Belstaff’s collection creative director Delphine Ninous balances heritage with modernity, and enjoys the alchemy of designing the perfect piece.
After cutting her teeth with Isabel Marant, Diane von Furstenberg and Comptoir des Cottoniers, French designer Delphine Ninous joined British heritage brand Belstaff in 2014, and was appointed to the role of collection creative director in July last year. She speaks to Drapers about balancing heritage with modernity, and the difference between French and British style.
How did you get into a career as a designer?
My first job was at Christian Lacroix and my job was really to make a collection happen. Sourcing fabrics, embroideries – big responsibilities when you are 21. Then I went to Isabel Marant and designed, draped, stitched, cut, sewed, dyed. After those experiences I was definitely a designer.
Which other designers inspire you?
“The Belgians” from Antwerp have been a great source of inspiration for me. Dries Van Noten is still a delight for colours and fabrics. I like people who have an independent view on fashion. Raf Simons definitely is in this vibe for me.
What kind of challenges do you face on a day-to-day basis?
Making the perfect piece is a very fine alchemy and it’s becoming harder to achieve with the delivery timings, different market requests and the budget pressure.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Seeing people in the street wearing clothes I designed. Sometimes I see them wearing something I did years and years ago. It’s such a compliment to see that it is a loved piece in their wardrobe giving them the comfort and the confidence they need.
How do you balance heritage and modernity when you’re designing?
In Belstaff I am so lucky to have an incredible history to work from. We have a great archive in house, that we are presenting to the public. Those pieces are a great starting point for iconic new designs. When those pieces were designed, they were new and answering a need of the society evolving. It is important to keep innovating because it is also true to our DNA to look to the future not just backwards. So we can play with new performance fabrics, new bonding techniques, invent new volumes and create new functionality in the clothes that are adapted to the new way of life.
How would you describe your own style?
Masculine/feminine. I love mixing men’s pieces with something really soft and delicate. A leather jacket or a military coat over a silky shirt. I like mixing references as well, something casual and something chic, sneakers with tuxedo pants. Having something delicate or sensual but not aggressively sexy. I am definitely very natural and not overly done up with make-up and hair.
How do you find French and British style differ?
French are definitely bon goût (good taste) driven, classic, sexy and bourgeois. British designers are very eccentric and creative. Also the traditions in fashion are different. In France there is a culture of “couture” and “atelier”, whereas in UK this tradition is more in the tailoring and in the heritage of menswear.
What advice would you give to aspiring designers?
Doing a collection is not about the sparkles and supermodels. It’s about working very hard and getting your hands dirty.
What’s the highlight of your career so far?
At the latest London Fashion Week Men’s, it was a real pleasure to present my first men’s and women’s collections for Belstaff. I started at Belstaff designing for women and now being in charge of men’s too is such a treat. I love it.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
Diane von Furstenberg, for whom I worked in New York, said at a Parsons School [of Design] dinner to students that her best advice is “to marry a prince”. That is what she did. More seriously, it’s not easy to start your own brand without funding and without connections. But Alexander McQueen did, and this is where British schools are amazing, I think. They really support young designers and offer them the possibility to get good exposure.
Favourite clothing brand?
Besides Belstaff, Christophe Lemaire
Favourite places to shop?
The vintage store “La Jolie Garde Robe“ on rue Commines in Paris
Last fashion purchase?
Fuerteventura for Christmas
Last book you read?
“Une fille dans le desert” de Martine de Cortanze
Last film you watched?
“Poesia sin fin” by Alejandro Jodorowky
Collection assistant at Christian Lacroix
Having my own label
Tell us something not many people know about you?
Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth once wore a dress I designed for one of their concerts. Highlight of my life!