Temptation that weighs a few grams only
If you were to encounter Carine Gilson by chance and, on a whim, start hazarding a guess at what she does for a living, odds are you would not even come close. An environmental activist, a jazz musician, or a landscape designer are only a few of the more obvious mistaken conclusions you might reach. She opens her atelier door to us with tousled hair, no make-up, jeans and a white shirt that leaves you wondering whether it's an expensive one meant to look that way, or a normal one that should not. A question that is resolved by a quick glimpse of the label. Although Carine is very busy and not entirely sure what exactly we are after, she is nevertheless visibly delighted by our unannounced visit to her workshop in Brussels and the questions we pose. While answering them, she taps a sneaker-clad foot in a lively tact against the desk leg.
Her fascination, already at a young age, with the fine, openwork structures of lace proved to be a prime indicator of the path Carine Gilson was eventually to follow. From her earliest childhood she was accustomed to being surrounded by the fabrics, trimmings, and ribbons her mother used in her work as a seamstress. There were always needle and thread, sewing patterns, buttons, and fabrics of all kinds spread on the dining room table to be inspected in detail at the end of a school day, and Carine would often look on while her mother sewed, daily feeding her own desire to work with the same material.
I have a passion for all that is perfect. Which is why French lace will always remain my first love.
Her mother, however, objected strongly to Carine’s wish to become a dressmaker. She did not consider it a suitable profession for her daughter. In her opinion, this sort of work was more suited to the working class. Yet, Gilson herself could not imagine choosing another profession; and so, following her heart, she studied at the Art Academy in Antwerp and then went on to work for various prêt-à-porter labels as a freelancer. She soon came to realize, however, that this type of work was not right for her.
I have an extremely independent character, so setting up for myself was a logical choice.
At the age of 23 she bought her own atelier and started to produce lingerie. Initially, she named her label "Vanité". "I liked the name. I've always considered female vanity a very strong force." However, not a few friends and colleagues advised her to market the brand under her own name. "Underwear with my name on it? That seemed a very strange idea at first. But, basically, it is my inspiration, my essence, my style that flows into the brand. So, in that sense, those people were giving me the right advice." And, in the end, she decided to give the enterprise her name after all: Carine Gilson.
I never intended to establish a brand, – more a universe that evokes dreams.
Originally, Carine Gilson drew the inspiration for her brand environment from the fashion of the 1930s, the Art Deco style, and Russian ballet. She then delicately imbued her creations with the spirit of these images. "Today, I don't have to look for inspiration anymore. The lace itself acts as a catalyst for fresh ideas." Which is not to say that Carine Gilson does not see certain people's lifework as a source of creativity as well. One of them is Madame Grès, one of the greatest couturières in the fashion business, whose Roman-style flowing robes adorned sophisticated women such as Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and Jacqueline Kennedy. And Carine is equally aware of her mother's influence. "We do not have a lot in common, but our love for fine craftsmanship connects us. It's my mother who inspires me to continually strive for perfection in my work,” Gilson confirms.
Though her lingerie may appear to be the light-hearted stuff of dreams, behind the visible face of the brand there exist a number of incongruities that belie the apparent fairytale-like simplicity of the label. Carine Gilson concedes that she is "actually the opposite of what her brand transports."
That's the typical paradox of an artist's existence. We have to work hard to provide others with dreams.
Right from the start, Gilson realized that selling dreams entails a lot of work and personal commitment; as a result, pursuing her private dreams is currently not an issue, but rather something she has put aside for later. Which is not to say that she is a stranger to the enchanted world of seduction and curiosity. These are equally the stuff of Carine Gilson's own dreams, and she enjoys indulging in them – as she reveals with a smile. Especially when she is not working, although, of course, this does not happen very often – because, as she says, "When I'm not working, I'm analyzing my work, making plans and rethinking them. But, most of all, I question what I do as often as I can." A demanding process if you go about it seriously. "Questioning myself and my work over and over again does not guarantee success, but it confirms my belief in my ideas to myself."
And believing in your ideas is the key prerequisite for success.
Clearly she is not the only one to believe in her success. Carine Gilson's lingerie regularly features in VOGUE, and her creations are available – at a kilo price probably only slightly lower than that of gold – in Brussels, Paris, and, from September onwards, in London as well.
Suddenly, surprised at how quickly time has passed, Carine Gilson laughs, rummages for a business card and crosses out the name on it, replacing it with her own. She hands over her card with such vigor that her tousled hair actually flies around her head. While her cell rings in her other hand, Carine Gilson says her good-byes with a genuine warmth seldom experienced in a spontaneous encounter.
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The Brander is a publication of the Branders Group