In our Meet the Makers series, we converse with creatives around the world who share Open Road’s passion for exceptional craftsmanship and design, often inspired by a rich cultural heritage. Open Road’s Charmaine Lim speaks with Félicie Corre-Le Blan about princess dresses, being turned down by craftsmen, and her Shanghai-grown fashion and lifestyle brand Chinoises.
Félicie Corre-Le Blan is unafraid. She draws from her Parisian roots and Shanghainese present, and stamps “Proudly made in China” on every exquisitely tailored brocade jacket, jade-and-leather bangle, and art-deco-style armchair that makes up Chinoises, her brand of fashion and lifestyle goods. Read how she brings together local craft traditions with her fashionable history at Hermès to create a line (and life) of casual elegance:
Open Road: You left a highly coveted position at Hermès — a bold move. What inspired you to start your own brand?
Félicie Corre-Le Blan: I was ready for my own project. I learned so much working for Hermès — although I was in communications, the brand worked with beautiful objects, materials, and artisans — but after 15 years I was ready to start something where I could play with different influences and showcase the crafts that I love through my own interpretation. I would return from the Yunnan Province with beautiful costumes worn by the Miao people. I’d get so very excited discovering artisanal heritage and already started working with craftsmen in Shanghai to tailor some pieces for me. I thought, Could this be reversible? Perhaps we could add denim or pockets, and tailor the shape a little more?
© Chinoises L'Inconstante reversible jacket in denim and yellow brocade; white copper and leather bracelets, handmade by the Miao people of Guizhou, a southwest province of China; La Frivole, a spin on the classic button-up shirt.
OR: Denim and silk? Not a combination you see often!
FCL: Silk is part of China’s DNA, and the color combinations you find with Chinese silk are simply incredible! As children, everyone has an image of a “princess dress.” I would dream about a silk coat with fabulous colors and embroidery, the Chinese way. These days, I have also reimagined the classic white shirt by using luxurious fabrics like Chinese brocade because I love the colors and classic motifs like peonies, dragon, and phoenix.
OR: How do you begin your design process?
FCL: I can’t call myself a designer. I studied law — which is so far from what I’m doing now! — but my family was in fashion, and it’s something I’ve always loved. I start by looking at what I like wearing and thinking of the possibilities of how it can be worn. I love wearing lots of bangles, and I was thrilled to find a skilled artisan producing Miao bracelets in Guizhou. The shape was so simple, and I thought of adding a little black leather to make it rock ’n’ roll.
© Chinoises Shanghai Forever jackets feature fonts and icons that reflect the art deco era; “Our Miao embroidery belts were originally pieces of a skirt. I fixed two pieces together to make the first design. The idea for the wraparound leather straps came later,” Corre-Le Blan said.
OR: There seems to be a sense of place infused in all your designs. How has living in Shanghai inspired your work?
FCL: The colors! Especially for Europeans, we tend to use grey, beige, navy, black, so seeing these brightly colored fabrics, like vivid pinks or reds, are such a big contrast. The art deco period in Shanghai is another source of inspiration. I have these armchairs that I’m making out of inexpensive office chairs from the ’50s and ’60s, and then reupholstering them with art deco fabric. I also made our Shanghai Forever jacket, which is based on a workman’s jacket and the stylistic font and tower to reflect that epoch. I’ve also enjoyed discovering the many crafts outside of Shanghai.
OR: Your pieces champion local culture and handwoven textiles. Has it been challenging to find unique pieces and realize your vision?
FCL: [Gasp] Oh my god, it is definitely challenging to source and make every piece. I went to Sichuan recently, and I bought a saddlebag from a nomad. I admired the patterns and the craftsmanship but felt that the bag was a little too big, so the plan was to find a craftsman to re-create it in different proportions. But the craftspeople said they weren’t interested!
It was a similar situation when I was at a small mountain village in Guizhou. Artisans were selling printed textile pieces with traditional motifs, but the fabric wasn’t exceptional. It can be difficult to find specialized artisans, but at the same time, that’s what makes it exciting.
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