Oon the third floor of a typical Alsatian building in Strasbourg, a door opens onto a bright workshop, dotted with mannequins draped in wedding dresses. This is where James and ViviAnn Du Fermoir-de-Monsac live and work, designing haute couture wedding dresses watched over by their cheerful mascot – a yellow parakeet named Adam. And they do it in drag.
The duo say seeing customers in their drag personas creates an atmosphere where people can be accepted for who they are. They know that the traditional experience of buying a wedding dress is not always easy for everyone in a world where the vision of an ideal bride is often still a thin, white, able-bodied person.
“That’s why we chose to open in drag, because we wanted to tell everyone that you are welcome, no matter who you are,” says ViviAnn.
The dresses start at € 1,500 (£ 1,290) and are designed after a two-hour consultation with the client on their needs. ViviAnn’s influences include Jean Paul Gaultier and Christian Dior, while James is a devotee of Coco Chanel and the flapper era; ViviAnn is “shoulder-obsessed” and takes inspiration from the sparkly costumes she wore when she entered dance competitions, while James focuses on detailed embroidery work.
James says the different approaches complement each other.
“I calm her down a bit with all the rhinestones, she pushes me to go a little further,” he confides.
But, they say, their main focus is what their customers want, whether it’s a cape that suits a wheelchair user or a style other designers wouldn’t try – a recent customer came to see James and ViviAnn after a bridal shop said she couldn’t get married in sneakers.
“The wedding industry is still a bit classic, and there are a lot of people who are being forgotten,” says ViviAnn. “No matter your taste, whatever your body shape, we love everyone and we want everyone to love themselves.”
“We want people to be the best version of themselves on their wedding day,” says James.
Du Fermoir-de-Monsac’s first customer was a four-year-old boy who wanted to wear a dress to a wedding, but whose mother feared it would attract negative attention. So the pair made him a kilt, which ViviAnn says he now wears to school. “It’s the cutest thing ever,” she said, holding up a picture of the little boy in her purple tartan.
James, chocolatier for Pierre Hermé, and ViviAnn, hairdresser, met at a drag competition in 2019 – James was a judge and ViviAnn was a candidate. They befriended the fact that they both made their sisters’ wedding dresses. ViviAnn had studied fashion in Paris at the Duperré School. James is self-taught – he started sewing at the age of 13 on his grandmother’s machine.
When France first closed its doors in the spring of 2020, and with no work to do cutting hair or making chocolate, James called ViviAnn and asked if she wanted to open a bridal boutique. ViviAnn said yes, as long as they could call her Du Fermoir-de-Monsac (after her father’s surname for her mother) and as long as she could do it in drag. James decided to join her and quickly got to work on his new character, named after his favorite childhood movie, James and the Giant Peach. (They requested that the names of their drag personas be used for this piece.)
The boutique opened in April, and in June they launched the first Du Fermoir-de-Monsac collection in a runway show – a riot of lace, leather, spikes and tulle suitable for a variety of types of clothing. body.
After the show, the drag characters of James and ViviAnn got “married” in a mock ceremony (although in life they remain friends and roommates).
ViviAnn wore a striking white dress with a ruffled neoprene shoulder, James a plunging black jumpsuit and a train held in place with a studded leather belt.
“We are close friends in our lives and we decided, as we started a wedding dress business, to marry James and ViviAnn,” ViviAnn said. “We got married in the name of couture.”
Over the coming year, the duo will showcase their designs at bridal shows, seek new clients and, they hope, hire a small team. At a time when the economic outlook is uncertain and the future of the pandemic unknown, they exude a rare sense of optimism.