Atelier Saint – Honore is a fashion brand established in 2016 by Madame Jejette, the costume designer. In her studio creates gowns and accessories designed with care for historical probability and based on deep knowledge and years of experience working for private clients, museums and auction houses. To reach an exquisite original look, using historical tailoring techniques and manual embroidery as well as carefully selected antique fabrics. She made gowns fit the unique taste and beauty of her clients. Madame Jejette specializes in extravagant bridal fashion and she is open to individual aesthetic wishes.
LSA: You studied scenography but you decided to become a costume designer. Can you please tell me why you choose to design and create 18th-century dresses?
ASH: I always wanted to combine my artistic skills with my scientific knowledge. Since I was four I knew I would be an Academy of Fine Art student. As a kid I was very sensitive and that sensitivity was very specific and unique. I was drawing, doodling and dreaming to become an artist. 18th-century fashion and costumes were always in the centre of my interest. I used to watch theatre performances and costume movies for hours and hours; I was hypnotised by the beauty of those costumes.
When I was walking with my mum I observed passing by people and analysed how they were dressed and it was interesting to see how their styles differed from each other.
Whenever I drew a person, I always started with designing a costume; it was a must without it there was not fun. When the design of a costume was ready the rest of the person was coming to life and the story of what they did and who they were. It was very intuitive now I know that this approach was very theatrical.
When I was 10, an old professor who was my art teacher, told me about scenography. I found out that I could learn how to design movie and theatre costumes. My first book about the history of clothing was from that old professor. It was a very crucial moment in my life because I realised what I really want to do. I wanted to become a fashion historian and costume designer.
Since then, I started preparing myself for University and learnt a lot about the history of fashion and fabrics. During my student and then professional life, I oscillated between art and science. I used to work at the opera and theatres but mainly I was a lecturer working at different universities, cooperating with museums and auction houses. At that time I was at the top of my scientific career, however, I was missing what I loved the most, designing theatre and movie costumes.
LSA: Why 18th-century costumes interest you the most. What is so special about them?
ASH: From the very early stage I knew it is not possible to be an expert in every era, I wanted to gain general knowledge about the history of design but decided to specialise in one era only. I consciously made the decision that the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century was the one I was drawn to the most. I was watching lots of costume movies and that had a big impact on me, one of my favourites was ‘Dangerous Liaisons’.
As a teenager, I used to read a lot of French literature from the 18th century, and it only confirmed that my choice was right. Till today I love that era and I am not getting bored with it. I don’t limit myself to dresses only; I have lots of fun designing and creating costumes for men. There are a lot of details, colours, contrasts, and combinations of texture, pattern and colours which are used completely differently than when designing woman costumes.
The masterpiece is achieved when you know how to combine harmony with extravagance.
Unfortunately, not very often I have the pleasure to create man costumes. Most of my clients live abroad and tailoring is very complex and complicated, lots of fittings are required to achieve the top results.
LSA: Where is the inspiration coming from?
ASH: It really depends on what I am working on. If I need to reconstruct something then I keep my inspiration close to what inspired 18th-century artists. When it is the rococo style I look for interesting material texture, 3D effects and I try to build layers of material so it looks like they are ‘dancing’.
If it is the second part of 18th century and classicism I want to achieve elegance, it is important to add flashes and ornaments derived from antiques. The key here is portrait and museum facility.
If the creation needs to be modern and inspired by historical fashion rather than reconstruction, I usually reach out to modern designers and I trust my intuition. I reject anything that is anachronistic and I focus on the most attractive elements of historian design at the same time searching for more practical solutions.
LSA: Is there anything or anyone that you follow?
ASH: Ancient designs, portraits, architecture and 18th-century art are my inspiration. Without my knowledge that I gained at the university and then through experience at work, it would be very hard to find my way. That specific knowledge helps to interpret and understand the wider context of each creation. Thanks to that, every decision made during the design phase are conscious and I decide if I want to follow the rules or break them.
I am not following other artists who are interested in the same era as me. I am drawn to strong women like Wanda Rutkiewicz who had nothing in common with sewing, design and fashion but her strong character and charisma is very inspiring for me. Whenever I think about her I consider myself a weak woman.
LSA: Atelier Saint-Honore is a French name, why did you choose that name? Is there any story behind it?
ASH: There is Saint-Honore Street in Paris where in the middle of the 17th century, artists and intellectual elite were socialising, meeting and discussing their ideas. This is the place where French design has its roots. Rosa Bartin- personal stylist for Maria Antonina – opened the first in a historic fashion house. It is the heart of French culture and a very prestigious place.
This is a perfect name for my business and what I do. Although my business is based in Poland I choose its virtual space to be in Paris. It is a kind of declaration about style, tradition and our aspirations. We create costumes haute couture according to 18th-century French fashion and modern variation which are our artistic interpretations.
As a designer working for such a company I can’t be invisible, I can’t wear a black t-shirt and hide behind a collection like the founder of Pret a porter. I need an entourage which will be part of brand identification. This is how Madame Jejette came to live and became a very important part of my business and the wider vision of my brand. Madame Jejette is part of the world that I create. For some, it might sound like a diminutive nickname used by ladies from the rococo era but those passionate about 18th-century history will know what JJ stands for, for others let it be a mystery…
LSA: What was the beginning of Atelier Saint Honore
ASH: It all started with a tragedy. Lots of very unfortunate life events left me without work, I had to quit my PhD, and there was no way to rebuild what I had lost. The only way to continue my PhD was to go abroad but I was not strong enough to make this decision. I had no other option but to rebrand and start all over again. I decided to use my knowledge and experience gained as a student and lecturer. I started designing for my friends and colleagues from reconstructive groups. Those people were not wealthy and very often I was working for free using my silk fabrics to sew. The payment I was receiving was not enough to cover the cost of the fabric, let alone my work. To build my portfolio and to move on I had to do it that way, I had no other option. I was working very hard and created more than twelve costumes in a year!
My divorce happened in the least expected moment: my business was still crawling and I struggled with health problems. Again, I had no money and for the second time had to start everything all over again. I never gave up, even when I was criticised and told that any job is better than a hobby that does not provide money and food. I did not give up; I lived with my very supportive parents and was determined to achieve my goals. I had a dream to live with passion and earn money doing what I loved. It was not easy at all, hard to describe how I felt but I was very determined. My health got worse because I was working so hard but finally my hard work paid off and first orders from clients living abroad started getting in. I was receiving funds to execute orders.
My business was growing very slowly, with time more and more orders were coming through; I saw the light in the tunnel. It really motivated me; I found an investor and a business partner. It was finally going in the right direction. My bedroom was not my atelier anymore; I found the right space and hired an assistant. At the moment, I hire more people and there is always a lot to do. I know that it is just the beginning of something beautiful. I made it! Depression, health problems or even divorcee did not stop me, I never gave up! I turned my passion into business despite the problems. I hope I can inspire someone with my history, I never talk about this (there is always so much to do!), this interview made me realise how strong I am and what bumpy road I had to go through to be where I am.
LSA: When was your debut?
ASH: The first costume I made was when I was studying at the Academy of Fine Arts. I always dreamt to work at the ‘backstage’ of a costume movie, not having an opportunity. I decided to make my own movie. It was a lyrical etude inspired by Antoine Watteau paintings called ‘Embarkation for Cythera’ (as one of his paintings). Not having any experience in sewing I was very nonchalant, I opened the book with designs, made measurements and started my work. I painted meters and meters of fabrics as I wanted to keep original patterns that were not available anywhere. My plan was very ambitious, only now I know this. The movie did not come out as I wanted it to be but I was very happy with the dress.
LSA: What is most important for you when you start a new project?
ASH: Client is in the centre of everything I do. I feel a little bit like a psychologist when I first meet my client and we start working together. I have to find out a lot of details to be able to provide what that person really needs. I have to find out what she/he likes and what she is looking for and at the same, I have to be like a guide and stay alert that the rules of designing 18th-century costumes are not broken. It is very important and makes me incredibly happy to see someone’s dreams coming true and I am part of it. It really motivates me. Every project is unique and one-off. I want my client to feel that they have something exceptional, something that no one else would ever have.
I also create without any specific order, the kind of projects I like the most. The idea comes to my mind and grows very slowly, I change it, improve it … sometimes it starts with a small piece of fabric or a ribbon and that triggers the whole process. I love this kind of creation and projects because I have a lot of time to work on them and usually they are the best, most original and polished costumes. When finished, I sell them.
LSA: Do you consider yourself an artist or a designer?
ASH: I think that every designer is an artist; it does not matter if it is fashion, scenography, architecture etc. We create commercial art, which people can relate to the most. I was always very interested in commercial art and its history. Creation of porcelain, wallpaper, clothes or furniture is like a mirror of the times the artist was living. When looking at them you are able to move back in time and try to understand the way of thinking of those people. For me it is like a stamp of people and time that has passed.
LSA: What is designing for you: work or a passion?
ASH: It is both my big passion and work at the same time. If you want to live and earn money from your passion you need to be prepared for hard work, long hours – it is not only your passion any more, you need to shift your mindset and become very professional, think strategically, look after your team and always finish your projects on time to keep your clients satisfied. Passion is your starting point and then you build your business based on it keeping in mind that it can bring lots of changes and challenges. Sometimes, I feel exhausted by the hours spent embroidering. I would not do it if it was only my passion but I am responsible for my team and my brand.
LSA: Who are your clients?
ASH: Usually women. They are different, different ages, countries, professions etc. but I love them all. It never had an experience with a ‘horrible’ client. I love building relationships with them; it takes months to create one costume but that gives an opportunity to get to know my client. I love that aspect of my work. Lots of my clients helped me promote my business and I am extremely happy and grateful that I met such beautiful women on my path. Most of them are artists. I had a pleasure to work with American artist creating feminist paintings, an art professor from Florence, artists who create costumes, a restorer from New York, owner of antique jewellery boutique, photographers, and constructors but also women who want to wear a costume once and add the creation to their private collection of dresses. I am proud that my work is appreciated by other artists.
LSA: Your business and what you create is very unique and specific, how easy or difficult is it to break through and be visible in a world full of other brands and fast-growing competition?
ASH: I opened a very unique and specific fashion house; I met lots of challenges because what I do is not that popular, however competition is growing very fast. There are brands existing on the market for a very long time and they have a very good reputation. To stand out, I knew I had to be unique, find my own style without copying anyone. I decided to focus on my advantages and see how I can use them to cover the niche in the market. I realised I had enough knowledge and experience to create incredibly original dresses – but not copies – based on 18th-century fashion. The dresses we create are made according to all the rules used in the 18th century. I would not be able to do that if I didn’t gain historical knowledge. All embroidery is handmade and we consistently stick to 18th-century techniques. Thanks to that, we were able to include lots of interesting products like stomachers, handbags, aprons, fan cases and waistcoats.
There are no other designers or businesses whose embroidery accessories are as good as ours.
Last but not least is quality – this is very important for us and it relates to fabrics as well as handmade finishes, there are no compromises here. Every creation is an amazing haute couture. Quality was always number one for me, knowledge and very unique skils lead us to where we are now. I am thrilled to hear that we are becoming recognizable in Europe and the USA.
LSA: We live in uncertain times; did pandemic have an impact on your business?
ASH: Yes, in the beginning, it did not look promising. We noticed that the number of orders started to decrease rapidly. All events were cancelled and our production had to stop, lots of very interesting projects ceased. Fabrics had to go back on the shelves. But I decided not to give up but instead be flexible and adjust to the current situation. We created mini collections with dresses that were cheaper and more modest. Lots of orders started coming through and thankfully we did not have to fire anyone. I think that sometimes we need situations like this; it teaches us how to be more creative, flexible and how to cope with difficulties. Of course, I am not saying it is good to see that people are getting ill, it is our reaction to the situation and what we can do with what we have.
LSA: Your brand and what you do is very unique and we don’t see creations like yours in everyday life. Where can we find them? Are they just costumes or do you see them as something more?
ASH: Interest in costumes is definitely growing around the globe; there are more and more events where costumes like ours can be worn. One of the biggest ones for example is an international festival organized by the Palace in Versailles or Venice Carnival. Smaller events or intimate gatherings organised by reconstruction societies. There are even picnics in the park where people meet wearing costumes from a certain century. It is so sophisticated and preparations are very important here, makeup, hairdo but also knowledge gaining.
LSA: What would you say to young artists who are the beginning of their path?
ASH: Never give up, work harder and harder, try not to copy anyone but look for your own style and ideas. It is important to find a niche and polish your skills to be an expert in your field. Learn new things and always invest in improving and gaining knowledge. Quality is the key, so no compromises. Planning next steps and goals is equally important – the best way to develop and grow. Being flexible, adjusting to different situations. And always remember about your clients, look after them, treat them as you would like to be treated.
LSA: Do you have any plans for the future?
ASH: I would love to have some time to rest but I rest actively.
It would be ideal to have time for creation and time for production; this is how modern designers are functioning. I would not have to be in a rush constantly and do everything simultaneously. I hope that one day that will happen, then I would open other branches with modern fashion (quality and techniques would stay the same, of course!). It would give us the opportunity to open my dream showroom; all that hard work would pay off. I would not mind inviting my clients to my atelier for a glass of champagne in the surrounding of the library and amazing dresses.
Interview by Kamila Krzyzaniak
Photography – Cezary Pomykalo