The late Alber Elbaz loved to talk about food, and commiserate about his excess weight. But mostly he spoke about serving women with clothes that were easy and desirable, but not overpowering, so you see the person and not the dress.
No doubt he would smile upon the choice of the latest “guest amigo” for his upstart fashion house AZ Factory: size-inclusive brand Ester Manas, designed by Ester Manas and Balthazar Delepierre.
AZ Factory said Ester Manas would unveil a “collaborative product story” in June for fall retailing, sharing a brief “breaking news” statement exclusively to WWD and a photo of the design duo with a group of AZ Factory employees. Other details are still under wraps.
Ester Manas, who are winning acclaim and retail traction for their sensual collections for women of all sizes and shapes, are the second “guest amigos” at Paris-based AZ Factory following the death of Albaz in April 2021. The first was South African designer Thebe Magugu, whose knife-pleated skirts and handsome wool coats start dropping next month.
Compagnie Financière Richemont, which established AZ Factory as a joint venture with Elbaz in 2019, decided the way forward after his passing would be to invite fashion talents who need “support and help” at a critical juncture in their careers. The strategy is analogous in some ways to fashion prizes, only offering an entire ecosystem — a design studio, atelier, marketing muscle and communications channels — and not only cash and mentoring.
in Brussels, Manas and Delepierre rose to prominence in 2018 when they scooped the Galeries Lafayette Prize at the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography with their “Big Again” collection, going on to design a capsule line for the French department store chain.
The couple met while studying at Belgian fashion school La Cambre. After stints at Balenciaga, Paco Rabanne and Acne Studios, Manas grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of offer for women her size. Delepierre noted that even among emerging fashion brands, the label remains an oddity in offering an inclusive wardrobe and messaging.
They began showing during Paris Fashion Week in September 2021, and have largely stuck with their formula of sheer ruched dresses and peephole knit pieces, modeled by women of different sizes. Their clothes are stocked by fewer than 10 retailers, including The Webster and Ssense.
AZ Factory unveiled its first fashions, centered around smart fabrics, in January 2021 alongside a business model hinged on projects rather than collections, and with storytelling, problem-solving and entertainment embedded in design, distribution and communications.