The enthusiasm of Ester Manas and Balthazar Delepierre almost burst into the Zoom. They were days away from a Parisian pop-up showcasing the collection they had designed as new Amigos from AZ Factory, and their propensity to finish each other’s sentences kicked up a few notches. “We were surprised when they called,” Ester began, “and super happy,” Balthazar noted.
Earlier this year, as the one-year anniversary of Alber Elbaz’s sudden passing approached, the company he founded introduced a new rotating designer concept, Amigo, into mainstream parlance. South African talent Thebe Magugu was the first; he unveiled his fall 2022 collection for the brand in April. Cyril Bourez has created a collection of couture ready-to-wear from glued vintage t-shirts. It is now the turn of Manas and Delepierre.
The duo is new to the Parisian fashion scene, with just two shows to their name. She’s French, he’s Belgian, and from their home in Brussels, they’re building a size-inclusive brand, the dresses that Manas wraps and puckers over her own curvy figure. “I make clothes to accommodate everyone,” she told Vogue Runway last season.
Size inclusion was one of the principles Elbaz spoke about when he launched AZ Factory in early 2021. This first offering was called “My Body” and his knit dresses were designed to fit in all shapes and sizes. In this sense, this AZ Factory offering designed by Ester Manas is the closest to Elbaz’s work so far, the most friendlyIf you want.
The collection opens with a very Ester Manas silhouette, stripped and puffy on the bodice, with long sleeves and a clinging midi skirt, in the very Alber Elbaz electric fuchsia hue. There is a second dress in this color with pronounced shoulders which Manas considers another of Elbaz’s characteristics.
They also worked extensively with knitting – the sticky pieces feature lots of cutouts – and experimented with new clothes for the first time. “At Ester Manas, we have a unique concept. At AZ, we decided to design clothes that were flexible but true to size, so we were able to try things that we hadn’t been able to do before,” Delepierre began. “Like pants!” Manas added. “Courting!”
“Food could be the best meeting point between Alber and us,” continued Delepierre. Manas agreed: “That was the starting point. The link between the body, big or not, and food in fashion is sometimes very delicate. Alber, but we too would really like to play with this idea. “For fun,” Delepierre interjected. “And to say, it’s okay,” she concluded.
That was Elbaz’s message to AZ. Lamenting his friends’ perpetual diets, he said, “We’re not here to transform women; we are here to embrace them. He loved to eat and entertain – his Lanvin shows could be counted on for champagne and other treats – so he would surely have enjoyed the New Dutch still life which is the only print in the collection. Look closely and you will see blueberries, asparagus, lemons, roast chicken, other dishes. In their signature style, Manas and Delepierre printed it on mesh, which they stretched and gathered into clingy numbers with a high slit or keyhole at the neckline. Yum.