The seductive patience of Carine Gilson

04.12.2014 - Dries Tack

It would be fair to argue that lace no longer holds any secrets for Carine Gilson, even though she may be too humble to say it herself. The Brussels-born designer has craft and passion in her blood, being a firm believer in what she creates and having spent enough time to turn her dream into reality. Throughout her career, Gilson has elevated fine underwear to the levels of French Haute Couture, using the most precious silks, refined patterns and intricate embellishment techniques. This month, she presented an exclusive design for Les Sapins de Noël des Créateurs, which can be viewed at SMETS until the 30th of November. Next year, Carine Gilson will celebrate 25 years in the business and she keeps on pushing herself creatively, designing and conceiving three collections a year. We caught up with the warm and talented Belgian to discuss her working process, her most favourite references and what true luxury actually means to her.

I watched the video you made with Nick Knight's Showstudio and was impressed with how dedicated and focused you came across. What are the aspects you like the most in your job? I love being able to do and supervise everything from beginning to end. I'm a designer, a businesswoman and a manager. In fact, it's a complete luxury for me to work the way we do, having our own atelier and being able to supervise our production that way. As a designer, you need to think about every single step, from the initial design idea to the actual sale. I love the completeness of it all. Luxury is an overused word, which seems to have lost its value. How would you define it yourself? I feel that the word has been used wrongly by too many people. We lost touch with its meaning. You even hear some brands or designers refer to their work as Haute Couture, when you clearly see that their creations are not on the same level. In my mind, luxury has to stay niche. It also implies the existence of craftsmen, as well as an atelier behind them. You cannot separate luxury from the notion of handicraft.

Did your designs find their clients straight away? Not at all. It took some time before important stores bought the collection. In the early 1990s, there was a strong minimalist wave and I was not exactly in tune with that movement. My references were Old Hollywood glamour, Fred Astaire's musicals and gorgeous actresses. I loved feathers, silk satin and lace. I guess it was all a bit too Ginger Rogers for Belgium, but I stuck to my vision and reputed stores eventually bought the line, such as Barneys New York in 1994. Little by little, we became more known within the fashion world. It's funny in a way, because Martin Margiela is one of my favourite designers - and an iconic figure from that period - but a world of whimsy and dreams was what I was going for. I didn't plan it, it's just what I wanted to go for.

Do you have clients who are faithful to your brand? Yes, we have a few and I know some of them personally. There's a woman who has bought my pieces for 18 years now and she recently introduced her daughter to the line.

Underwear is highly technical and precise. Does it require sound expertise? It definitely does. I often compare it to making shoes with high heels, you need to make sure the fit is perfect to allow maximum comfort for the wearer. We have our underwear on for most of the day, so why shouldn't it be exactly the same? Philippe Pourhashemi for Belgian Boutique 2014

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