Stéphane Rolland, fashion architect

Jan 31, 2014, 4:37 AM EST
Sketches for this Fall/Winter 2013 Collection
(Courtesy: Stéphane Rolland)

With his mother working at Pictorial Service, one of the most famous Parisian photographic studios, Stephane Rollandgrew up surrounded by incredible black-and-white photographs, including those from members of the young Magnum Photos agency which patronized the studio.

“My mother was a manager at ‘Picto’ and I was always in her studio,” Rolland recalls. “Well-known photographers like Jeanloup Sieff or David Hamilton would come to Paris to do their shoots, and would give their films to develop. Everything was black-and-white; everything was about volume and contrast. My eyes were trained early on with these concepts and everything I do is about contrast, volume and movement. It’s in my DNA.”

Rolland is one of only 14 Paris-based fashion designers anointed by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture as “Grand Couturier,” and the talented designer has made his name, particularly amongst clients from the Middle East, for his ability to produce well-cut architectural designs that create plenty of va-va-voom thanks to flattering constructions with interesting sculptural details.

“My grandfather was a sculptor and perhaps he trained my eye to catch everything that is graphic and architectural. I’ve always loved architecture and it inspires everything I do, whether I design the heel of a shoe or a bracelet,” he says. Rolland cites the minimalist lines of Japanese architecture as well as the generous yet very strict volumes of Bauhaus among his favorite architectural styles and inspirations. “My fascination with Japanese architecture started as a child after someone gave me a book that had beautiful illustrations of Japanese architecture. I was completely taken by it and would dream of finding myself in such an environment. I think it evolved in my head, but I remember drawing as a child not only characters, but also their houses — or more their interiors. I was dreaming of houses with mezzanine floors, it was always about architecture that overlaps and always with large empty spaces. But I never thought about studying architecture, for me it was always about clothing,” he says.

Partly inspired by his grandfather’s work, Rolland started sculpting five years ago, but is clear that he sees it as an extension of his design work. “It’s not a hobby; it’s more a complement to my work,” he says, adding, “I love to work with metal, because I like to work with light, and with metal there is a reflection you can play with.”

The designer’s favorite sculpture remains the “Victoire de Samothrace,” which he first saw as a child in the Louvre Museum. “When you see her, she seems to be moving forward with her wings in her back, and there is this feeling of a surge as if she’s giving herself. There is a generosity in the movement that I love. At the same time, she seems to be letting go. It’s what I like in this sculpture, it has a real fragility, and then of course there is also the drape of her skirt,” he explains.

The inspiration from this sculpture can often be seen in Rolland’s creations as the designer often creates a wing effect in his designs through the use of long fluid sleeves and light capes that billow in the wind. “I guess it’s this idea of flying away and escape,” he muses.

Over the years, Rolland has also found inspiration in the round sensual sculptures of Anish Kapoor, the curved angles of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto’s modernist furniture, and the versatile forms of Christina Jékey’s sculptures. His fall-winter 2013 collection drew on the spirit of Velazquez, though this was “more a mood than a specific painting,” he says.

“Literally the day after my last summer collection, which was all white, I was at the Louvre and I saw one of his paintings, an infant. It was like a flash. I got back to my office and asked my assistant to find all the Velazquez portraits he could and pin them on a wall. That’s when I decided I wanted to do a very dark collection, very austere, yet very sensual,” he recalls.

This dark sensual austerity was translated by the designer in a series of regal outfits in black and navy, with only flashes of white at the collars and cuffs. The 17th-century royal lace collars worn by men and women were transformed into origami plastrons, while the designer brought in the spirit of Spain and its matadors, with long, enveloping fluid capes that billowed around the models as they moved. The neckline is strict with the incorporation of a vertical collar, yet the overall feel is still sensual due to the play of transparent inserts and flattering slim cuts.

As he was starting work on his Spring/Summer 2014 collection when he spoke with in October, Rolland said he had only decided on the color palette: “Solar! Very positive in contrast with what I just did. This new collection will be all about light,” he said.

He did deliver on his promise. Read the story here about his Spring/Summer 2014 collection

-- Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop