Boston style is frequently described as “smart” and “innovative,” and Cecile Thieulin fully embodies these elements with her fashion line, Simone Simon.
Thieulin is the co-founder of Paris-based architecture firm Descombes & Thieulin, but since moving to the States in 2015, she spends most of her time in Boston working in the architecture, design, and fashion fields.
Her first collection, Razzle Dazzle, launched in 2017 and was inspired by camouflage techniques used by Navy military engineers. Thieulin repurposed this method to create black-and-white formfitting dresses with strategically placed lines and stripes that accentuate a woman’s body in a flattering way.
Thieulin describes Simone Simon as “a research studio that explores the interface between the human body and the outside world,” with a focus on sustainable practices.
Her cutting-edge designs will be showcased Sept. 30 at the official opening night of Boston Fashion Week, an event dedicated to the power of women as the future of fashion.
Exhale: What collection are you showing at Boston Fashion Week? What can we expect?
Cecile Thieulin:The collection is called Paris Est une Fête (Paris Is a Party). The pieces are both festive and elegant. The name is based off of a Hemingway book [of the same name] written about Paris in the early 20th century, when all the artists would collect together [and party], so I really wanted to use this mood for the theme.
Unlike my last collection, there will be more colors: blue and nude. There will be more solid-colored pieces, not just striped, although some pieces will continue to play around with stripes but in different ways.
As both an architect and fashion designer, how do you juggle both jobs and bridge the gap between the two professions?
It’s intense. But it’s so fun. As an architect, I wasn’t sure I could be a fashion designer. In France, when you’re trained for something, you think you can only do this [one] thing. Not like in America, where you can probably do more things and you push people to explore more.
But when I moved to Boston, it pushed my confidence when I was selected to show my designs at the 2016 Open Runway show for Boston Fashion Week.
The idea for the Razzle Dazzle collection and playing with lines actually comes from my background as an architect and being French. French people wear a lot of shirts with horizontal lines, and I wondered if horizontal stripes were flattering on everybody. So that’s when I started experimenting with vertical lines.
As a fashion company, your mission includes being conscious about the environment and sustainability. How exactly do you do this?
I use 3-D CAD (computer aided design) virtual reality software to help me conceptualize my designs, which I draw by hand first. I can visualize what it will look like before making it.
Designers create prototypes for their designs, but the process uses a lot of fabric. If you can reduce this task by using virtual reality, which can be just as efficient as the real thing, you can cut down on that waste. You can test proof almost everything with virtual reality now.
In addition, the materials I use are mostly made of viscose, which, synthetically processed, doesn’t require a lot of water to produce as much as cotton. Viscose is usually made from wood; the one we use is made from bamboo. All of our fabrics are sourced from the U.S., and I work with local manufacturers in Lowell and Everett.
What’s it like being a fashion designer in Boston?
I would have never thought Boston is the place for fashion. My husband is American so we decided to move and we were surprised by the energy of the city. We met a mixture of different people as I was looking for connections in the design and architecture world; I was surprised by the number of artists in the area. There's a lot of great ideas and creative energy here.
Boston Fashion Week is doing great work because they're very democratized by letting everyone come in. And when I was a part of the 2016 Open Runway show, everyone on the street could see my collection. How fantastic is that? For me it was something, because I’ve never seen that in another city in the world.
As a newcomer on the scene, how did you find the right resources to grow as a company and designer?
As a female entrepreneur myself, I wanted to connect with other women, so I found a group called SheStarts. Through that, I found out about an incubator program for women entrepreneurs called WIN Lab through Babson College. I applied and was selected to be a part of the 2017 cohort, made up of 18 women and only five were chosen from outside of Babson College.
It was a nine-month program meeting other successful female entrepreneurs, getting coached and mentored, and taking classes in business planning.
I only had two prototype designs when I started the WIN Lab and I was a bit all over the place. I wanted to be sustainable, local, beautiful, and made for every woman. The WIN Lab helped me focus and organize my business. I eventually was able to find local partners and manufacturers and use sustainable practices.
We caught up with the six powerhouse female fashion designers who are being honored at this year's BFW to discuss new collections, overcoming challenges, and finding balance.