Let me tell you about a woman named Renée. She is a woman who travels the world wearing only the most fashion-forward of garments, a woman with impeccable taste and style, and a woman whose journey has one important objective: to collect as much money as possible to support young fashion talent. She is effortlessly stylish, endlessly enchanting… and entirely from the imagination of artist Steven De Wilde.
Steven worked for over twenty years as a bridal wear designer before returning to his first love: drawing and painting. In rediscovering his passion, Steven conceived of the international art project “Renée’s Journey.” A glamorous “patron with a mission,” Renée is a vehicle through which Steven can pursue his passion for art and philanthropy. A percentage of the profits from each of his projects—which consists of twenty pieces of art per — goes to fund a young fashion designer.
In a long overdue Fashion History Talks, Steven reveals the origins of his project, his passion for his work and shares his thoughts on the art of dress.
Art of Dress: Tell us about yourself and what you do as it relates to the history of fashion and dress. Why is the study of fashion and dress history important to you?
Steven: When I was a child, drawing and painting was a way to amuse myself.
Also when it came to dress up or to decorate my room, I knew what I could put together to have my own personal style. After Saint-Lucas artschool (my best time ever in my young days) I joined the army which was nothing but a lost year for me. I did it before I joined the Royal Academy of Fashion in Antwerp so I could, once graduated, start my own business right away.
During my first year I understood that, running your own brand and making (in those days) 2 collections a year wasn’t what I was looking for. I knew I would end up doing something in fashion but at that time I didn’t have any clue of what it could be.
So the day after I finished that first year and left the academy, I started working in a fashion shop. Nothing special but more important, in my free time I could focus on practicing making clothes.
One year later I started working for a shoeshop selling high end designer shoes and it was there that I decided to start my own little boutique of couture wedding dresses. Why wedding dresses? Well in that shoe shop clients often came to buy their wedding shoes but had many difficulties in finding the right dress. So after 2 months, it was November 1994, and before my colleagues from the academy even graduated, I opened my little boutique of couture wedding dresses which I continued doing for 20 years.
By the year of 2014, time had changed so much, the wedding dress business in general became more and more important and with that, more and more brands started to play on that same field. At that same moment, the love and missing of what used to be my childhood love, meaning drawing and painting, little by little made me dream of a new career, and that was to become a full-time painter.
It was immediately clear to me that I was not going to paint just “whatever” I liked.
No, I wanted to create something unique, something with a great story where the focus would not be on the artist and on top of that, some fund that should be connected to it which could support young designers financially.
To be honest, I didn’t take me a lot of time to come up with the story we know today as “Renée’s Journey.” I was dreaming about a lady who would be easely recognizable and with a name that everybody, in every country, with its own language would have no difficulties in pronouncing. By hearing people’s reaction, I immediately knew “Renée” (which comes from the French word “Renaître” like in “reborn” and also because of the male/female thing), was the perfect name for my muse. Searching for that “easely recognisable detail,” my idea to give her this haircut and color, made my story complete….
As we all know, a lot of bad things happen in our world, unfortunately. Hearing people see that they get a joyful moment, a smile on their face just by looking at my Renée paintings and on top of that, being able to support some young talent gives me a wonderful feeling, it’s like I’m putting some positive vibes into our world which is so nice.Being able to create my own fantasy world by painting all the beautiful and amazing creations our world has to offer, I can only say that my dream came true.
My dear husband Sasha Kovrigin who is my all time hero, daily pays a visit at my painting studio and with his critical eye, he supports and advices me in every single way. On top of that, he’s a fantastic graphic designer which is the perfect complement when it comes to design businesscards, invitations and so on…
Art of Dress: In your opinion, is fashion art?
Steven: I would say that “in general”, fashion isn’t Art but for sure, some masterpieces of different designers in all kinds of periods are. When we say “Museum”, don’t we all immediately think of “Art”? If fashion has nothing to do with Art, why are there so many wonderful exhibitions worldwide in the most fantastic museums that attract thousands and thousands of people, causing them to enjoy and fantasize for a moment, how it could be to wear one of the exhibited masterpieces or to live for a moment back in the days they were created…
Art of Dress: Who is your favorite fashion designer? Past and Present?
Steven: Not an easy one. With this and as an example, I must think back to the moment I posted one of my first paintings where Renée, in her big polka dot coat, walks by a window in Pierre Cardin’s “Palais bulles” in Cannes. Somebody commented on my post and asked if Renée was wearing a “Marni” coat. When I replied that it was not a Marni but a Moschino coat, that person’s reaction was “ahhh to bad…”
I reacted by saying, although Moschino is far from my favorite brand, when a design is interesting and beautiful, well, then the design is interesting and beautiful. It’s easy to judge any design just by the name of the brand or its designer…That same person replied, “Steven, you’re absolutely right, It is a great coat!”.
Today I think there are so many great designers who create so many beautiful and inspiring pieces in every kind of way, that it makes it too difficult for me to just name “one.” For the past, for sure I would say Elsa Schiaparelli simply because of her strong, over the top, funny but most of all inspiring creations. If you look at how many designers have been inspired and influenced by her designs, that explains everything to me.
Art of Dress: If you could recommend one fashion or dress history related book to Art of Dress followers, what would it be?
Steven: Also on this one I’ll be very honest to you. I don’t have any explanation for it but the best books for me are the ones with a lot of images, not the ones that need to be read.
Somehow I get so easely distracted, that it’s hard for me to remember what I just read, it has always been like this. I see myself more as a constant observer of everything happening around me. It’s a constant urge to not miss a single thing that could, in some way, inspire me.
For me, the eyes are the most priceless treasures…
Art of Dress: If you could recommend one movie for the period costumes alone, what would it be?
Steven: The Piano.
I think this movie is a pure masterpiece in every single way. It’s the combination of a strong story with strong images. The costumes, the beautiful nature, great music and acting performances, it needs a hell of an actress to say so much without even speaking one single word… Phenomenal!