By Nabeela Husssain
A woman who rarely buys any clothes but yet seems to stand out from the crowd wherever she goes. Michelle Sielman Jinasena, Owner, Designer and master mind behind Michelle Therese Atelier is small in size but big in dreams.
Michelle says that she had wanted to be a designer ever since she was a child. “I started to sketch and put my ideas on paper ever since I was in school,” she said. Having recently launched her collection and opened her shop, Michelle explains that she is very happy that a market has emerged to which people like her can cater to.
“Some time back there wasn’t anyone who did designing for a living, maybe one or two did but it wasn’t acclaimed as it is now,” she explained. Michelle however, has now embarked on her dream of having her own store after launching her collection at the Casa Colombo last week.
Michelle Therese Atelier or the workshop of Michelle Therese when directly translated from French, is situated at Gregory’s Road, Colombo 7. Like everything else about the owner, the shop too stands out, passersby see a shop that has been imported directly from France into the middle of Colombo.
“People don’t think that the shop looks Sri Lankan; it looks like it’s from France,” she said with a laugh. Not only does the shop look Parisian from the outside but from the inside as well. Michelle has a spacious main room where she displays her collection and there are also the spacious changing rooms or dressing lounge which are curtained off, complete with a couch, chair and full length mirrors.
Her obsession with Paris and Venice, she says, was due to them being rich in fashion sense. “Venice has so many little shops filled with designer clothes and it’s one of my favourite places to visit,” she said. Despite her fascination with some of the fashion capitals of the world, Michelle is not the one to be influenced by other designers. “I’m not easily influenced. I have my own ideas and that is what you see here,” she said. A self taught designer, Michelle has her own style that stands out from the crowd.
Feminine, chic and elegant is the signature of Michelle’s designs and the embodiment of her style, be it personal or professional. “I don’t believe in buying clothes that can only be worn once and will be out of style soon, that is why you don’t see any chic styles here,” she said explaining that most of her evening wear are those that have been designed by her.
Her fascination for the European style she says comes from her younger days when she read many of the European magazines in the market. “I read them now too, but since I’ve been reading these magazines from the time I was young I began to think of fashion along the same lines,” she said.
Being very specific about the clothes that she provides her customers, Michelle says that all the clothes in her store are one offs. “I have seen people going for a function and they sometimes end up wearing the same thing that someone else is and that is embarrassing. Although it hasn’t happened to me it is the reason that there is only one design of a dress in my store,” she said. As Michelle points out, Colombo is small and having clothes that are exclusive matters.
Enrolling in a pattern making course during her break after her O/L’s, Michelle says that it has come in handy when instructing her staff in exactly what she wants. “I can sew, but my staff is better as they do it for a livelihood,” she said. Michelle however does admit that there would be two dresses of the same material but they would be of different designs.
Though she has an attentive staff who follow her instructions to the last dot, Michelle is a perfectionist who sometimes does the intricate details of her designs herself.
At her most creative when she travels, this designer not only sees what is to be done with the material when she sees it but also looks for the perfect material that she needs for the ideas in her head. “I usually buy small quantities of material, enough to do one or two dresses, when I travel about with my husband,” she said.
Speaking of future plans, Michelle says that she will be designing several capsule collections in addition to the “Play” range that she already has.
Michelle says that she has had a very good response from the public who are very interested and excited to see something that is different. “The younger generation today is very much into fashion and they keep in touch with what happens in the fashion capitals of the world,” she said. The interest that they show provides Michelle and many other designers a market to carter to, and this did not exist earlier as people were rarely bothered about what they wore, she said. “Sri Lanka is now starting to have a fashion sense,” Michelle says for which she is more than happy to cater to.
Speaking of her childhood, Michelle stated that she schooled at Bishop’s College and finished her schooling at Visakha Vidyalaya. “My parents weren’t that keen on me being a designer at the time as there wasn’t a market to cater too and there weren’t many designers,” she said. Therefore she settled down to doing CIMA and is currently in the third stage.
Working in the streams of Advertising and then Accounting, she soon realised that she didn’t want to do a “desky” job as she pointed out. Michelle however does say that she didn’t find working as an Accounts Assistant very “desky”. “I had to go and meet a lot of people and move around with them and that’s exactly what I liked,” she said with a smile.
Meeting her husband while she was at Advertising, Michelle has been married almost for two years. The shop, she says was designed by her very innovative and creative husband, Lalen Jinasena. Like many other newly married couples Michelle’s conversations are sprinkled with anecdotes about her husband. “He supports me and helps me with many of the ideas that I have,” she said.
A born lover of both dogs and homemade food, Michelle says that she has four of her own dogs at home. Two Golden Retrievers, a black Labrador and a Mongrel that we adopted for Christmas,” she said with a laugh.
The advice she would give to all is that everyone has their own individuality and the only thing that they have to do is to find it. “Look nice to the world but do it in your style,” she said. Pics by Samantha Perera