MARIE LABARELLE, CLOTHES DESIGNER
© January 2011
Texte traduit du français à l'anglais par Sika Fakambi.
By way of a shop sign, a mere thread of white painting, as though unreeled from a spool, runs on the front window. A thread from the fabric, a thread from the seam, a thread from the thoughts, the thread of dreams or times – it signals this place “of all possibilities” where Marie Labarelle designs and creates clothes for women, following the course of her many travels – real or imaginary.
The whole story started with a skirt – forgotten in a laundry basket. So this would be the name: The Forgotten Skirt (In the Laundry Basket). Marie Labarelle has examined each and every fold of the garment, she has reflected upon the aesthetics of accidental creases, and from this matter of chance she has made a piece of clothing. And she did it again, and again. Each piece that comes into shape in her hands – coats, skirts, trousers, jackets, vests, blouses, tops, twinsets, tunics… almost a decade of creation – thus results from her long researches on the fold: coiled, puffed, pointed, draped, flowing…
A piece of fabric may well lay on the couch of her workshop for a month or two, she will drop an eye on it as she passes by, she will turn it over, handle it, test its reactions. Then at some point, she will drape herself in the fabric, throw it above her shoulder, hold it tight around her waist. And that is how she truly “enters” the fabric, discovers the possibilities of the material’s natural movements. And from these movements, she will create forms. Every time, it’s a challenge: wanderings, trials and errors, sudden brainwaves, and the surprise of experimenting the very moment of conception, which might prove itself difficult to keep in mind or to rediscover when the time eventually comes to analyse it and bring it to reality. “When you’re actually looking for something, you never know. You make your choices instinctively, by accident. Everything is latent, and at some point it all turns to evidence.”
Unlike most designers, who first sketch a silhouette, then find the suitable fabric and cut it according to the pattern’s outlines, Marie Labarelle starts by working directly on the mannequin and creates her clothes directly in three dimensions. In this process, the fabric progressively comes to life – its soul unveils itself. A sleeper soul, laying in wait, ready to entirely unfurl when the clothes will finally move on women’s bodies…
In her travels to Japan and Indonesia, Marie Labarelle was caught in a particular stream of thoughts, visions and emotions, which have proved to be in harmony with her intuitions, abundantly nourishing her sources of inspiration. In the 2009 autumn-winter collection, entitled “On the Slopes of the Chimaera Volcano”, the forms and movements of the Straelitzia look are in perfect resonance with the magnificent tropical flower that gave its name to that very series; and the Lava Coat, the Merapi Coat, as well as the Lava Dress, directly stem from one of the most powerful experiences of that trip – the volcano experience.
The following collections were inspired by imaginary travels. In “My Mehari”, the 2010 spring-summer collection, the lines and movements of the Mehari look – Skirt, Blouse, Jacket and Dress – originate from the spine. The fabric resting on the vertebrae keeps in its folds the print of their pattern, its undulating lines reminiscent of a swaying camel caravan crossing the desert. The Draped T-Shirt or the Knitwear Twinset, light but covering, may well be imagined as garments to wear during a long walk under a blazing sun, while the Scarf Top, leaving the arms and the upper back naked, is to be worn under the shade of trees in an oasis.
We leave the desert. Enter three women – or is it just the one walking in the scorching heat and light of the desert who thus ends up thrice reincarnated? This is the “Flight of the Women with Windy Soles” – the 2011 autumn-winter collection. TheAviator, the Bird and Icarus’ Sister have in common the same fragility, meant here as a strength – that of lightness. The Earth, the Water and the Fire ran in the previous collections, but in this one, it is the Air that circulates. The Millie Trousers, Sweater and Coat do pay tribute to the boldness of illustrious American aviator Amelia Earhart, nicknamed “Millie”. The Alae Skirt, Blouse and Jacket directly evoke wings – organs of flight –, and study their lines, their spans.
Marie Labarelle believes that a piece of clothing is not quite complete until it has been chosen – drawing to itself, for a complex set of reasons, a woman who will wear it with all her being. That is why the fitting room session is neither drudgery nor mere routine, but really an experience that must be considered as a moment of proof. Marie Labarelle positions the clothes on a body, completes the fit with a few stitches, adjusting it properly, making it a unique model. This is also the moment when she witnesses the transformation of a woman as she dresses up. To don a garment in the full sense of the phrase. The garment acts on the body, it reveals the body. But the garment is also revealed by the body, and thus fully becomes clothing [in French: habit]. “To inhabit a flower”… “To inhabit a shell”… “To drape oneself in a membrane of air”… So, each time they put on their clothes, women are invited to read the poem inscribed on the clothes’ labels. “In my heart, flowers in armfuls”. “Between fabric and skin, my mood roams”. “To lean on air”. And so it that, before departing with a particular woman, each piece of clothing is endowed with its own special formula, both an expression of the state of mind it may incite, and an evocation of the beginning of its story, at the time when, a year before or even more, a piece a fabric was chosen, brought into the workshop, and laid down to rest for a while on the couch…
As she was contemplating an Aboriginal painting in Musée du Quai Branly, Marie Labarelle has had the vision of a “Landscape Woman”, wearing a garment that she would inhabit as she would of a territory, a garment that would reveal the whole her body. That founding vision of an inhabited garment has directed her in all her creations since. From that day on, in that unique place where the threads of her inner life, of her art and her being-in-the-world are daily weaved, Marie Labarelle has been constantly tracking each and every movement in the fabrics, and she has been fashioning her folds to meet forms and bodies. Thus speaks the “Landscape Woman”: within nature a clothed body, an inhabited garment.
* Isabelle Van Welden was born in Paris, in 1954. Her family is originally from the Flanders. With a theater career in mind, she devotes herself to acting and drama for a number of years while pursuing her studies in history. She starts writing in 1989. Since 1994, she’s been working at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Isabelle Van Welden is the author of Le Palais des archives, a novel published in 2002 by Christian Bourgois Éditeur.
Photography: Delphine Graticola, Armelle Bouret, Matthieu Gauchet.