It’s the fashion label on the rise. A duo in town and in the workshop, Ester Manas and Balthazar Delepierre shatter stereotypes with sexy one-size-fits-all pieces that adapt to all silhouettes.
Inclusiveness. All the fashion sphere aims for this ideal, claims it, claims it. In fact, the objective is far from being achieved. It is enough to see the overwhelming majority of filiform girls parading on the catwalks to realize that taboos are far from having disappeared. The curves, the curvy body, ultra-voluptuous forms are still banned. For the past few seasons, however, an independent label on the rise has brilliantly defended another vision of fashion and women: Ester Manas.
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The brand was founded in 2018 by a gifted Franco-Belgian duo: Ester Manas and Balthazar Delepierre, 28, met on the benches of La Cambre, the famous fashion school in Brussels, where they were students. This couple in the city as on the stage has a simple but revolutionary idea: to design clothes in one size that fit all body, from 36 to 54. The concept has nothing to do with a posture or a marketing pretext. “Why is dressing a fat woman a problem in this industry?” Balthazar Delepierre is still surprised. “With my size 44, it has always been difficult for me to find beautiful pieces in stores, adds Ester Manas. If luxury begins to get involved, it only gives a limited proposal. I thought it a shame not to offer creativity to a body that goes beyond the standards.” The committed duo therefore decided to create inclusive and sustainable clothing, capable of accompanying every woman throughout her life.
In an industry that too often glorifies thinness, the approach remains rare. The Ester Manas duo made it an ethical and aesthetic fight, coupled with a technical challenge. Making a piece that can suit all body types – tall, short, fat, thin… – requires skill. By deploying their know-how, the two designers make their textiles stretchable through skilful sleight of hand, and the magic operates thanks to well-placed straps, concealed pleats, inventive gathers, skilful drapes, games of laces, transparency and asymmetrical cuts. The result is a dressing room sexydaring, powerful, which magnifies the woman.
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Very quickly, the eco-responsible label (80% of the materials are recycled or end of stock) meets with the support of the public, celebrities, such as the singers Lizzo and Yseult or the supermodel Naomi Campell, while catching the eye of fashion watchdogs. After a remarkable debut at the Hyères International Fashion and Photography Festival in 2018, they were finalists for the LVMH Prize in 2020 and the Andam in 2021. Since then, each of their body positive fashion shows has caused a sensation and shakes up an industry that is still too much stereotypical: for them, inclusivity rings true. “A punch in the Paris Fashion Week calendar,” commented journalist Loïc Prigent after their last show in Paris. They have also just signed a collection for AZ Factory, the brand created by Alber Elbaz shortly before his death. The result ? Creations in technical and stretchy knit, which stick as close as possible to the body, endowed with a carnal imprint, signature of the Ester Manas duo.
The outfits are cut to catch the eye, the skin is staged, the shapes are sublimated. “You have to love yourself and want to show yourself to wear our clothes,” notes the designer. Their fashion is about empowerment. But it is not always easy to free oneself from one’s complexes. Including for Ester Manas, rather a fan of t-shirt jeans. “I am fat and, like all women, the gaze of others weighs heavily. When I see these girls proudly parading with our clothes on the catwalks, happy in their outfits, loving each other for the first time, or even customers who take a picture of themselves in one of our transparent dresses on their way to the supermarket, I say: “They dare! Do it !””
a fashion story
Fashion can be a great tool for emancipation, self-affirmation, reconciliation too. Ester Manas knows something about it, she lives it every day. “I hid a lot during my studies, also hidden behind the role of designer. I said to myself “being good in your skin is not important, feeling beautiful is not important, what is important is to make a beautiful piece”. Balthazar’s gaze on her contributes to changing his relationship to the body and clothing. “He has always done everything to help me find a solution so that I feel beautiful and invited into the world in which we both work. It serves a purpose of seduction andlove, his way of drawing is very carnal. He creates with me in mind, otherwise he would only make white starched collars! This brand is me. And it’s Balthazar in love with me.”
Fashion has merged them, to the point of playing a driving role in their history. “We built our private couple on it. The job requires such a sacrifice…”, explains Balthazar Delepierre. If we had to look for a recipe for their alchemy, we could find some ingredients in the classic “opposites attract”. “I was popular in the class while Balthazar had three friends at school. On the creative universe, I’m more Britney Spears, he, Bauhaus. Bauhaus versus Britney Spears, it’s funny!” observes Ester Manas. But there is one point all the same that links them from the start: fashion. Or rather, their distrust of fashion, which will be the source of their common approach to work around clothing. He, tall, cerebral, always in black and denim t-shirts, talks about the perception he had of fashion as a teenager: “I saw all these people fighting to have designer clothes, I found that it was the height of uselessness, and absolutely detestable. I had for a very long time, and maybe even still a little today, a hatred of consumer fashion.
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In Brussels, where he was born and where he grew up, Balthazar is fed with art and culture. The credit given to the garment comes later, on the way to his typography studies at La Cambre. Her esthete stature earned her a job there as a model for a fashion show, before entering as a student. “I had a slap. I realized that fashion could be used for more than just making show-off, she can tell stories, with very distinct personalities and worlds.” Ester, she, from a line of teachers, dreams of studying art since her native Toulouse. With her baccalaureate in hand, she left the family fold to train in graphic design in Paris. Then, she goes to La Cambre, in Brussels, to test the garment, with the idea of working it like a sculpture. These two meet, get close…and cheat. “I requisitioned Balthazar in secret to help me prepare for my La Cambre entrance exam. We did it together, we shouldn’t have, smiles Ester Manas. He did it out of kindness and dedication, the way one can help in a budding relationship.” From this couple of lovers, a united professional tandem is born. “We are very family with Ester, this dimension is also found in our shows”, explains Balthazar Delepierre. Among the girls parading, many are friends of the couple who come to lend a hand or novices in modeling. All proudly display a size 42 or more. “They want to show themselves, take responsibility, and send us a crazy energy that allows us to hold on for the next six months, always violent,” explains Balthazar Delepierre.
Between two parades, reality takes over. “We are all alone at home making Excel spreadsheets,” Ester Manas quips. Against the backdrop of a sense of class defector. “When you don’t come from luxury and you get there, you have to believe that you come from it, that you have the codes”, explains the designer. The brand works with the means at hand. Understand: in pairs and self-financing. Concretely, this goes through eighty-hour weeks, nights dedicated to design, stress to spare… If the label parades in Paris, the couple has chosen to live and work in Brussels, under the fashion radars . “Brussels allowed us to create our brand by offering us more space, perspective, and a solid environment,” explains Ester Manas. The entrepreneurial experience is galvanizing, but not painless. “Our parents do not have this fiber, explains Balthazar Delepierre. We come from a difficult background, we move forward without help. For us, it is constantly the test of fire, with the expectation of the seal of general approval”. For now, sales are doubling after each fashion show, business is doing well. Nevertheless, the young couple is on his guard. He fears a: “We must leave now.” They still have to operate a more intimate revolution: overcome the syndrome of the impostor…