Monday evening our Creative Writing group was scheduled to meet with Stéphanie Wolff, an up and coming wedding dress designer. Monday evening was less than 72 hours after the terrorist attacks here in Paris and Stéphanie’s atelier (“studio”) is located a stone’s throw from the Bataclan Nightclub where the worst of the attacks occurred. Although we briefly contemplated postponing our evening, we all agreed that we needed to re-establish some semblance of normalcy and routine in our lives. Hence, the evening would go on!
My walk to Stéphanie’s atelier is difficult and moving. I wander through Place de la République and down blvd Voltaire to the Bataclan. Along the way I’m repeatedly touched by the outpouring of sympathy, support, and strength I witness in the thousands of flowers, candles, signs and drawings overflowing the sidewalks at spontaneous memorials. Hundreds of people line the streets, some standing quietly, some talking gently and still others playing guitars and singing. The Bataclan itself is heavily guarded and cordoned off for a block on either side.
As I wait at our meeting point just past the restricted area I look around and realize that if the attack at the Bataclan had not occurred I doubt this area would make it onto many “Must See” lists. It’s sort of an in-between place, on the edge of the “hip” area, somewhere you walk through to get to somewhere else. Of course, that’s all changed. I also wonder how we will ever be able to discuss the happiness that accompanies a wedding amidst the sadness that accompanies this tragedy.
Stéphanie’s atelier is across the street from the Bataclan, tucked away in a courtyard behind one of the enormous wooden doors that disguise so many wonderful places in Paris. But the door works its magic for us, shutting out the sadness of the street and drawing us towards the warm glow of the wedding dress shop. The showroom is tiny: seven of us fill it to over-flowing, but the closeness is somehow comforting, particularly against a white wall lined with wedding dresses.
Our initial conversation is focused predictably on the attacks: where were you? Did you know anyone? Can you believe this is happening? Questions that have become commonplace these last few days. It turns out that Stéphanie was supposed to have been at the Bataclan on Friday, but she forgot to buy a ticket. However her close friends were there and were among those taken hostage by the terrorists. One of them was actually grabbed on the arm and held by a terrorist. They were told: “if they did what they were told then nothing would happen”. How far that statement was from the reality of the events of that night. Fortunately, in the end her friends escaped with no physical harm. The sadness, trauma and relief mix in Stéphanie’s large brown eyes as she tells the story. She is five months pregnant and can’t help but believe that it was a force larger than her that kept her out of harm’s way that night.
After a while, surrounded by the beautiful dresses of the atelier, it is impossible not to want to turn the conversation to something more pleasant. We move naturally to discussing the brides with whom Stéphanie and her partner, Marie-Laure, are currently working. Fortunately, none of “their” brides was injured or killed on Friday and most are anxious for their wedding plans to continue.
Stéphanie and Marie-Laure met over 20 years ago at Design School. After graduation Marie-Laure moved to China to work on the business side for a large women’s intimate apparel company, while Stéphanie remained in Paris focusing on design. She has always been interested in creating her own clothing, a passion she says she owes to her grandmother who taught her to knit and sew. She fell into designing wedding dresses accidentally when asked by a friend. This friend was so happy she told another friend, who then told another friend and so on. Word of Stéphanie’s skill at designing wedding dresses spread and a business was born.
Marie-Laure, in the meantime, was planning both a move back to Paris as well as her own wedding. She re-connected with Stéphanie with a request to design her wedding gown. The two rekindled their friendship and found that their interests and skill sets were complementary: Stéphanie in design and Marie-Laure in business and sales. The rest, as they say, is history. They started their company three years ago and have been on the rise in the Paris wedding market ever since: this year alone Marie-Laure estimates that they’ll work with more than 150 brides.
The weddings gowns in front of us are unique and exquisite – elegant without being showy or ‘over the top’. Inspiration for Stéphanie’s designs is found in her passion for jazz and rock music, pop culture from the 60’s and 70’s, along with her love of the haute couture and style of the 20’s and 30’s.
She describes herself as a cross between Madeleine Vionnet and Coco Chanel, with a focus on femininity and freedom in her designs. Flowing lengths of silk are accented with French lace and topped with short knit jackets or long wool coats that bear a striking resemblance to the “hippy” era. “Why not?” Stéphanie asks. Watching the models present some of the dresses in her collection I can almost feel the silk caressing the bride’s body, moving with her, flattering her curves without clinging or constraining.
The bare backs on many of the dresses add to their overall sensuality. Stéphanie is adamant that her dresses are designed to be comfortable. Marie-Laure adds that the gown must be able to keep up with French brides who, on their wedding day, are likely to dance and party until dawn – in their wedding gowns!
After viewing the dresses we move to the back workroom of the atelier where we spend a long time with Stéphanie and Marie-Laure drinking champagne, nibbling on cheese, talking and laughing.
It’s nice to be doing something so normal after everything that’s happened. No one is in a rush to leave, we are simply enjoying each other’s company. We talk at length about the fine line separating happiness and sorrow, how they are essentially opposite sides of the same coin, yin and yang. I mention that, on a practical level, they also both generally involve events with food, friends, music, flowers, candles, hugs and tears. Someone adds that we can only really know the power of one by experiencing the power of the other.
Eventually the bottles are empty, the cheese is gone and it’s getting late. Reluctantly we realize that it’s time to go, time to break the spell and re-join the “real” world. There are hugs all around and suddenly the big front door opens and I find myself once again on the street. It’s been a much better evening than I’d ever imagined with more beauty, rich conversation, positivity and laughter than I’d thought possible. In fact I feel better than I have in the three days since this whole thing began.
Note: If you, or anyone you know, is in the market for an exquisite, unique wedding gown hand-made in France, I recommend that you consider Stéphanie Wolff Paris. Check out all her designs at: Stéphnie Wolff Paris – Wedding Dresses. She is a brilliant designer and a warm, friendly and thoughtful individual. Her collection includes approximately 25 designs with the selection custom fitted to each bride. Her collection also includes designs for the curvy woman.