By Cheryl Tay
SENATUS spoke to Stephane Rolland during Women's Fashion Week 2011 Singapore, ahead of the upcoming Haute Couture Week in Paris come late January 2012, and is part of SENATUS' Masters of Luxury interview series for 2012.
Renowned Grand Couturier Stéphane Rolland sheds some light on his wedding gown, which stole the show at the finale of Haute Couture Week, and even discusses his philosophy with us. The poised and ever-sophisticated man cuts a rather intimidating figure until he breaks into a smile and begins talking about his passion.
Can you tell us about the collection you’re showing here?
My collection is actually a tribute to Asia, through different things like Chinese calligraphy, origami pleated work – I transform origami into orchid flowers in organza and gaza, all very rich and noble fabrics. I wanted a very pure and slim silhouette, so I used a lot of silk jersey and did a lot of braided work. It’s very inspired by Asia, and the ink falling on the body is from the black orchid. The general mood is very Asian.
Can you tell us about the wedding gown?
Ah the wedding gown! It’s a piece of art. It’s not a dress anymore. Each season, I try to make something very unusual, and not a typical wedding dress, because it’s totally boring. If you show a real wedding dress, nobody can buy it, because the press has published the dress already. It’s not a secret for the girl who wants to buy the dress anymore.
There is no need to make a real wedding dress, I prefer to create a piece of art. Each season I make a piece of art, and this time, this dress is a craziness. It’s a 65-kilogram dress, 360 metres of silk satin hand-braided, and embroidered with crystals. It was a huge work taking three weeks with ten girls working night and day on it. It’s crazy, but the result is fantastic.
How did you come up with the idea to do make a dress entirely out of braiding?
I did some samples and I asked my embroiderer to work on the samples, and after that I chose one of them. It’s like as if you are cooking, you know? You add a little bit more salt, a little more spices, and step by step, you create your plate. And it was exactly like that! I did one braid, and asked myself: if I do one smaller, and on different levels, and if I join them all together, what would I get? And I did the entire body. This is my problem – I want a hundred percent. So, when I do a dress with diamonds, I do the entire dress in diamonds. I am a hundred-percent guy. When I’m in love, I’m a hundred percent in love. When I’m furious, I’m a hundred percent furious. You see? (laughs) I don’t like extremism, but I like pure and deep things.
Did you begin with a vision of how the dress should look like, or did it evolve as you went along?
It depends on the dresses, for some of the dresses it goes like that, very normal and clear and logical. And some of the dresses we need more and more different steps because there are so many technical problems to solve. With the wedding dress, at first the collar was higher and later I realized it was not practical because it was too heavy on the body.
I also reduced the hips to make it slimmer, but it was more or less my sketch. I do a lot of sketches and illustrations, and usually it’s very easy for my atelier to follow them because they are very clear.
How did you discover that you wanted to be a fashion designer?
It came naturally to me as if it were in my genes. I think the artistic side was in my family since ever. The Rolland family is known to have a lot of artists, so sculptors, photographers, painters – one of my great-uncles was a very famous painter in France. I am the only fashion designer, but I knew I was made for that when I was four years old. My parents did an experiment. They said, we’re gonna leave our son in the living room, close the door and watch what happens. We’ll leave some paper and some pencils and we’ll make it a test. So they left me alone and I was four years old, at a table with a little chair, and I didn’t know what was happening. I just took a pencil and I designed. My first sketch was a lady in a dress with a big chignon and a huge necklace, and they understood that something was happening.
I told them that I loved to design fashion, and I was not conscious that it was a job. I thought that it was just a pleasure. So I was cutting up my mother’s scarves, cutting up tights, but I didn’t buy a doll or anything. I didn’t sew because I’m not patient at all. I learned, because it was necessary to learn, but I hate to do it. Anyway, I was sculpting bodies in metal, and draping and creating new shapes with pieces of fabric when I was a kid.
For your couture, do you have a particular trademark or signature that is always in your designs?
Yeah, the tunic dress, the sweater dress, the tuxedo, the kimono, they are a part of the DNA of the brand.
I think Japanese architecture has always impressed me. I was reading books on the history of the Chinese dynasty since the last emperor, the dynasties of the emperors of Japan, with all the costumes and kimonos, the mandarin coats in China with all the embroidery.
The mystery through the culture, the Korean dresses, all are very architectural. They are pure, clean and extremely refined, very rich through the fabric and the delicacy of the embroidery. I like the contrast of this very modern design mixed with its signature, which is everything in detail, very small and refined. I love the contrast. If you really look at my work, you can see that everything is a matter of contrast. I love strong shapes, strong cuts that are not too busy.
Ruffles, too much embroidery, too cheesy, too girly, I hate that. I like powerful, sexy and elegant women. So I go straight to the point, with minimalist lines, and some details – some are extremely rich and but very few.
Also you have to remember that my clientele in haute couture are very rich and powerful women. They don’t need to have embroidery and all those details because they already have the most amazing jewellery pieces. So I design pure and simple dresses for them. There is nothing more beautiful than a plain black velvet dress and paired with a necklace or earrings. You don’t need anything else.
Less is more and more is less, that’s my philosophy.
You’ve dressed so many celebrities – who was the first celebrity to approach you?
Oh my God, that’s a good question. Honestly, I don’t remember. I’ve done a lot: Beyonce, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, but also I count celebrities like Eliza Minelli and Joan Collins. They are older, but they are great personalities. I love to dress women in general; I don’t mind about the age or size, I don’t mind at all. I love having different personalities each time.
Who was the most memorable for you to dress?
I have to say that dressing the Queen of Qatar was a great experience.
The Queen of Qatar is one of the most impressive women I have met in my life. So glamorous. She’s royalty, but she is so sensual, so chic, she looks like an actress from the best years of Hollywood. She looks like a new Sophia Loren, an Audrey Hepburn, an Ava Gardner. She is an icon. She was in the newspaper as one of the ten most elegant women and powerful women in the world. So I’m glad I’ve been dressing her for the past 15 years.
I’m very attracted by strong personalities, so to dress strong personalities, each time is a new strong experience.
Have you ever been inspired by any of these personalities to design a dress especially for them?
Not really. I design for all women, not one woman, so I don’t have a muse. I think it’s very restrictive to have a muse so I prefer to be inspired by the world, and not women. I’m inspired by movies, music and cinema and I feel very involved in the world of cinema. I collaborate with film directors and I love that. I love to design dresses for stage as well.
Have you been inspired by any other fashion designers?
Yes of course, I have a lot of admiration for Monsieur Balenciaga, Monsieur Saint-Laurent, and Cardin. Pierre Cardin is a genius. I love the way that Saint-Laurent gave power to women in his strong cuts. I love the futuristic style of Cardin and his freedom. There is no businessman behind him, he’s his own boss – he is very clever and he can do whatever he wants with his money. He’s good in business and he’s free. I believe that we only have one life; I don’t want to be the winner or to be the best; I just want to be happy and to do what I want. I like competition to grow, but I don’t like competition just for competition.
I want to live day by day and to be happy.
Grand Couturier Stephane Rolland showcased his Fall/Winter 2011/2012 Haute Couture collection at Women's Fashion Week held at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. See more photos: http://senatus.net/album/view/2566/