The Genteel
September 20, 2020

Best Kept Secrets

(Photograph courtesy of Charlotte Bialas)

Swedish-born designer Charlotte Bialas prides herself on travelling the globe to acquire exquisite fabrics made especially for the world's biggest fashion houses from the 50's to the 80's and formulates them into her own one-of-a-kind designs. She got the idea after discovering, to her horror, that most textile producers burn their stock after a season's production. "Of course in fashion, there is almost always overproduction and waste. I thought that is such as shame...I just wanted to prove that there is so much we can still use," she explains. And the fact that she herself uses every single scrap of fabric she buys underscores her ecological credentials: "Even if it's just to make a little change purse, I will use every bit that's left," Bialas vows.

Each piece she creates is based on a single geometric shape: circle, triangle, rectangle or square, but she manages to convert these simple forms into strong, normally non-Western, silhouettes, such as that of the Japanese kimono, the Indian sari or the Greek peplos, all of which are easy for women of all sizes and ages to wear. Ironically, many of her customers are Japanese, yet they demand more European shapes, while those living on the continent are more attracted to Asian styles. "People seem to want whatever is exotic to them," she explains. For that reason, she has ventured beyond the confines of couture and is now searching for stunning prints from around the globe. "Mali has a fantastic print making tradition, and there is some beautiful traditional cloth being produced in small villages in China and Japan that I'll be using in future collections," she promises.

(Photograph courtesy of Charlotte Bialas)

Oddly enough, the designer's career didn't begin with a focus on printed textile. After taking a quick course in draping, she (along with a partner) opened her first shop in Paris in the 1980s. At the time, she claims it wasn't difficult to find trans-Atlantic clients to buy boutique designs from France's capital, and before she knew it, she was selling to Barney's in New York and Holt Renfrew in Canada. By the late 80's, consumers were tiring of the trend for stark minimalism as exemplified by Helmut Lang, Jil Sander and Calvin Klein, and the buyer at Barney's encouraged Bialas to produce more designs in print, as demand for them grew.

"There was something in my Swedish side that always felt comfortable with print," she explains. "Growing up, I was surrounded by printed textiles on curtains and furniture, so it just felt right." Her passion for vintage fabrics has endured for the past thirty years, and she loves merging the quality of, say, a Pucci silk from the 1950's, with a customer's own design - she's even created bespoke wedding dresses.  

Today, there are Charlotte Bialas boutiques around the world, from Amsterdam to Australia, and her success in ladies' wear has spurred her on to consider designing a new range for the home, including wallpapers and soft furnishings. No matter what Bialas puts her hand to, you can bet it will be cut from a different cloth.  



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