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Tue, Oct 22, 2013
Urban, The Straits Times
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Love, Bonito is haute
by Stacey Chia

A collaboration between a French haute couture designer and a fast fashion e-tailer had been unheard of, until now.

Tomorrow, French haute couture designer Julien Fournie and local online retailer Love, Bonito, which is known for its affordable clothing, will showcase their collaboration collection at Fashion Week 2013 at Marina Bay Sands. Tickets to the show have all been sold out.

The limited-edition collection of about 15 looks, which will include dresses, jumpsuits and blazers, will be sold on the website,, about a month after Fashion Week. Prices will range from $50 to $200. Love, Bonito clothes usually retail for $25 for a top to $50 for a dress.

The co-founders of Love, Bonito, Ms Viola Tan and Ms Rachel Lim, caught Mr Julien Fournie's show at last year's Fashion Week and were so attracted by his technicolour collection of bodysuits and billowing gowns that they asked to work on a collection with him.

They raised the idea with Mr Frank Cintamani, who organises the annual Fashion Week, who then put them in touch with the designer.

But while the co-founders and designers behind Love, Bonito were eager to work with a haute couture designer, Mr Fournie had his reservations.

"Naturally, I was worried that my brand would be diluted. But I looked at their products and found that they were extremely well-made and used good materials," says Mr Fournie, who spoke to Urban through an interpreter.

Elaborating on his reasons for agreeing to the collaboration, he says that he was impressed by how the Love, Bonito business had grown, based on selling affordable clothing.

"I've only done garments that are exclusive and are very expensive, but there are a lot of women in Paris who want but cannot afford a Julien Fournie couture dress," says Mr Fournie, a graduate of the famed Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, which offers courses in fashion design and techniques and produced design stars such as Yves Saint Laurent and Issey Miyake.

Prior to starting his eponymous couture label in 2009, Mr Fournie had worked at Celine, Dior and Givenchy.

For the two designers of Love, Bonito, who have no formal education in fashion design, the experience has been exhilarating.

Founded in 2005, Love, Bonito started out selling preloved clothing through the blogging platform, LiveJournal. Ms Tan, 29, has an Arts degree from Nanyang Technological University, while Ms Lim, 26, put her studies on hold to focus on the business.

Later on, they moved on to importing cheap but stylish clothing from Bangkok and Seoul.

But by 2010, the founders decided to design all the clothing on their website.

"By then, there were many others doing what we were doing, so we had to differentiate ourselves," says Ms Tan, who adds that they designed their clothes by drawing inspiration from what they saw in magazines and on the runway.

Of the experience with Mr Fournie, she says: "We learnt so much from him. As a couture designer, he pays a lot of attention to the details and that makes a huge difference to the entire look."

For example, they learnt various ways of sewing hems. Normally, they would do only a regular rolled hemline for their clothing.

The 15 looks from the collection were created by both Mr Fournie and Love, Bonito within three days in August. Ms Tan and Ms Lim flew to Paris to meet him.

It is the shortest amount of time Mr Fournie has taken to design anything. He is more used to spending up to six months on one dress, but says that it was an exciting experience.

Ms Tan says that the collection is inspired by the typical Love, Bonito customer - one who is "a trend setter, fashion forward, fun loving, daring and confident".

Communicating with sketches

Although there was a language barrier, as Mr Fournie speaks only French, this was hardly an obstacle for the designers.

"A designer communicates with sketches and the sketches have no language barrier," says Mr Fournie.

Ms Lim says they started by identifying specific items of clothing that they wanted to make, such as pants, tops and cut-out dresses, which are the best-selling pieces on their online shop.

"He would then sketch something and we would tell him what works and what doesn't," says Ms Tan.

Mr Fournie recalls sketching a dress that showed off quite a bit of cleavage, which was scrapped almost immediately.

"They told me Asian women wouldn't like that, so we changed the design and designed a dress that showed off the back instead," says Mr Fournie, who says the process has also been a lesson for him on dressing Asian women.

"We were worried about how he would take our comments, but he had a really open mind," says Ms Lim.

Mr Fournie says that the collection with Love, Bonito, which features shocking pink, emerald green, amethyst purple and lemon yellow clothing, shows a fun side to him as a designer.

"I have another side to me which is more sombre and more dramatic," says Mr Fournie, who showed his own couture collection, called Premieres Chimeres, or First Chimeras, last night.

The show, which was inspired by the fire-breathing creature from Greek mythology, saw models walking down the runway in dresses that had dramatic sleeves and high collars in shades of copper and yellow.

When asked if he would start a permanent ready-to-wear collection, he says that he is keen on the idea, but wants to see the response to this capsule collection with Love, Bonito before making any decisions.

"I remain at the disposal of these wonderful ladies, so that we can collaborate again whenever they want," says Mr Fournie.

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