Meet the Swiss fashion designer who makes cocktail dresses out of garbage

Mariel Manuel creates products out of waste- in her exhibitions, the dresses, both geometric and organic, are presented as wall textiles which tell their own tale.
A model wearing one of Mariel’s creations.(Valentin Giacobetti)
A model wearing one of Mariel’s creations.(Valentin Giacobetti)
Updated on Jan 30, 2020 01:53 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | By

While working for various high luxury brands, Swiss designer Mariel Manuel continued to develop her own ideas by the side, which, although not profitable, helped her in continuously channelling her creativity. Manuel, who has done an MA from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Fashion Department (Antwerp, Belgium), kept accumulating her ideas, at the same time witnessing in disappointment how the textile industry would continually waste fabrics.

While she realised that she cannot put a stop to this practice, she could, however, do something with the waste. So eight years after working for different high-end fashion brands, Manuel decided to quit working full time and instead consult for selected brands while also concentrate on creating products out of waste. In her exhibitions, the dresses, both geometric and organic, are presented as wall textiles which tell their own tale.

While talking to us, Manuel, who was brought to India and Sri Lanka on a residency by the Swiss Arts Council New Delhi, tells us about her ongoing research project titled ‘10 dresses under my bed,’ sustainability and how she started out.

Mariel Manuel.
Mariel Manuel.

Her project, ‘10 dresses under my bed’

I would see everything we were throwing away when working for luxury brands. There was no notion of trying to utilise the waste material. It’s just the kind of industry where you just do whatever you want, not really think about the consequences.

I started out by collecting items from the ground. For example, I would go to markets in Paris and find beautiful tomato nets. Using discarded materials like these that I would collect I started the project, ‘10 dresses under my bed,’ where I made cocktail dresses out of them. It was about me going back to what I really love and questioning what the value of all these disposed things were.

The experiments I conducted with the plastics and materials were like therapy for me.

A model wearing one of Mariel’s creations. (Valentin Giacobetti)
A model wearing one of Mariel’s creations. (Valentin Giacobetti)

Cocktail dresses for sale?

The exhibits are not really dresses. The hand-worked cocktail dresses are presented as wall exhibits which I have made out of textiles, plastics and objects which were collected from around the world.The idea wasn’t really to make garments, since that also gives the connotation that they are consumer goods. For me, it was more of an exploration rather than creating them for the purpose of selling.

College memories: What happens in the Grotto, stays in the Grotto

For my bachelor’s degree project, 10 years ago, I presented an eight-piece collection in wooden boxes which I submitted for the Swiss Federal Design Competition. It was titled ‘What Happens in the Grotto, Stays in the Grotto.’

ALSO SEE: ICW 2018: Designer Suneet Varma on why he is not a diva and why people are afraid of beauty


The project’s narrative was around a story about men and women falling in love and the fragility of life. I had put clothes, bear claws, fox heads and tails, decorated crowns, stockings and bridal veils shoes and other stuff in small boxes. It was a time where I got to explore and had a lot of fun because it was all about storytelling and art.

Sustainability in fashion: Reality or just a trend?

I hardly ever use the term sustainability because I think it is overrated. You cannot talk about sustainability if your end goal is making more money and profit. I’m not an expert at all, but I think as long as things are managed in small teams, that is more sustainable than a huge brand saying that they’re working with recycled plastic.

Sustainability to me is more about social structures and empowering people who work with you. It’s not an end product but the whole process.

The author tweets at @shadowwarior and can be reached at

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    Kabir Singh Bhandari is a journalist and stand up comedian. He has 10 years experience in journalism and has worked in India, Bangladesh and Thailand.

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