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Coconut palms supply raw material for haute couture of grass skirts

In the beginning there was the fig leaf: what Adam and Eve once wore to bashfully cover their nakedness, Nicole Vilo is now using to dress her customers. The fashion designer from Martinique creates haute couture made from tropical leaves and the fur of coconut palms. The apple of knowledge was given to her by her little son.

By Bernhard Grdseloff

Made of leaves and palmtree fure: bustier and hat by Vilo
Made of leaves and palmtree fure: bustier and hat by Vilo
Fi leaf, bruoght to perfection
Fi leaf, bruoght to perfection

The Creole had been a complete newcomer in the field of fashion. "I used to make decorative arrangements from dried leaves and flowers at home," she tells us. "One day my little son put one of them on his head and went posing in front of the mirror - that’s what gave me the idea." Yet it was still a long way to haute couture.

First Vilo made hats only; then she started making dresses. She went on a three-month course at a fashion college in Paris to study the theory. Everything else originates from the artist’s intuition – and from nature.

"I’m constantly experimenting with new material," says the designer. "The fur of coconut palms, which grows around the base of the leaf, works best." In a lengthy phase of processing, the rough, stiff fibre structure is transformed: layers are separated, and hard fibre pulled out until everything is smooth and soft.

This kind of material is used mainly to make bustiers - tops complemented by Creole-style flared skirts. And even wedding dresses made exclusively from palm fur have left the studio in Sainte Anne.

"The grain and the quality are crucial in the final product’s appearance," Vilo reveals. "After all, the material I use is organic, like wood or animal fur." And similar are the prices: leafy robes start at seven hundred pounds in Vilo’s boutique at Chateau Gaillard near the tourist centre of Trois Ilets.

"But not a single palm tree needs to be cut down for my creations, the fur keeps groing back," says the designer. In future she wants to concentrate even more on grass skirts. "Next I’ll be creating a new lady’s collection in Polynesian style."

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