The Holiday decorations are up on every street, and a winter chill is newly sweeping into Los Angeles. It’s a cold December night as I walk into the glamorous hotel lobby of the Peninsula Hotel. I’m meeting the legendary Marie France Van Damme, a manufacturer turned designer, and a favorite of fashion icons for drinks. Dressed in a leather jacket and slacks, I scan the room without a trace of Marie or her golden locks — and just as I stop by the bar to have a cocktail amongst Beverly Hills’ best, I spot Marie, mid-laugh and with a glass of red in her hand, looking effortlessly chic in her own designs. I was instantly drawn to the beautiful, multilingual woman who had just arrived from Hong Kong.
We had never met, and while I knew her by her photo, I was drawn to her instantly. I would have wanted to meet this woman interchanging between French, Spanish and English while laughing, smiling, and all around looking the epitome of a confident woman that her designs personify anywhere. “I remember how it all started” she begins, “I wrote a book with a friend of mine, and it was a book about entertaining-with no relevance to fashion. I was saying, as a woman it’s so easy to go home and you’re tired so you put your old pajamas on, and then here your husband comes in-and I said ‘all you have to do is put a beautiful kaftan over your old pajamas and you look like a million dollars!’” The seemingly simple idea launched the Marie France Van Damme company only a few years before, and the same aesthetic of basics that every woman needs, has been a cornerstone to the brand. Women need ‘something simple that they can feel extremely confident in, and that’s what I’m trying to provide’, she explains in between more laughs.
Starting out as a beachwear and resort-wear designer, as she wanted to dress a woman who could come off a beach and into a fabulous party all in one look, she’s evolved to her latest (and perhaps greatest) collection: The Beach Bridal Collection. Inspired by her own travels and fashion icon Jane Birkin, the line can ‘take a bride from her beach ceremony straight to her honeymoon, from day to night.’
Featuring 20 mix-and-match pieces, you can literally be bridal in one second and dancing in the sand watching the sunset the next. No fluff, no stuffy over-decorated, over-the-top dresses, her collection is more than an bridal collection, it’s a line of elegant, effervescent ensembles that transport you to another time, another place-away from the noise, and with a daiquiri in your hand.
“Goddess dresses” I say as she furtively smiling and continues showing me each piece, “the way I’ve been working the collection and the way I’ve always worked is, I get up in the morning and say ‘I’m missing this,’ or ‘this is what I’d like to have on holiday.’ I go into the office begin the design process.” Marie’s greatest strength is that she rectifies problems so many women face when they wake up in the morning. The question of ‘I want to look good, and wear a dress like this that is well made and fits me, but where on earth do I get it??’ now has an answer. She doesn’t follow trends, she says, just follows her straightforward intuition on what she needs as what most women need, and her success in just a few years proves her method has worked.
Coco Chanel once said “simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance,” and Marie France Van Damme’s pieces speak to this simplistic lifestyle that are meant to glide over the woman, classic and fabulous all in one. The Montreal-born, Hong-Kong based designer notes her own intuition to her success, as well as the guiding principle of sticking to what she loves doing, ‘my father wanted me to finish college, then continue on to get my MBA, then after that law school-I would probably still be in school to this day! But I told him I loved fashion, and wanted to be in fashion,’ she says passionately. Marie France is humbling, appreciative, and the ‘everywoman’; when asked what her greatest achievement is, she said “my children, my three sons-who all happen to be involved in my business,” not the amazing achievement of being female designer with a new latest boutique in Beverly Hills, nor her many A-list fans, but her support system, her family. She can create extraordinary pieces for everywoman no matter the age because she is everywoman, and her creations speak to this.
“The kaftan is my favorite piece I’ve ever done, because a lot of women come to my store, and they say ‘I can’t pull this off,’ and after whatever reason they give me, I have them try on the kaftan I do, and voila! everywoman can wear it! I want to always make pieces every type of woman can wear and feel beautiful in.”