Michele Corty was an American in Paris, then Nice, and now Auckland. The fashion designer has added an elegant touch of Parisian romance to Auckland's fashion scene with her new label and bridal collection Rue De Seine.
Originally from Chicago, Corty moved to Paris after studying and apprenticing in New York and Florence. In Paris she lived in St. Germain des Pres, and worked as senior designer at the company which owns labels American Retro, ZOEtee's and My Lovely Jean.
"I moved to Paris with a big dream and a few suitcases. I knocked on their door, and I didn't speak a word of French, and they probably thought I was crazy. I made them sit down and look at my book, and they hired me the next day," she explains.
Corty worked with the brands for five years, and in 2009 collaborated with Gwyneth Paltrow on a capsule collection of jersey knits dubbed "ZOEtee's Loves Gwyneth". Initially her stylist had approached them to design a few pieces for her, and it grew to a seven-piece range with proceeds going to a London charity.
"She asked us to come in and meet her in London, and we were actually in her house - Chris Martin was coming out making breakfast. We were sitting at her kitchen table and it was just really unreal; you know, it's Gwyneth Paltrow!" explains Corty. "The chef of Nobu was there at the same time, giving her a cooking lesson - she comes out and she's like 'sorry guys, I'm just doing a cooking lesson'. But she was really amazing and down to earth; a very cool family."
From Paris, Corty moved to Nice before moving to Auckland four months ago with her New Zealand-born husband. She launched Rue De Seine - named after the street that the couple lived on in Paris - in April, opening a Ponsonby "pop-up" shop, with her bike from Paris in the window. The dresses inside are gorgeous - feminine, vintage inspired gowns for modern brides that want something fresh, interesting and fun. There's the pleated silk organza "Tuileries" gown with full skirt, ruffled bustier and interior cotton corset, inspired by old covers of Vogue; a layered silk chiffon ruffled gown teamed with ruffled silk shrug; a feminine cotton lace dress with ruffled cap sleeves; and shorter, cocktail styles for adventurous brides, like the "Opera" mini with lace layered under silk, hand-embroidered flowers along the hem and finished with feathers. Many of the dresses have shorter hemlines, whether it be with just a hint of leg at the front, or a lot. "I love shoes, and so do a lot of girls," says Corty. "I find it really beautiful and feminine to see a girl's ankles; I love that, so I tried to incorporate that a lot into the collection."
There are separates too, that a non-bride could definitely pull off: a vintage floor length ivory coat, a romantic ruffle blouse overlaid with delicate lace. Corty says it's the idea of having a girl put together pieces to create her wedding gown; taking a white silk blouse and wearing it over a strapless dress. "It's really about girls expressing their individuality on their wedding day. I try and cater to that by getting unique pieces; sometimes one of a kind. Just so that they have something a little different," she explains. To add to the effect, Corty also sources vintage pieces from around the world, from a stunning beaded 1930s style gown to a 1950s style Chantilly lace gown with sleeves; as well as a selection of headpieces (like a turban and a 1950s pillbox hat). She also does custom veils made from Calais lace. It's all very romantic and whimsical, and you could easily picture a tall, willowy blonde much like Corty herself wearing these dresses and looking like a blog photo waiting to happen.
Corty's own wedding dress was equally romantic: made by herself, the gown featured peonies handmade in organza. "There's a guy in Paris who makes all the handmade flowers for Dior, and I went in there and begged him to work with me. He made all these giant peonies which sort of fell all over the skirt, and it was almost like flowers were following me everywhere." (It's an idea that she has translated into one of her dresses in store; a delicate tulle gown with hand-cut flowers sprinkled on the hem, trailing the bride "like somebody's constantly throwing flowers at her feet".)
Finding her own wedding dress sparked the idea of doing a bridal line. "It all started when I was looking for my own wedding dress; I couldn't really find anything in the market that was unique and a little bit different," explains Corty. "And I love dressing up - it's the ultimate form of dress-ups."
As for her day-to-day wardrobe, the impeccably stylish 30-year-old confesses to loving a lot of Parisian brands. "I love Chloe, but I also love Alexander Wang from New York, and I'm inspired by vintage designers like Madame Gres, Balenciaga, all of the old designs from the 1950s," she explains.
"I don't have a favourite designer, even though I'm kind of obsessed with what Phoebe Philo is doing right now - she just gets it, she understands that girls are going to work and doing their thing, and they want to look chic." Much like girls on their wedding days.
Rue De Seine, 186 Ponsonby Rd, Auckland. Come June, Corty will move to a permanent space in Newmarket.
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