It comes as no surprise that French woman have a certain…ah, how do they say it? Je ne sais quoi. That special something - ineffable, untouchable and unmistakable. The creative force and spirit behind the luxury accessory brand, Victorian Woman, is no exception. Infusing the company with a fiery passion and clear vision, Manuela has successfully given life to her numerous artistic interests including Gothic literature and romanticism. She gives us a glimpse into her mysterious and glamorous life, opening up about her greatest inspirations, the role fashion plays in self-image and her advice for fellow, young entrepreneurs.
You cite romantic fantasy literature, Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite period painting as a source of inspiration for you. Have you always been interested in those things?
Yes, I have always been interested in arts, fantasy and legends in general. And this interest grew up with the years and become more accurate. There is in fantasy and Gothic literature, in pre-Raphaelite and Renaissance paintings a particular beauty and femininity that talks to me more than another literature or paintings: a touch of mystery, femininity and romanticism that is a part of my personality. The textures, fabrics, women, expressions, themes that are depicted in those paintings inspired me a lot for my collections. I am interested in a large kind of arts in any case but more precisely by the underground culture (cinema, fashion designers, sculpture, engraving, legends and mysteries, illustrators as well as music). That’s why I wanted to express my artistic fiber that has always been present in my activities and tastes. As the French writer Victor Hugo said "The form is the substance which rises to the surface”, that’s exactly what I needed to do a few years ago. I needed to express my passions, my inspirations and to transform them into a personal project: Victorian Woman.
What initially sparked your interest in fashion?
As I said before, I have always been interested in Arts: I have made some music with some bands as a drummer; I drew at a time in a fantasy style and paint my drawings, and sew of course. The fact is that I have always been attracted by clothes that can improve our appearance and give us a personal style, more than any other art. I started making a few clothes for me when I was at university because there were not underground shops where I could buy clothes, there was some in Paris, Grenoble. Mainly some skirts, bracelets, mittens and purses. But the very moment when I decided to build this project is when my passions took a so important place in my life that I couldn’t live without them to be an everyday life. I choose design because it is the more important for me: it is the satisfaction to create something with your hands and to give birth to pieces that enter the life of people, to provide high quality and original accessories to women in a particular style to give them a distinct look.
Do you think that clothing and accessories play a somewhat significant role in positive self-image for women? Why or why not?
Of course that it takes a significant role! Fashion is a mean to reveal your personality or your envy to be someone else thanks to clothes, to know and express who you are or who you want to be: it is a kind of search for perfection and a way to extend your personality to the clothes you wear, a way to show a part of you without talking, to express yourself as I express myself in the art of fashion. A woman, or a man, that takes care of her appearance always gives a positive message to other people but first of all a positive image of herself. I can give a vivid example: when you are on the phone, if you are dressed and you have some make up, your voice and attitude is not the same than if you are not. You got a self assurance that is communicated even if the person can’t see you.
What is your educational/experiential background?
I have been at the University of Nice, in the South of France, where I studied mainly languages and their civilization (Italian, English) as well as law, English and Italian literature. This educational background leaded me to work first as a hostess or as a teacher. But I have always been aware that it was a phase and not a vocation because I have always been creative in my personal life. I started sewing more and more, and slowly, it became obvious that it has to become a daily activity and I created then my own studio. Everyone knows that it’s an awesome thing to have your passion and work become your daily life. I have an atypical path because I didn’t learn to make fashion accessories at school or with a designer. I read a lot of books dealing with the making of clothes, period fashion, making accessories, about fabrics. The internet had also been a huge help! Many interesting and gifted people share their knowledge and experience with others. I learned a lot thanks to them.
What do you envision the women wearing your clothes doing? Do you design with a particular vision in mind?
When I imagine my clients with my designs, I imagine them in very different occasions. In fact, I see them working in an office or elsewhere, having a drink with some friends, dancing at a party, or even doing their shopping. The message I would like to give is that one doesn’t need to be/dress "Goth" to wear the Victorian Woman designs: everybody can wear them daily to have a very exclusive and original look as well as for a special occasion. I design in fact with a particular vision in mind directly linked to my interests : sometimes it can be a legend (for example, the “Orphée” Collection linked to the famous Orpheus Greek mythology ), a color (the “Venise” Collection reminding the red color of love), a book (the “Titania” Collection is a tribute to the “Midsummer Night Dream” queen fairy from W. Shakespeare), a sensation (Hair slides “Tendresse” that means in French “Tenderness” because the cabochons made of rose quartz that decorate them is a gemstone regarded as a stone of unconditional love and tenderness), … Every design has a direct inspiration or is linked to a personal story.
If you were not designing, what would you be doing?
If I were not designing, I think that I would do in any case an artistic activity. I think maybe to sculpt or to paint. I need to create something with my hands.
Who has been the greatest source of inspiration to you in your lifetime?
I don’t know exactly if someone in particular influenced my lifetime until today. A lot of artists of all fields of course as I explained before influenced my life, have been a great source of inspiration. On the other hand, I could say that some people influence my present life, such as my friends who bring me good moments and advices, my husband who gave me the impulsion to dare, to realize myself through my passions, who helps and creatively supports me and my project, the photographer, Sylvain Renault.
If you could give one single piece of advice to someone interested in pursuing their own entrepreneurial dreams, what would it be?
I feel a little young to give an advice as a businesswoman, but I would say that the main thing, if someone is really interested in pursuing their own entrepreneurial dreams, is hardworking, to never give up if you believe in your project. If you believe in you and your project, everyone would follow. Nothing is easy. It’s a hard and long-term job, but the personal satisfaction you get is incomparable!
Your house is on fire and you only have time to grab one item - what is it?
That’s a very difficult question for me because I put a part of me in each piece. Very often, I want to keep the pieces I make for me, but I also want to share those designs with the customers, to give them the possibility to own them. For this collection, I think that I would keep the underbust corset “Flore” made of a very beautiful purple iridescent taffetas, decorated with a black rose lace and carved amethyst leaves and beads. Amethyst is one of my favorite stones and purple is a color that attracts me a lot.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I think about me in the garden of my “brand new” Gothic castle, with a pen in one hand sketching new designs, and in the other, a cocktail!
What does fashion mean to you?
For me, fashion means creativity, inspiration, passion, art; it’s a strong and glamorous way of communication that permits to show a part of yourself and let go out what is inside to outside and show it to people, to express a state of mind, your emotions, a desire for a kind of perfection, to be in keeping with your feelings, your personality. It brings beauty and self-confidence. It permits to seduce
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