Catherine Malandrino ‒ A Fashion Fairy Tale



Once upon a time, during the 70s of the last century, a young fashion princess lived an untroubled childhood in the idyllic French Alps. Along with her three sisters, the young girl enjoyed pastoral life in her native city of Grenoble in France. They spent the snowy winters of the late 70s indulging in their favorite pastime, skiing, every day. And had the young girl not been struck by a momentous burst of inspiration one day, life, together with her sisters, could have meandered along this quiet path for many a further year. However, upon her 12th birthday, a desire to distinguish herself from all the other skiers on the slopes began to burn strongly within her. And so, one night, she crept stealthily down to her mother's sewing kit and removed a needle and some thread. With it she tailored a ski suit that was a thousand times prettier and a thousand times more ornate than any that had ever been seen in the land. The ski suit made with silver and gold-colored fabric instantly transformed the young fashion princess into the star of the slopes. A heady moment during which the young girl became aware that her self-made fashion bestowed her with a secret power, a power that singled her out. And she began to fantasize about using this secret power on all the young women of this world.

My first self-designed ski suit made me feel like a superstar on the slope. All of a sudden I felt like I was somebody.

The valiant little tailor conquers Paris

What may sound like the first lines of a fairy tale is, in fact, the true story of Catherine Malandrino, one of the most talented and aspiring fashion designers of the 21st century. The passionate childhood visions of the small-town French teenager found an outlet at the ESMOD, a renowned French fashion academy, in the heart of Paris. After finishing her studies, Malandrino worked as a junior designer for couture fashion labels such as Dorothée Bis, Louis Féraud and Emanuel Ungaro, before the French label "Et Vous" hired her as creative designer in the middle of the 90s. Then in 1998, Malandrino, who was in her late twenties, went on a business trip for "Et Vous" ‒ a trip whose business purpose has long been forgotten, but proved to be a further auspicious step in Catherine Malandrino's wondrous career.

Everything was falling into place. The man gave me wings to really fly.

The knight in shining armor

With her lustrous, long brunette hair and pale, Snow-White complexion, Malandrino once again became the center of life-changing attention. Bernard Aiden, then a co-proprietor of the American "Et Vous" was stunned by the elegant Frenchwoman. And the young designer fell in love head-over-heels with the handsome fashion manager. Suddenly, things moved very quickly and just several months later, Malandrino moved from Paris to New York, and soon after gave birth to their son Oscar. "I was in the right place at the right time," remarks Malandrino, now a New Yorker with heart and soul. And painting a vivid image, she adds, “and Bernard gave me the wings to fly.” Aiden's contacts reached into the deepest nooks and crannies of New York's high society, and so it was no coincidence that one evening the newly enamored fashion designer found herself attending a private dinner party hosted by Diane von Fürstenberg. The legendary Belgian designer was deeply impressed by the ambitious Frenchwoman's youthful brio ‒ and offered her the post of senior designer that very evening.

Establishing my own brand happened quite naturally. It was more about honesty than conscious branding.

The queen of hearts

Malandrino enthusiastically accepted the offer and started working double shifts. During the day she would design for Diane von Fürstenberg, at nighttime for herself. "I wanted other women to share in my creativity," the fashion designer recalls from the early days of her label. "Until this day I have always designed according to the same credo: "How can I give my client the feeling of uniqueness?" Malandrino found her first answers in the epic road movie "Easy Rider." Inspired by the movie's saga about the American dream of unlimited freedom, Malandrino started a collection that would to go down in the annals of fashion history as the "Flag Collection." The concept: loosely fitting dresses combined with jagged T-shirts that were inspired by the Stars and Stripes. Then shortly before the presentation of her first collection coincidence struck again. This time however in the guise of a cataclysmic inferno: September 11, 2001.

Fashion exists to express the moment.

The attack on the World Trade Center not only profoundly shocked the world, it also triggered a huge, even by US standards, surge of patriotism throughout the United States. Numerous artists picked up on the movement and took notice of Malandrino’s "Flag Collection." "A few days after my fashion show in the Apollo Theater in Harlem I had Ian Phillips on the phone," Malandrino recounts. Even today, a sense of wonder at the call by Madonna's manager lingers on. Madonna's order for a stage outfit meant that Malandrino's first collection was instantly displayed on the great stages of the world. And further inquiries from other international stars followed.

I cannot imagine being anything else than a fashion designer.

American fairy tale: Sex and the City

Today, Demi Moore wears Malandrino's ingenious designs as do other stars like Jennifer Aniston, Charlize Theron or Sarah Jessica Parker. The latter not only wears Catherine Malandrino creations in private, she also made a very public endorsement already in 2002, shortly after the opening of Malandrino's first boutique in New York. In the role of Carrie Bradshaw in "Sex and the City," Sarah Jessica Parker could be seen browsing through the design boutique in New York's trendy SoHo district, thereby giving the French fledgling designer a further hefty shot of attention. The day after the episode was first aired, hundreds of young women streamed into the boutique. "I cannot imagine being anything else than a fashion designer," Malandrino says today, some ten years after her breakthrough. And judging by the story line up to now: Why should she?

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