Designer Spotlight: Moïra Cristescu Paris. Creating Beauty from waste

Designer Moïra Cristescu came up in great fashion houses like Proenza Schouler and Narciso Rodriguez in New York, Kenzo and Jean Charles de Castelbajac in Paris, and George Wu in Australia. When she joined Karl Lagerfeld on his namesake brand, she worked closely with him for a decade on the first line and on VIP dressing.

Following her passion for upcycling, these days Cristescu focuseses on sustainable made-to-measure looks with her namesake brand Moïra Cristescu Paris. Creating beauty from waste, Cristescu sees herself as part of the solution, not the problem, in an excess-driven industry that significantly contributes to waste and pollution. We spoke with Cristescu about her fashion experience, her custom designs, and her take on what the fashion industry might look like after COVID-19.

You went to college at Central Saint Martins in London. What drew you there?

Quite simply, Central Saint Martins was the dream! Alexander Mc Queen, Stella McCartney (the first designer to push for sustainability) and, recently at the time, Christopher Kane had graduated from it. Being part of it meant a real possibility to make it in this industry.

I loved the spirit of St Martins. All tutors were successful professionals outside the school, which was very helpful and inspiring. For instance, my main tutor was the wonderful artist Howard Tangye. I really appreciated that the school was trusting us: we were working very independently after we got the brief of a project. Design-wise we were guided throughout each project by catching-up meetings with tutors. We also could get technical advice anytime from experienced pattern-cutters working in the studio. Which made our creative process very efficient. And the final crit was in front of the whole class which was a really good training for future work presentations.

Don’t get me wrong, it was hard! The rhythm was intensive, but we got to do a bit of everything: focusing alternately on shape, print, illustration, colour, tailoring… The balance of the program was just perfect for me to thrive.

Photos by Mathilde Calhiol

What are some highlights from your studies?

My main highlight would be the Press show, which is a catwalk show organized to broadcast only a small selection of the students from all the different pathways to the press. I was in the Womenswear pathway, but you also have Print, Knitwear, Menswear, Marketing… For any student, being chosen to participate is a consecration and a chance to get noticed, either to integrate a Fashion house or to start your own brand. My final collection relied on deception: the outfits created the impression that the body was in a different position than the model actually was. It was crazy and amazing to create without boundaries, far from all the commercial constraints we would experience in our careers.

I loved the final year, in spite of the stress! Especially when we were in the draping stage: all students worked in the same room, sharing pattern-cutting tables and building all of our final collections side by side. We constantly gave one another advice and reassurance, we were working super hard but with a healthy emulation, pushing everybody to the best they could achieve.

What are your words of advice for aspiring designers?

“You have to be truly committed. These are very demanding jobs, long hours and even when you are not working, you kind of are: visiting exhibitions, sketching ideas, noticing details on people’s clothing… but if it is your vocation, then really go for it, it is such a rewarding job! “ Tweet

What was your work experience like before your time now at Karl Lagerfeld?

I was interested in getting different insights, so I integrated a few Fashion houses: Kenzo, Narciso Rodriguez, Karl Lagerfeld, Proenza Schouler, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, George Wu.

I have found a lot of kindness from amazing people. I have perfected technical skills from incredible “premières mains” (highly skilled seamstresses), heads of atelier and even an artistic director who really enjoyed sharing their expertise. I have been entrusted with key projects while still junior which really made me grow. I have met so many talents and it was a privilege to work beside them.

I really enjoyed challenges, like the first time I designed a dress for the Met Ball. Excitement, bliss, stress… all mixed together! The pressure is high dressing celebrities, but that feeling when you see them wearing your work is indescribable. I don’t think I will ever get tired of it.

I also experienced hardships: shipping delays right before an event, artistic differences, fitting problems… But you learn so much more from them! Difficulties test your creativity, your resilience, your ability to bounce back. And sometimes your limits, which can be a good thing, as it is crucial to be respected. I’ve had the best and the worst, but I don’t regret any, they all made me the person, professionally and personally, that I am now.

Photo by Mathilde Calhiol

What was it like working with Karl Lagerfeld?

I worked directly with Karl Lagerfeld for the better part of a decade, it was an incredible opportunity. He was very kind and funny, I know this is not the first impression which comes to mind with his strict look, but it is true! He was constantly making jokes and puns, he always had a nice word for everybody, including interns. His Fashion house had a very family-like atmosphere, with most people working there for a long time, some for several decades. People were very faithful to him.

Obviously, he was also demanding but it challenged me and trained me to be inventive, efficient and precise. What I appreciated the most was his down-to-earthness. We would do everything in our power to meet his vision but if something was not possible, he would understand it. I really think his trust in his team brought the best from all of us.

What drives the theme of each season/collection? 

Karl Lagerfeld’s culture seemed endless and he was constantly bringing us books from his impressive collection, beautiful original clothing from the twenties or even objects. You wouldn’t believe the crazy jewels we would lend us!

Inspiration would also come from the spirit of the moment, the recent exhibitions we had seen as a team, or shows and films that had inspired us independently and would come together to build a theme.

What is your design process like?

My own label is based on the principle of upcycling and reusing discarded materials, in my case mainly from fashion houses’ stocks. My customer and I choose a material, often an embroidery sample, and I start from there. I adjust a mannequin to my customer’s measurements and I drape directly on it to build a unique piece.

I adapt the design to the materials I have: for the Hydaspe dress, for example, I had decided on the length I wanted for the dress but the zipper I was using was too long, so I added a collar to match it. It is a totally different approach, as I don’t draw a sketch and then chose the materials, but start from the materials to elaborate the design.

In a slowfashion spirit, I create new pieces regularly, to integrate two ongoing lines, instead of accumulating 2 to 4 successive collections a year. They are systematically shot to integrate my lookbook and provide more ideas to my customers.

My design is strongly inspired by the imagery of Greek mythology, its representation in painting, sculpture and literature is just an endless source of amazement. But this background is always mixed with contemporary inspirations: current exhibitions, street artists, theater plays, films, music I am listening to.

The fact that I have always been fascinated by the destinies of powerful goddesses and strong-minded nymphs, is quite fitting as I aspire to bring forward the strength in women, I wish that putting on my creations gives them a feeling of confidence, I want them to feel like empowered amazons. Actually, most of my designs are named after strong mythological figures.

What are your specific responsibilities? 

I am working on the whole process: research, sourcing, design, sewing and illustrating.

The moment when basically a pile of lifeless left-over materials start being sculpted into a piece is very rewarding, creating beauty from waste. But what I prefer is when artists wear my designs on stage. Seeing my outfits brought to life, empowering the artist, is the best feeling I know.

What advice would you give a younger professional in the workforce?

To land a job, it takes talent, hard work, timing, network and a bit of luck! And of course perseverance… Being versatile (as comfortable with sketching, draping, sewing, Adobe softwares…) is always a plus, so is speaking more than one language. To design high-end products, you need to always keep yourself updated and develop an eye for details: regularly visit luxury boutiques, check the finishing.

Does sustainability have a role in your work? 

I continuously tried to push for more sustainability while working in Fashion houses, especially in sourcing, as fabric production is a massive cause of pollution. The use of paper is terrifying too, pages are printed by the package, almost always one-sided. </