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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: CYRIL VERDAVAINNE ON CRAFTING COUTURE WITH A PERSONAL TOUCH

Image courtesy VERDAVAINNE. 

Cyril Verdavainne carved a niche in the American fashion landscape with the launch of his eponymous label, VERDAVAINNE, in 2018. With a rich history in the industry, Cyril was previously the right-hand designer for Carmen Marc Valvo, specializing in women’s evening wear. The sudden closure of Valvo’s company after 15 years prompted the French designer, a graduate of Parsons School of Design in both Paris and New York, to embark on his own venture. His background, which includes stints as an illustrator at prestigious fashion houses Pierre Balmain and Thierry Mugler, significantly influenced his design aesthetic.

Verdavainne’s vision is to empower women to express their authentic beauty through an elevated custom design experience. The onset of the pandemic in 2020 was a transformative period for Cyril. Embracing boldness over conservatism, he drew inspiration from his early days in Paris, infusing his creations with lavish flair and a vibrant color palette reminiscent of his childhood in Casablanca. This renewed creative vigor caught the eye of specialty stores and Saks Fifth Avenue, leading to nationwide trunk shows.

Today, VERDAVAINNE stands out as a sophisticated collection, meticulously handcrafted in Cyril’s Manhattan atelier. The brand is known for its impeccable fit and attention to detail, offering both standard sizes and bespoke custom designs that honor each client’s unique body proportions. This personalized approach reflects Cyril’s journey and his dedication to creating luxurious evening wear that blends his European couture roots with New York’s commercial sensibilities.

In this exclusive interview with Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine, Cyril Verdavainne shares the inspirations and challenges behind his brand, his vision for empowering women, and his plans for the future. From his early influences in Casablanca and Paris to his recent successes, including being the recipient of the Fashion Group International’s Rising Star Award for eveningwear, Cyril’s story is one of resilience, creativity, and an unwavering commitment to fashion.

Cyril Verdavainne

What inspired you to launch your own luxury women’s eveningwear brand, VERDAVAINNE, after working for other designers for over 15 years?

The company I designed for was going to shut down, and the entire staff had now left.  I stayed to make sure the final orders were delivered.  I was charged with facilitating the wrapping up of all closing matters, including the intellectual properties, patterns, and machinery.  During this time, I felt a sense of “now or never’ – to create and launch my own eveningwear brand.  I saw an opportunity in the market, and it felt like the stars were aligning for me to now do it!

Image courtesy VERDAVAINNE.

How has your background at fashion houses such as Balmain and Thierry Mugler, as well as your experience working with Carmen Marc Valvo influenced your design aesthetic and approach?

The influences evolved dramatically and quickly over the years. What I learned and enjoyed doing in Europe suddenly became totally irrelevant in New York.  As a young man of twenty-one years coming out of the ’90s in Paris, I dreamed of having lavish fashion shows filled with costumes.  But then I landed in the US where DKNY was the latest fashion craze.  It was a totally different world than what I was used to and what I was expecting.  So, I had to adapt and understand the market. While at Parsons School of Design, I learned to channel my mixed emotions about Europe’s couture with New York’s more commercial approach to fashion.

Valvo, to me, was the best of both worlds where I was able to integrate design creativity with the business side of fashion. We had a factory in Hong Kong who was able to make couture dresses as good as the Italians, and I was also able to express myself with the runway pieces. But we had to show some degree of restraint when it came to the department stores we worked with, who insisted that 75% of the clothes shown be saleable.

Cyril Fall 2020. Image courtesy VERDAVAINNE.

How would you describe the signature style of VERDAVAINNE? 

The branding continues to morph as we speak! I have a natural tendency to go dark and mysterious, but that, unfortunately, is never very well received!  Women want color, lightness, joy… Currently we are focusing on the classic shirt dress, sashed with our trapunto stitch belt and cut in a bold and colorful floral print. Our momentum is with the prints at the moment. They are all original artworks, I create them by hand, digitize them and send them to Lake Como in Italy for printing.

Can you share the inspiration for your brand vision? 

Women. Or I should say serving women’s actual needs. It’s easy to do high slits and deep necklines, and I have done it before, but real life is not a fashion show, and my clientele has specific needs. Currently, my client cannot find the clothes she needs in the stores. For me, it’s simply the sheer enjoyment of creating solutions for her lifestyle and her body type and, most of all, empowering her to express her own style and making her feel her best.

Image courtesy VERDAVAINNE.

What role do the fabrics, colors, and silhouettes from your childhood in Casablanca play in your collections?

I grew up surrounded by French women who could afford to purchase couture, in the heyday of YSL, with the tuxedo suit and the big shoulder pads. I like structure and clean construction, so I will naturally steer towards stiffer fabrics such as silk twills — organza is the lightest I’ll go. Morocco definitely taught me about color — like the unlikely pairing of a fuchsia, tangerine, and turquoise. Too loud? Not loud enough? I was born in a land of great passion and colorful history. I still go back to my beautiful garden in Casablanca twice a year, a constant source of inspiration!

How did your experience working in Paris influence your creative direction? 

The Parisian influence comes in when I start a new collection. It shows in the first sketches. It’s fun and outrageous, and that is when we make some discoveries, new shapes, and things we want to experiment with. Then, we slowly peel the outrageousness and bring it into a more practical and saleable product – We look at the best-performing styles from the previous seasons and we then we blend it all together.  It’s really a team effort.  The team allows me to do 5 pieces that we know at the outset will never sell, but then there are guardrails in place, and I will only be permitted to go so crazy!

Cyril Spring23 S08. Image courtesy VERDAVAINNE.

How do you ensure a personalized, custom “couture” design experience for each VERDAVAINNE client? 

I start by informing the client that this is a creative journey – and she is in charge.  I am here to guide her through. I will want to know what she needs, what she is comfortable with, what she likes and what she doesn’t like… It’s simple communication, openness and encouraging her to express herself.

What has been your biggest challenge since launching your own brand?

In the beginning, a few years ago, we had a difficult time finding seamstresses with experience in high-end finishes and finding European fabric suppliers willing to deliver small quantities. Now a big challenge for me and for a lot of people in this industry, is working capital and cash flow.  We spend a lot of time focused on collecting our receivables on a timely basis!

As a luxury brand, how do you differentiate VERDAVAINNE from other eveningwear labels in the market?

We are truly custom. We don’t hang in the department stores. We are very flexible: We say “yes” more often than we say “no” in our design collaborations with the client.  We work with our clients’ body measurements, fabric and color choices, we have neckline and sleeve options, in order to create that very unique custom experience for our clients.

Viola Davis in a Cyril Verdavainne designed dress for Carmen Marc Valvo. Image courtesy Getty.

If you could have anyone wear your gowns on the red carpet, who would it be? Who is your ideal muse?

I like women with a strong personality, with character, and with a sense of empowerment. Sharon Stone comes to mind. For my generation, she was the embodiment of Hollywood during the start of the 90’s. I am really touched by her story and what happened to her after her stroke, and now she is an artist like me.

We are now working closely with the American Cancer Society, and we are in talks with several celebrities who support the organization.  Our mission of empowering women to boldly express their beauty and confidence is so aligned with the mission of the American Cancer Society, and we are proud to be a leader in the fashion industry’s partnership in the fight against cancer.

What advice would you give to aspiring fashion designers looking to launch their own successful brands?

Whatever you do, make sure you it’s going to be profitable!  Pierre Berger who was handling the financial affairs at Yves Saint Laurent said “all that matters is longevity”. The only way to ensure that your brand is going last is to stay focused and be able to pay your bills. It’s boring but it’s reality.  For young fashion designers, stay focused, grounded, and be realistic!

Where do you see the VERDAVAINNE brand in the next 5-10 years, and what are your plans for its continued growth and expansion?

We continue to say focused on the path of what we are currently doing.  However, international expansion is something we are very interested in. We are looking at Asia. There are customers out there who are tired of the big labels doing the same thing over and over again, riding on their established logos. This woman is educated, well-traveled and she is hungry for a more personalized creative process.

Cyril Spring24 S21. Image courtesy VERDAVAINNE. 

Can you tell us about your latest collection and where we can purchase your gorgeous clothing?

We do Trunk Shows all over the country at Saks Fifth Avenue and in smaller specialty stores.  For a completely custom experience, the best way is to come directly to our studio in Midtown Manhattan. In fact, anyone can book a consultation; there are contact details on every page of the website: verdavainne.com.

What’s next for VERDAVAINNE? Any special events or projects ahead you can share?

We have great projects going on right now. 

First is the philanthropic work we are doing with the American Cancer Society.  We are participating in signature events in New York City, Houston, Dallas and Chicago this year, through Live Auctions and other planned local events focused on fashion, women’s empowerment and the fight against cancer.  This has become very significant and special to me.

We are working on a potential collaboration with a bridal manufacturer.

Also, I am most likely doing a Show for the Spring 2025 collection. It’s going to be a little different. I am diving deeper into prints and featuring more themes and images from my upbringing in Morocco. It should be fun!

For more from Cyril and VERDAVAINNE follow on socials: Instagram

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