Diane Gaignoux Creates an Imaginary Shell

For our first collection in the Designing Differently series, BRICKS caught up with CSM alum Diane Gaignoux to explore Imaginary Shell and her innovative felting technique.

WORDS Emily Phillips
HEADER IMAGE Charlotte Krieger

Sculpture and spontaneity are the two defining forces at the heart of Diane Gaignoux. The visceral French designer uses fashion as a means of translating seamlessly moulded wearable art, metamorphosed into an alter ego – an approach undeniably rendered in her newest collection. 

Dubbed Enveloppes Imaginaires (translation: Imaginary Shell), Gaignoux’s sculptural exploration comes alive with expressive volume, asymmetric oddness, and patchy DIY construction. Elements of sanguine mystique endure, transcending the bounds of exceptional craftsmanship and bringing new meaning to sculpture. 

With each colourful design, Diane Gaignoux is rebelling against traditional design tropes one technicolour-dream-jacket at a time. Her first full number since her 2018 diploma collection, the Central Saint Martins alum moved away from dynamic dresses and instead unveiled a myriad of innovative shorts, coats, cardigans and more, for an uplifting visual experience made wearable that you’ll surely want to co-opt. Think art-meets-acid trip and add a dash of clownish demeanour and a little edge – that’s Imaginary Shell. 

Each garment is crafted using a unique felting technique involving several stages of construction, bringing the designer’s imaginative innovations in design technique to the fore of her hypnotic co-ed collection. It’s a rigorous process that takes over two weeks to complete per individual garment. 

At first, Diane conceives the garments in a scale that is 1.52 times bigger than they will turn out to be, hand-knitting, needle-punching and assembling everything herself. She then dyes the fabrics by hand-painting with pigments, strategically brushing on each colour so they melt into each other flawlessly. “To me, the felted pieces are like a canvas,” she says. 

To me, the felted pieces are like a canvas.

Diane Gaignoux

Photography by Anna Bernar

Throughout Imaginary Shell, cool tones of azure blue, chartreuse and aqua mingle amongst elegant emeralds and audacious amethysts creating an overarching sense of eccentricity. Meanwhile shades of peach, blazing orange, apricot, lemon, and flamboyant fuchsia elevate the collection from fun fashions to an invigorating statement of artistic intelligence. The Normandy native works her kaleidoscopic colours into a ribbed boat neck cardigan, a high-collar straight jacket and a puffy frock with oversized breasts for its bodice. The result is a vibrant array of hand-painted felt, mohair and lambswool knits, and spray-dyed viscose and elastic yarn mixed with other materials such as silicone, plastic clay and ceramic making for cutting-edge garbs. 

The next step in the process is something of a game of chance involving a washing machine, trust, and pure luck. The garments are washed, tossed, and temperamentally warped within the machine, hopefully shrinking them down to their intended proportions because no matter what the designer has in mind, the resulting shape that the machine moulds isn’t up to her. “I can’t control what happens in the washing machine,” Diane explains. “I can’t decide how it’s going to end. So, the material I put in the washing machine is kind of like something that is sculpting itself. In a way it’s like a living body.” After the wash, each one-off garment requires modeling, polishing and brushing to be complete. 

I really have to face the material in this technique so it becomes really present.

Diane Gaignoux

An intimate relationship forms between Daine and her designs during the felting process because she’s forced to get up close and personal with them throughout. “I really have to face the material in this technique so it becomes really present – more so than a woven fabric might,” she explains. “It’s exactly like sculpting, which is what I am trying to say with my designs. Like working with clay, it’s intuitive and spontaneous. I can’t make the same piece twice.” Each garment, “has its own presence in the end” as if it has cultivated a life of its own. 

The collection’s lookbook presents an intimate narrative both in colour and monochrome, proposing an imaginary interpretation of the body. As the eclectic cast of quirky men and women, diverse in age, flex their wrist and stretch their jaws, their organic shapes are perpetuated by structured skirts and bulbous sleeves. Like an acid dream in IMAX, the lookbook’s odd ambience provides for a spirited, serotonin-inducing experience from beginning to end. For those who wear Diane Gaignoux, there won’t be any Fear and Loathing in London this summer.

Plastic clay earrings embedded with Swarovski crystals, plastic clay brooches and spray-dyed transparent socks complete the looks, ushering in a new kind of character – a “skin suit” of sorts. The one-of-a-kind ceramic buttons are the brainchild of ceramist Pauline Bonnet and the accompanying vases, sculpted from silicone and permeated by mixed pigments, are representative of Diane’s disposition to integrate varying mediums. “I’m trying to tell stories with different artistic items,” she explains. 

Photographer: Charlotte Krieger
Make-up artist: Celine Brayat
Models: @ls.mrt @alveolezero @julienyorel
Studio: @alveolezero
Assistant: Anna Bernar_

Simultaneously tongue-in-cheek and dead serious, paradigmatic kaleidoscope aesthetics are played with and the conventional distinctions of sartorialism are skewed. From beginning to end, the sculpture factor is high. Even the vintage shoes are refashioned through the application of silicone and mixed pigments, overlayed with airbrushed acrylic paint. Occasionally, the heels are coated with upcycled wool fluff. 

With an Imaginary Shell exhibition in Paris set for when lockdown lets up, Diane Gaignoux is defining herself as someone unconfined by the margins of classic design techniques taking garment-making to explosive new dimensions. 

<strong>Emily Phillips</strong>
Emily Phillips

Emily Phillips is a BIPoC Canadian writer presently based in North London. She is a current BA: Fashion Journalism student at University of the Arts London: London College of Fashion. Emily has an insightful, creative, and seductive voice that shines through in her writing. Her work has been published in 10 Magazine and Coeval Magazine, as well as the 2021 book Networked Futures: Online Exhibitions and Digital Hierarchies from the digital art gallery platform isthisit?

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