The Masters: Amélie Beluze
Pure or plain? Sensual or sexy? Modern or nostalgic? Amélie Beluze knows how to strike a perfect balance. After an intense run-up to the LFW MA show, the 28-year old knitwear designer feels ready to start her professional career and work for a company. “I can’t stay in my own little world.”
But what a world that is! It is rare to find a collection that is as intimate, emotional and conceptual as this one. Still waters run deep, and so her minimal silhouettes – long A-line skirts and turtlenecks in a muted palette – are only the surface of her complex story.
It started with a movie: Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce by the Belgian experimental filmmaker Chantal Akerman. Through three hours of tableaux vivants Akerman shows the daily life and desperation of a middle-aged housewife. “When I first saw the movie I was stunned,” Amélie says “everything is so recognisable yet so strange.”
Amélie was particularly drawn to the graphic scenes where Jeanne changes clothes, and she started developing her collection around the concept of getting dressed. With a meticulous eye for detail and through hours of styling and restyling, Amélie created silhouettes on the verge of being undone: the loose knit sweater hanging largely over the model’s shoulder, the buttons of her pants and jacket wide open, barely holding onto her body with elastic straps.
The silhouette on the verge of being undone shows a woman on the edge of explosion. By reworking the character of the desperate housewife, Amélie makes her audience pay attention to something so recognisable, yet so often ignored. This woman is not fierce or glamourous or powerful, she is real. “I sound like an old grandma, but I think some collections are not showing women in a respectful way. They seem to feel powerless and full of anger. I think there is something lacking in the fashion world today.”
However, this doesn’t mean that her woman isn’t attractive. Amélie kept wondering “how to reveal the underwear in a way that is not sexy but sensual”, looking to reclaim the beauty of this forgotten woman. The result is an effortless attraction, a French sensuality, grown out of subtle suggestion. “This woman is sensual without trying to be.” Long hemlines and heavy knits are combined with see through fabrics and naked shoulders to achieve that accidental elegance.
Showing the underwear was also a way to play around with the concept of revealing what should not be seen: the character’s fragility. Made out of artificial fibres, Amélie’s knits look just like wool from afar, but feel almost spongy and crunchy when touched. Thus, she tries to highlight the contrast between what is perceived and what is the truth.
The act of dressing and undressing functions as a nucleus to reflect around different themes. Most importantly, it is about creating the right woman – “It is more important to show the character and the image of the woman I got in my mind.”
Amélie admits she’s often been told her style is too plain. Indeed, Amélie is not interested in creating fireworks. A true perfectionist, she reworks every detail. Thus, the tiniest spark can light up an entire room: “Detail is so important. Even changing the hemline for one centimetre creates a completely different world.”
Amélie’s starting point is so strong and personal it could’ve easily lost its meaning in a fashion collection. But she turned it into a concept as soon as her hands touched the knitting machine. That perfect balance between dressed and undressed is the result of extreme technical skill.
When you first see Amélie, it is hard to imagine that this frail figure hides the strength to gracefully manoeuvre the old knitting machines that dominate the studios on the second floor. At 5”5’ she barely reaches the top of the machine, but as her controlled hand moves the thread fluidly through the needles, one thing becomes very clear: this girls knows (and loves) what she’s doing.
Amelie was always drawn to knitting. Growing up in Lyon, she remembers looking up to her grand-mother as she worked in one of the French couture houses. She first studied fashion design in her hometown of La Martinière, which was mainly womenswear, and then she followed it up with an MA in textiles. It is here she developed her talent and turned it into skill.
However, the Masters degree felt too restrictive. In textiles, she was missing the diversity that comes with designing garments. “I love fashion because it is so broad. You draw, you drape, you pick fabric, you make colour palettes. It is experimentation. I couldn’t have done graphic design – just sitting behind a computer, it doesn’t make sense”. The knitwear pathway at CSM provides that perfect combination.
Craftsmanship stays important to Amélie: “I love creating things and making things, it’s so important.” Asked about her fashion heroes she says they are “always those who know their techniques.” She admires the craftsmen who still have a sense with what they make and a love for the product. This is why she regrets the many factories closing in Europe, and the loss of skill that goes with it. “It’s possible to make your collection locally, there are so many factories in England and Italy. And it’s better for your collection. If it’s made close to you, you can check up more easily.”
Sponsored by the Jane Rapley Scholarship to cover a big part of expenses, Amélie had only one real difficulty: the slow pace of knitting is hard to combine with the speed of deadlines. Since you are making your own fabric, there is no way to know what a piece will look like before you’ve actually made it. “That’s what I like as well, sometimes you have great discoveries, sometimes some really stressful ones. It is magical and frustrating.” Knitwear is the pathway with the slowest rhythm and the biggest surprises.
Luckily, Amélie had a team to help her through. Her friend Jo Jallaguier and first-year womenswear student Talia Loubaton voluntarily joined the pre-show madness and got her through her most difficult times. Amélie loved working with her team, not just because of the support, but also because it pushes her to make the most of her talent. “I give more of myself when I work with someone else. I have a vision of what I want, it makes sense to share it with other people.”
What she wants to share most through this project, is her discovery of Chantal Akerman, whose movie feels as relevant today as it did upon its release forty years ago. With her collection, Amélie brought new attention to Akerman’s work, and revived the woman inside of it. A woman who, through sheer commonness, questions the values that dominate fashion and society. “If people will learn about her work through me, my collection will feel like a success.”