In Creative Harmony

designers ester manas and balthazar delepierre
In Creative HarmonyAdelin Delepierre

In late August, the designers Ester Manas and Balthazar Delepierre were married in the countryside just outside of their home in Brussels, Belgium, surrounded by close family and friends. It was a sweet and intimate affair, one that the couple say felt like a blending of their two families but also a “reunion” of old friends. Manas and Delepierre—together for 11 years and business partners for nearly five—are the duo behind Manas’s namesake womenswear brand, which over the past two seasons of Paris Fashion Week has had one of the most talked-about shows, thanks to its wildly cool, authentically size-inclusive designs. Now, the designers, both 30, are entering into a new phase of their relationship, expanding their label and embracing a new personal chapter at the same time.

Post-wedding, Manas and Delepierre seem to have settled seamlessly into married life. This is not at all surprising: They are a couple who supported each other as students coming up through the esteemed local visual-arts school, La Cambre, and who have chosen to live where they work and work where they live. The Ester Manas logo even depicts intertwined hands. Seated together in their hybrid home-studio, which is serenely decorated in a modern style but dotted with antique bits and bobs they’ve amassed from their regular visits to the nearby flea market, the pair seem almost incomprehensibly in sync in a charmingly real way.

ester manas fall 2023

The signature pieces for Ester Manas have a sensibility to match, with highlights including ruched and ruffled dresses with cutouts that hug the body perfectly. Consciousness around body positivity and sustainability are the core messages of Ester Manas. For Fall 2023, 90 percent of the collection was made using deadstock fabric, and the designers have also developed their own sizing system that runs up to a 3XL and includes a one-size-fits-all category.

Both dressed casually at home—Manas in a tee, Delepierre in a button-down—they tell their love story in tandem with an account of how their brand came to be, which is actually a story of how they, as individuals, found their creative footing during art school. Delepierre was studying graphic design, and Manas was working toward her degree in fashion design. After a few years and several internships for the likes of Acne, Balenciaga, and Rabanne, Manas had a bit of an existential crisis during her last year in school, four months before she was set to graduate. “Ester was like, ‘Okay, maybe it’s time for me to really think about what I actually want to do,’ ” Delepierre remembers.

designers ester manas and balthazar delepierre
Manas and Delepierre collaborating on a vision board for their next collection.Adelin Delepierre

Manas goes on to explain that at that moment, “it was not doing anything in fashion. I wanted to start something totally new.” Delepierre chimes in, “Yeah, you said you wanted to be a nurse.”

Ultimately, a lot of tears and long conversations led to the idea for their label, the foundations of which were formed around wanting to help other women—women who looked like Manas and didn’t feel like they had any support from an industry whose main business focus was directed toward smaller bodies. “At the time [I graduated] in 2017, it seemed like a crazy idea,” she says, “because it was not at all cool or widely accepted to do a label based on size inclusivity.”

Manas’s idea to create a collection “for a big girl like me” didn’t receive the reception from her partner that she was expecting: “Balthazar told me that it was the worst idea ever.” “It’s true,” Delepierre remembers. “And now, every time I say something is a bad idea, we have to go for it.”

The brand was well received right from the get-go, especially on the fashion scene in Paris, which is not necessarily known for its size inclusivity. After receiving the Galeries Lafayette prize at the Hyères Festival in 2018, Manas and Delepierre officially launched the business under the name Ester Manas the following year. In 2020 they were short-listed for the LVMH Prize, and in March of 2022 they held their second runway show, earning the brand rave reviews and putting it on the international fashion map.

designers ester manas
A work-in-progress dress for Fall 2024.Adelin Delepierre

This past March, Manas dipped a toe, fittingly, into the bridal category with a much-buzzed-about Fall 2023 collection titled “For Better or Worse” that opened and closed with several wedding-inspired looks, including the dress she eventually wore for her own nuptials: a long, lacy white dress with harness-esque straps and a delicate ruffled hem. Their wedding, Manas says, “was like a fashion show,” by which she means she was able to really do what she does best: dress the women in her life—real women—and make them feel strong and powerful and hot. “There were 30 looks in total,” she says of the pieces, which were worn by her closest friends and family, including her mother, sister, and mother-in-law.

Their wedding was one of the reasons why Delepierre and Manas decided to skip showing on the Spring 2024 calendar. Another was to take time to scale their business. Currently, they are hard at work on the next collection, for Fall 2024, which will be partly funded by the ANDAM Special Prize they were awarded this June and will include outerwear for the first time. It will be meant, of course, to fit every body type. They want to develop another sizing system to produce these pieces, since outerwear sizing is so precise, as well as concepts for more designs in the areas of knitwear, loungewear, and jewelry.

In December, Manas and Delepierre will visit New York to celebrate the inclusion of one of their dresses in the upcoming “Women Dressing Women” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. They’ve never been to New York, and while they have a lot of work to do, they’re looking at it like a honeymoon of sorts. When asked what they’re most excited to see, Manas says she wants to check out some of the spots from Sex and the City. (She is giddy when I tell her there is a show-themed tour bus.) Delepierre is desperate for tickets to Saturday Night Live. “Ever since we met, we’ve talked about going to New York,” Manas says excitedly.

They both believe in simplicity and not overthinking anything, and that rings true when it comes to their home and work space. In their house, the ground floor is occupied by an office, a photo studio, and a stockroom. On the second floor is Manas and Delepierre’s apartment. They say they’ve gotten much better at separating work life and home life, even if it’s all technically under one roof.

designers ester manas
Manas crafting a piece for the Fall 2024 collection. Adelin Delepierre

“We are just now starting to be able to not have to work on the weekends, which is a new thing for us,” Delepierre explains. “A few months ago, we were living and working in the same space with no real separation, and, well, now we don’t do that.” “It was really impossible to stop,” Manas agrees. “But now, since we’ve separated the space, we have a rule that there is no work when we’re upstairs.”

When they aren’t busy with the brand, their routine is refreshingly normal. Manas is “obsessed” with cooking, so much so that she’s made comments to Delepierre in the past about quitting fashion and opening a restaurant. When the topic of a possible homeware line comes up, they don’t say no. In fact, they often host large dinner parties for
friends; at the last one, Manas cooked for 30 people. When I suggest that Manas post cooking videos on TikTok, I can see the wheels spinning: “I’m really bad on social media, but maybe I need to do that,” she says curiously.

a group of women in dresses
Ester Manas Fall 2023Courtesy the designer
a person in a hospital bed
Manas and Delepierre pondering a shibori print together. Adelin Delepierre

Aside from food, the couple, namely Manas, have a deep love for antiquing. In fact, all of the tableware used at their wedding was handpicked by them from some favorite dealers Manas has befriended. “Also, I love to negotiate,” she says, laughing.

While their support of each other is endearing, they are also honest about the fact that not every day is a lovefest. “It’s good to fight,” Manas says. Delepierre, of course, “can’t sew anything,” so he’ll often provide feedback or stand in as a fit model. But they say their arguments are unfiltered in a way that feeds the creative process, unlike a typical spousal spat. The constructive criticism they give to each another—Manas as the visionary designer and Delepierre as the branding and marketing brains—is important, because sometimes it’s when they aren’t in sync, when there is creative tension, that they are able to do some of their best work. “But at the end of the day,” says Manas, “we’re friends first.”

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