Emmanuel Demuynck invited me for the interview to his beautiful home, in Ghent, where he lives and works. “Please, don’t pay attention to all these things standing in the hallway”, he apologizes, “I moved to this place and I still need to clean these up.” The “things in the hallway” seem to be old paintings, books, etc. that conceal a piece of his past and intriguing personality. Emmanuel used to be a painter, is passionate about by esthetics and elegance, and is always creating a world that feeds his imagination. Since 2010, he created a new world, called MONSIEUR MAISON, wherein ‘old’ haute-couture fabrics are brought back to life. Or better when history meets the present.
A tribute to the scarf
Monsieur Maison is a result of a leaked passion and a large private collection of couture fabrics. During his previous job as a merchandiser for a clothing store, Emmanuel bought several couture fabrics that he found on flea markets, fashion boutiques, etc. It were his ‘hidden treasures’. He always wanted to do something with this valuable collection and 5 years ago, the time was right in the format of Monsieur Maison.
The brand is known for its beautiful and unique scarf collections. However don’t ever call the scarves of Monsieur Maison ‘a scarf’. ‘Precious jewels’ would be more appropriate. Why? Because every scarf is a handmade ‘mix and match’ result of the creative brain of Emmanuel Demuynck who only uses (haute) couture fabrics that he carefully selected over the years. Emmanuel is always looking for ‘hidden treasures’- fabrics from the 20th century, that were created by big luxury brands like Givenchy, Hermès, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Versace, Valentino, Chanel, etc. He selects, combines and integrates all these self-contained (limited) fabrics, colors and patterns into a new scarf design. The high quality and the eclectic style are very prominent in his collections. He also likes the idea that his scarves are an accessory that is related to size and age. Everyone can wear it and it can take almost any outfit up a notch.
Hidden treasures in familiar shadows
For as long as Emmanuel can remember, he was surrounded by fabrics, textures and colors. He learned to appreciate good quality through his mother and grandparents. Emmanuel has warm memories of his mother. Even today, she still is a source of inspiration. His mother always looked sophisticated, she was a very proud and elegant lady wearing the most beautiful outfits (exactly like Emmanuel). “My mother had a guest house and she used the basement as a storage place for a distributor who dealt with Parisian couture fabrics. We’re talking before the prêt-à-porter period. She sold these fabrics to her friends and other customers and she selected some fabrics for herself with the profit she had made. I think she had 100 dresses in her closet! She was a true lady of the 60’s.” Emmanuel’s interest in quality, fashion, composition and interior decoration has always been a part of him. Being able to grow up in a place – a home – where all these things were also very appreciated and present, feels like a gift.
- Scarf collection Monsieur Maison (aw15) – picture verne photography -
“I think my mother had 100 dresses in her closet!”
Teaching good manners with ‘etiquette’
“My mother was a strong woman, who imposed the house rules. Trying or thinking something different, was out of the question”, he laughs. “I always wanted to do something in fashion, but studying fashion was not an option back then. Not because I was not allowed to do fashion, but because I had to go to Paris to study and my mother was worried about the possible impact of that ‘unknown world’ on her little boy”. Even though his mother was determined, she never argued the fact that Emmanuel eventually wanted to become a painter. “My mother set high standards, not only for herself but also for me and my brother. Only the best was good enough. And by saying this, I don’t mean ‘expensive things’. We ate an apple instead of a ‘Cha Cha’, we didn’t drink soft drinks or ate candy … that kind of stuff. ‘Etiquette’ and manners were very important to her and we had to act upon it.”
I strongly believe in value for money.
The ‘etiquette and manners’ Emmanuel is referring to, are agreeably present while talking and drinking tea offered on a silver plate with cookies. It’s in these small details, in the way he dresses, in the way he walks, etc. that these standards and values are permanently extant. “I am not a nostalgic person in such way that I believe that the past was better than today. Nevertheless I do mourn some ‘good’ things of the old days like decency, appreciation of good quality, authenticity, timelessness and elegance.” When looking at and feeling the Monsieur Maison collections, it’s not surprising that all of these elements come back in his work of art. With his designs, Emmanuel strives to translate these values into new and contemporary design.
Monsieur Maison, a brand with a mission
Emmanuel applies the ‘less is more’ principle, in the way he lives and works. Quality over quantity. “I’d rather prefer to spend my money on something that is more expensive because of the good quality than buying something that I can only use once or of which you know that the production process wasn’t correct” (Emmanuel refers to bad social environment and child labor). That’s also the reason why he invests in high quality and timelessness for his own brand (his scarves transcend seasons and trends). “I strongly believe in having value for money”, he explains. It’s his way to strengthen the idea of sustainability and to position his brand against the fast fashion industry where everything has to be cheap, quick and trend sensitive.
It is Emmanuel’s personal objective to ‘touch’ people with his designs and fabrics. Creating something that makes you feel good, something you can treasure, that feels familiar and secure. Surprising people with his collages, his eclectic designs and colors, and at the same time still remain recognizable, is his drive to keep on doing what he does.
When the esthetics becomes ethics
To liven his designs and unique approach, Emmanuel spent a lot of time searching for the right atelier. He needed someone who understood the fabrics like he does, who understood his designs, his drawings and who was able to turn his idea into reality. He found a small atelier – in Belgium – with two seamstresses, who are respected because of their expertise and knowledge. The seamstresses are technically gifted (they worked for Walter van Beirendonck, Dirk van Saene, Raf Simons) which is of great value as every centimeter of the haute couture fabrics counts. Starting all over again is not an option. “The knowledge and certainty that the products are made with respect for the fabrics and in a fair way, respecting people and environment, is very important and valuable to me.”
Luxury isn’t about high prices and buying expensive things.
Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not.
Emmanuel is aware of the fact that the quality of the exclusive fabrics he uses and the fair production process he stands for, lead to higher prices. This is the ‘value for money’ we already talked about. “It is a choice you make. It’s a way of life. I prefer to surround myself with things that have a story attached to them and which will last for a lifetime.”
When you ask Emmanuel what ‘luxury’ means to him, he explains that real luxury lies in the ability to create a home, to treasure something that makes you feel good and comfortable. It can be a place, an object, clothes, accessories, or even something immaterial… “Having a home to escape to is a luxury nowadays. Something recognizable or familiar, even when you’re feeling down or sick. It doesn’t always necessarily have to involve high prices and expensive goods.” He continues: “Nothing in my apartment is new. Everything you see around here, are ‘treasures’ that I found on markets, are souvenirs of people I love, or things that mean something to me. The couches over there are more than 20 years old.”
3 more extra days
Read a book, walk in the park, enjoy being home, do nothing, take a nap, … is the answer to my question what he would do if a day would have 3 more extra hours? “I already try to block some of these me-moments in my agenda, but if I could, I would do it more often. Everything is moving so fast, there is no structure anymore, and being able to escape from the never ending rat-race of daily life every so often is very precious to me.”
After talking for almost 2,5h with Emmanuel, it feels good to know and to see that today’s ostensible contradictions like ‘new and old’, ‘haute-couture and attainability’, ‘recognizability and innovatory’, ‘luxury and simplicity’ can go hand in hand through the designs of 1 man, Emmanuel Demuynck. Or when education becomes inspiration which in turn becomes passion.