thanks to my lingerie pattern-making teacher at the time. She was absolutely fabulous. She made me feel like I had the right to express myself. She gave me confidence in myself, and I suddenly felt more at ease and better supported in lingerie class. Lingerie incorporated elements of intimacy, psychology, what it is to be a woman, the female body... it was very different from clothing.

I didn’t use to understand how outer garments worked; they just weren’t really my thing. I didn’t understand what message you could convey through them. When I found myself doing something more intricate, finer, smaller and more intimate, I finally felt at ease.


Mathilde Alloin's Skinswear collection is all about helping all women to reestablish a sense of intimacy. Photo: Maewen Bourcelot

P. E.: How did the idea of launching your own brand come about?

M. A.: I worked with stylist and seasoned professional Valerie Delafosse for two years, from 2014 to 2016, when she had just left Erès. I followed her in her new ventures, which included working for Pucci, and also as she planned to develop her own personal brand. At the same time, thanks to ESMOD, I was able to get on the Bachelor of Innovation Management course at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM), which also gave me an insight management and business creation, which was my plan from the start. While I was still working with Valerie, I went off to do a Master’s in fashion management at the London College of Fashion. In partnership with an association that fights female genital mutilation, I produced a project for a collection of special briefs, did my research, went to find producers in Morocco, etc. This made me want to create a brand for black women that I incorporated into my thesis. So I wasn’t just thinking about the design, but also the concept. I was contacted around that time by a new director at La Perla with a view to recruiting me, but unfortunately, this manager didn’t stay with the company very long. My dream of becoming a senior designer at La Perla at the age of 21 was gone and I returned to Paris, where I spent a few months working in the lingerie department of Le Bon Marché to get a better understanding of customer buying behaviour, their relationship with the product and what they were looking for, because that’s essentially what this business is all about. So, of course, I decided to go for it after that.


P. E.: Any regrets so far?

M. A.: Nothing happens completely by chance. I think I would have felt too restricted if I only designed for an existing brand. I don’t quite relate as much as I might to other brands. I admire the quality of La Perla and Erès products, of course, but when it comes to collections, and defining intimacy and the confidence a woman gets from her lingerie, for example, I don’t think brands really do the job, and this is kind of to be expected, since these major lingerie brands have always been run primarily by men.


The Skinswear Terra Body Suit. Photo: Maewen Bourcelot

P. E.: How would you define your brand Skinswear today?

M. A.: It’s a lingerie brand that’s both artistic and ethical, with a mission to reconstruct the notion of intimacy. In terms of design, I draw my inspiration from both nature and the social sphere, and I try to make my collections eco-friendly and respectful of workers, respectful of women. The idea for the first collection, Incarnation, came from nature, incorporating organic forms, biomimetic effects, etc., but I can also be inspired by aspects of day-to-day life, society, etc.


P. E.: You created Skinswear in 2019. Is it easy to develop a brand in the middle of a pandemic?

M. A.: First I founded The Woman Project, which is what the brand was going to be called, but then the pandemic struck. Since I didn't have it in me to work on a lingerie brand or products, The Woman Project became a community aimed at highlighting the profiles of inspiring women and thus creating social connections. On a practical level, I also created a collective to provide urgent help for isolated people, supply them with groceries, food, etc., and at the same time I started to draw models and approach production workshops. Once the lockdown ended I focused more on my brand, which I officially launched in June 2021 at Paris’s Centre Commercial, an ethical multi-brand store owned by the founder of Veja. The Skinswear website had been launched previously, but sales only really took off once customers were able to try the products on.


P. E.: Where does The Woman Project currently stand in relation to your brand?

M. A.: I’ve put this project on hold because I can't be everywhere, but I am going to revive the community. The idea that links both projects is that of rebuilding women’s intimacy, be it through an ethical, respectful and meaningful lingerie brand or through a communication tool that better meets their needs. I’d like to show my clients inspiring women, models who have successfully overcome their physical limits to aspire to a fate other than the traditional one of seductress. The current body positive movement is great - telling women ‘you can be yourself, regardless of your age or body shape’ is essential, but this cult of diversity is still focusing exclusively on their bodies, so the aim of The Woman Project is to go beyond that, to show them women who are doing things, regardless of their physical appearance.


Another of Mathilde Alloin’s designs for her Skinswear brand

P. E.: How have your years at ESMOD helped you and how do they still help you on a daily basis?

M. A.: Everything in life works with a sense of legitimacy. I didn’t feel any creative or artistic legitimacy in what I was doing at first, but by my third year at ESMOD I felt completely liberated of that feeling. I was given the strength and tools to explore my creativity, and what’s more, the school is still, for me, a place where unbreakable friendships were made, and some of the people I met there are still in my life. Personally, I have very fond memories of my years at ESMOD and the memorable trips I took and parties I attended during my time there. I also got to meet an incredibly diverse range of people of different origins, cultures, religions, etc. while I was there. I came from Brittany, and a rather conventional background, and I attended Parisian Catholic secondary schools and rather selective schools in the 6tharrondissement, so suddenly finding myself in this environment was quite an eye-opener.


P. E.: What advice would you give to current Esmod students who feel they are lacking creativity?

M. A.: First of all, we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others - some students are older, or just more mature, and might have the experience of coming from a creative family background, for example. The key to creativity is, first and foremost, to feel free and at ease. We are often at our most creative when we are alone, in a ‘safe place’, a place where we feel good, so it’s important to create this bubble of safety away from the eyes of the others. Obviously, when you’re a student you’re at college to learn, so it’s important to focus on your own progress. Classrooms aren’t always places where you can express yourself, but it’s great to soak up the knowledge you’re being taught for inspiration. Then, of course, you have to find the right time and the right place to unleash your creativity. For some that will be at a café, out on the street, in the evening, at night, at home... Anything can happen there. Personally, I let my creativity run wild in the evening, when everything at home is still, but everyone has to find the right time for them, the right place for them to free their mind and focus on design. Exploring your creativity also means listening to yourself and opening oneself up to introspection. Sometimes a shrink might even help you discover your inner world. There’s already enough in everyone, and enough in nature, that we don't need to copy others, and that includes existing brands. It’s so sad. Then, of course, as was the case with me, finding the person that you’re going to have that special connection with to help you is very valuable indeed.


The Skinswear collection is designed with human, ecological and social impact in mind

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