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Sumptuous silks, buttery cottons and feathery chiffons in a dazzling array of colours and prints are used by fashion houses every season. They are carefully cut, draped and sewn into the latest styles.
And then these exquisite textiles are usually completely destroyed.
Shocked at the scale of this waste, Swedish-born designer Charlotte Bialas dedicated herself to travelling the globe to acquire exclusive fabric made especially for the world’s biggest fashion house in order to use them in her own one-of-a-kind designs. “Of course in fashion, there is almost always overproduction and waste–it’s inevitable. I thought that is such as shame…I just wanted to prove that there is so much we can still use,” she explains. And use it she does: Bialas ensures every scrap is transformed into something useful: “even if it’s just to make a little change purse, I will use every bit that’s left,” Bialas states, underscoring her ecological credentials.
Bialas has managed to create a very distinctive brand, with a clear bent for vintage fabrics from the 1950s-80s, which she cuts into forms based on a single geometric shape: circles, triangles, rectangles or squares. Her unique touch manages to convert these simple lines into strong, normally non-Western, silhouettes, such as that of the Japanese kimono, the Indian sari or the Greek peplos, all of which are easy for women of all sizes and ages to wear. Ironically, many of her customers are Japanese, yet they demand more European shapes, while those living on the continent are more attracted to Asian styles. “People seem to want whatever is exotic to them,” she explains. For that reason, she has ventured beyond the confines of couture and is now searching for stunning prints from around the globe. “Mali has a fantastic print making tradition, and there is some beautiful traditional cloth being produced in small villages in China and Japan that I’ll be using in future collections,” she promises.
Oddly enough, the designer’s career didn’t begin with a focus on printed textile. After taking a quick course in draping, she and a partner opened a shop in Paris in the 1980s. At the time, Bialas says France’s capital was full of trans-Atlantic shoppers, keen to return home with a treasure bought in the City of Lights. Word about her brand spread, and before she knew it, she was selling to prestigious departments stores like Barney’s in New York and Holt Renfrew in Canada. By the late 80’s, however, consumers were tiring of the trend for stark minimalism as exemplified by Helmut Lang, Jil Sander and Calvin Klein, and the buyer at Barney’s encouraged Bialas to produce more designs in print, as demand for them grew.
Since then, she has remained loyal to creating her designs from pretty prints. “There was something in my Swedish side that always felt comfortable with print,” she explains. “Growing up, I was surrounded by printed textiles on curtains and furniture, so it just felt right.” Her passion for vintage fabrics has endured for the past thirty years, and she loves merging the quality of, say, a Pucci silk from the 1950’s, with a customer’s own design – she’s even created bespoke wedding dresses.
Today, there are Charlotte Bialas boutiques around the world, from Amsterdam to Australia, and her success in ladies’ wear has spurred her on to consider designing a new range for the home, including wallpaper and soft furnishings created from recycled textiles. No matter what Bialas puts her hand to, you can bet it will be something cut from a different cloth.