Meet Ester Manas, the Radical Size-Inclusive Designer at Paris Fashion Week

In the realm of Paris Fashion Week, attending an Ester Manas runway show is like traveling to a different universe—one where every body type is accepted and clothing is thoughtfully designed for women, from a woman’s point of view. Colorful tulle, lace, and jersey are transformed into cutout dresses that celebrate and hug the body without minimizing it. Skin is on full display, and the diverse casting is more akin to something you’d see in real life versus the Paris runways. “I want to change the mind-set of the industry,” Manas, the brand’s cofounder and designer, said recently from her Belgium studio. “Making a big change is my goal.” Next up on the designers’ boundary-pushing agenda? Returning to Paris Fashion Week in February.

The Belgian duo Manas and Balthazar Delepierre—who first met while studying at La Cambre in Brussels and were married in 2023—founded the label in 2019 on the basis of body inclusivity. But it was key for the clothing to maintain deep roots in expressive, feminine design as well. Fashion fans came to recognize Ester Manas for its innovative approach to sizing and its knack for shaking things up (presenting bridalwear during its last ready-to-wear show, for instance). Since its launch, the brand has steadily gained attention and accolades from the industry. An olive-green version of Ester Manas’s signature dress, which debuted for spring 2022, was featured in the Costume Institute’s “Women Dressing Women” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in December 2023. And after a whirlwind of shows and retail partnerships with SSENSE and The Webster, the brand secured the Andam Fashion Award’s Special Prize, winning €100,000 to help build out the business in May 2023.

A look from the Ester Manas fall 2023 runway show on March 4, 2023, in Paris.

Photo by Richard Bord/Getty Images

A look from the Ester Manas fall 2023 runway show on March 4, 2023, in Paris.

Photo by Dominique Maitre/WWD via Getty Images

Photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The duo has been hard at work planning their next move ever since. These days, Manas and Delepierre are dreaming up entirely new categories for their brand, including outerwear, leatherwear, and knitwear, all done in a new approach to sizing that challenges the industry’s norm—and all of which will be revealed at their upcoming Paris Fashion Week fall 2024 show. During their first visit to New York this December, Manas and Delepierre told me over pasta in Soho that instead of using their prize money to host a buzzy runway show, they sat out spring 2024 Fashion Week and doubled down on creating those aforementioned new categories and making inclusive clothing that tells a radical story about being a woman—and celebrates her form through the female gaze.

“Paris is a hugely historical city when it comes to fashion. But at the same time, you can do whatever you want there,” Manas said. “Still, it’s an old city in its mind-set.”

Ester Manas and Balthazar Delepierre

Courtesy of Ester Manas

Backstage at the fall 2023 Ester Manas show.

Photo by Kay-Paris Fernandes/Getty Images
Photo by Kay-Paris Fernandes/Getty Images

Manas is putting it politely. Most designers showing in Paris follow a standard of sizing that barely goes above the equivalent of a large. Ester Manas, meanwhile, is creating its own system of sizing for new pieces. Materials will dictate the size of clothing—so a leather piece may have a different sizing system than, say, a stretchy tulle dress. But the goal is for sizing to go up to 5X.

The label’s signature dress—the same one that was inducted into the halls of The Met—has been well-loved among Ester Manas followers for years. It’s a frothy, sheer, ruffled tulle concoction designed in a flexible one-size-fits-all offering, which caters to bodies from FR 34-46. “I’m still in love with this dress,” she said. “We are still working on it for every collection, every season. We always go back to it.”

A look from the Ester Manas fall 2023 runway show on March 4, 2023, in Paris.

Photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

A look from the Ester Manas fall 2023 runway show on March 4, 2023, in Paris.

Photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

A look from the Ester Manas fall 2023 runway show on March 4, 2023, in Paris.

Photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

A look from the Ester Manas fall 2023 runway show in Paris.

Photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The Met even had a custom, non-standard-size mannequin created to put the Ester Manas frock on display—a move virtually unheard of when it comes to historical fashion exhibitions. Delepierre describes the two of them laughing when they saw the mannequin in person, slightly shocked and in awe to see their work in such a setting. “Impostor syndrome,” he said. “It’s always a challenge to display our clothing, even in shops,” Manas added. “I mean, they need to buy new mannequins for us to promote the collection, and they don’t. It would be really good news if all the shops could have a look at The Met.”

Returning to the runway for fall 2024—at a time when body diversity is fading away in all the major fashion cities—has never been more important than it is now. “I started designing because of me,” Manas said. “It was based on my body but also on my frustration. In the shops, it was always a terrible experience. Ester Manas is just about designing a dress to bring all girls together.”

It has often been said that some of the best designers for women are women, and Manas represents the contemporary epitome of that sentiment. She described her brand mantra as “supporting women in all ways possible,” and added, “We try to dress everybody—and by that I mean every body—and now, we’re trying to do it for every moment in the day.” In many ways, her humble sheer dress has opened up a whole new world.

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