Fashion is fast. One second the industry is chasing after chunky sneakers and the next it's craving heeled thongs. But now that the world is on lockdown, designers are being forced to slow down.
A much-needed pause for many, the designers behind Antwerp-based brand Bernadette are especially grateful for the last few months of quiet. The label from mother-daughter creative duo Bernadette and Charlotte De Geyter has been traveling at warp speed since launching on Net-a-Porter in January 2019.
"It's a really weird time, but we're enjoying it," says Charlotte, after explaining that they have skipped a collection and are now working on Spring 2021 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. "Quarantine gives us a moment to think and reflect about the last two years."
It's been such a whirlwind for them that when I asked over the phone about the official launch date, they giddily went back and forth throwing out months as late as last November. After a playful family dispute, the De Geyters decide Pre-Spring 2019 was the debut collection on Net-a-Porter. Prior to that, Bernadette had only been in business for a few months and was only being sold at two boutiques in Antwerp.
It all began with a simple capsule of floral-print slip dresses and Bart Ramakers, who works at an Amsterdam-based fashion agency that's known for bringing local Dutch talent to the international stage. Ramakers was quick to send the De Geyters to London to present Bernadette to the team at Net-a-Porter.
Without a steamer or more than 10 minutes to prepare, the De Geyters found themselves pulling out wrinkled silk dresses from two overly stuffed suitcases to show to various buyers at the U.K.-based retailer. But even with creases, the easy-to-wear frocks received high praise.
There's a sentimental vintage quality to what the De Geyters create for Bernadette. It's as if their designs are plucked from the archives of a well-traveled woman who had an insatiable lust for life in the '70s and has collected cool interiors since. The label boasts collections that are loaded with crepe de chine wrap dresses covered in blooms, puffed sleeved maxis and rich-looking caftans. The silhouettes aren't basic, but they're aren't too complex — it's the striking pinks and yellows and the oversized motifs that draw you in. When worn, Bernadette's clothes make you the sartorial star of any occasion, be it an intimate dinner party or a 300-person wedding.
So, the buyers were immediately sold on what was on the hangers — most of which retails for under $1,200 — and they were also sold on the charming mother-daughter team behind the clothes.
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Bernadette De Geyter had worked in buying for Ralph Lauren, before focusing on growing and developing Antwerp-based boutiques, while Charlotte De Geyter, her daughter, graduated with a masters in fashion from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, before briefly working for Simone Rocha in London.
Charlotte had planned on staying in London longer and continuing to design for a big brand, but decided to move back home instead.
"I was calling my mom everyday, because we've always been very close and it seemed like such a natural thing to start something together," says Charlotte. "We had the idea to do something around dresses."
Drawing is a big part of Charlotte's life, so she immediately started sketching what would later become the prints for the boudoir-inspired dresses and robes. Her hand-drawn botanical motifs have since become a cornerstone of each collection, as have colors and elegant shapes.
Bernadette is the color expert, so once Charlotte comes up with the dreamy, vintage-like wallpaper prints, they sit together to discuss the best palette. The figure-skimming silhouettes are also decided upon collaboratively.
"It's very important that the dresses are not only for the generation of Charlotte, but that they are for my generation as well," explains Bernadette, before noting that the two think up shapes they like separately and come together later to combine their ideas.
Made using fine Italian silk, the floral-bedecked ready-to-wear is produced in Belgium and in Romania. Charlotte says they work very closely with their factory in Belgium, which is where they make all of the samples and patterns.
In the past year, production has ramped up because the label has been picked up by major retailers like Bergdorf Goodman, Browns, MatchesFashion, Moda Operandi, MyTheresa and Selfridges, to name a few.
If being picked up by almost every sought-after retailer wasn't enough, Bernadette branched out into handbags right before Covid-19 silenced most of the world's activity. But when I press the De Geyters on what other categories they would consider expanding into, they are pretty clear on their desire to stay focused on dressed-up prints. Plus, they've only hired one full-time person, so for now, they're still keeping things relatively small.
"We love the idea that we make dresses for a lot of different occasions," Charlotte says. "We're looking into more red carpet dresses, so more voluminous dresses with big bows. We're also focusing on our robe and figuring out the best way to make casual clothes more luxurious."
Red carpet events may seem like a pipe dream now, but luckily the label's lounge-friendly silk robes have done well in quarantine. And the De Geyters are hopeful that once social gatherings resume, people will be more than ready to dress up.
See looks from Bernadette's High Summer 2020 collection in the gallery below.
Homepage photo: Courtesy of Bernadette