Meeting the Unimaginable
Illustration by Victoria Nikolova
A Bulgarian artist living in Paris for 20 years, Denitsa Mineva-Deslandes is not only working in the curious field of trend prediction, but is also writing, designing and illustrating her own children’s books. We are discussing the city or Paris, the creation of “the next big thing” and everything that happens not so accidentally.
Tell us a bit about your childhood and your first steps in art.
My childhood wasn’t a happy and careless one. So I was glad to throw myself in the imaginary worlds of Lewis Carroll, Astrid Lindgren, Ran Bosilek, Janusz Korczak. Erih Kestner’s characters were my friends and I was deeply caring about White Fang’s destiny. I was reading, and I was reading a lot. I was staring at my favourite illustrations for hours, I drew, I made up stories. Later on, when my health situation finally let me integrate in school, I appreciated the huge luck of having “real” friends, but I never forgot the magical realms of imagination. And maybe that’s why I was drawn towards art and the reason I am designing, writing and illustrating children’s books.
After you graduated from the Bulgarian National Academy of Arts, how did you choose Paris and ENSAD as the next step?
I left for Paris as an adventure – just like that, to see where this opportunity may take me. One day I bumped into an acquaintance who lived in Paris and who was years later to become one of my best friends. We sat in a coffee shop and we talked for hours. You know how time stops when you talk to someone special. She was the one who told me how exciting and fulfilling is Paris and about her life there. I was inspired by the description of “one of the best art schools”, which she was about to apply for. She offered to submit my portfolio, including me in the first round of post-grad exams. A year later we were already living together with another girl in a tiny apartment by the Eiffel Tower, and many more adventure were awaiting us.
How did the change of scenery affect you?
Nothing was the same. As for the schools: I came to Paris with this idea of what’s “right”, but what I encountered was different. I would say that the Bulgarian Academy of Arts relies on a more academic approach and ENSAD is more conceptual and experimental. The cultural references were not the same as well; there were contemporary authors being discussed whom I’ve never had heard of. The home libraries of French people were way different than what I was used to. Young people in Paris did neither dress nor behave like the ones in Bulgaria, myself included. Lucky for me, French people – some of them, at least – are really tolerant and careful with the “different”, so I was well accepted.
How were your first years in Paris?
Difficult but fulfilling. The change was huge. It’s quite interesting to start anew, from level 0. Before I went there I has a comfortable life – enough money, parties, trips, friends. In Paris I could barely afford a coffee and I didn’t know any people. I suddenly had to juggle with education, finding a job and all sorts of administrative mundane tasks in completely new context. But I had an explorer-like energy and enthusiasm, and the support of one or two people, which is priceless.
I remember walking through this enormous city full of strangers thinking how
Maybe that’s what happens with old people who don’t have people around them anymore. All this has a crazy and liberating side to it:
You work in an agency that predicts trends for big fashion and design studios. Most people don’t even know these exist.
I didn’t know as well. But truth is, if suddenly everybody starts wearing light violet, or high-wasted shorts, or decide to paint a wall in peacock green, the reason is not that they saw it in their favorite blog or their friend did the same. Before these ideas reach us, a lot of work we are not aware of has been done. And these are the agencies doing it.
How did you end up in Peclers Paris?
In France (and maybe everywhere else) there are different social environments and the diploma from some schools can open a certain door. After a hectic period of being a nanny, a waitress and a street-merchant of art pieces, I managed to find interesting internships and work in my field, by searching the ENSAD offers.
As for Peclers, itss another adventure that came into my life unexpectedly – I had done a gig poster for some French musicians which the print maker really loved. He asked for the designer (me) and mentioned that he’s preparing the so-called trend book for a big fashion agency, searching for graphic designers, and that’s how I got to Peclers. The interview went perfectly – it was a good thing how unaware I was of Pecler’s scale and selectivity, or I would be way to anxious. Up to this day the remain really important to me, never mind I had the chance to get to know a few more agencies like that in the following years.
What exactly is the work that such an agency does?
Paris has a huge tradition in fashion, so it makes sense that some of the leading trend agencies and specialists are situated there. The team consists of many different talents – stylists, consultants, sociologists, graphic designers, illustrators, editors and many more. After many style expertises (on colors, materials, stamps, models, ambiance, forms) innovation concepts are developed, based on customer insights, perspective analyses and socio-cultural trends.
Some of these searches take form in the previously mentioned trend books. They consist of analysis of the present and predictions for the future in all areas of fashion and elsewhere. These books are of great help to designers and brands in the development of new collections, because they suggest which products will attract customers. They have it all: materials, prints, detailed illustrations of yet to be designed models, colours, photos, samples and texts. Each trend book is entirely hand-made, hence the high price.
They are purchased not only by pret-a-porter ateliers (for inspiration), but also by brands all around the world, as well as textile, interior and industrial designers.
How do you know if a trend is going to make its way into fashion and design?
We, graphic designers, take part in the creative process at a stage where ideas are still taking form. When creating a print, for example, we take into consideration the main trends of the season and the already selected colour range, but we do so through our own style of work. Meaning that a finished product of a trend agency is definitely team work, so we are not “idea catchers” per se. My observations show me that colleagues who can be called that are not just high-level professionals and literal and metaphorical heirs of the greatest French designers, but are people with huge passion for fashion. They have solid knowledge in fashion history, but they actually exist in the present trends: they visit fashion weeks, they know by heart what established and upcoming fashion designers are doing right now. And they are also curious, active and informed on anything happening in the art world – and in the actual world as well. That being said,
Are climate change and ecology going to have a lasting influence on fashion and the design industries?
In my work with trend agencies and other clients as well, these subjects are really sensitive and also really well represented. The world is changing and that requires a deep transformation of our consumer behaviour. The production process is now being questioned, the materials’ origin, the waste, the harmlessness of the ingredients.
Tell us a bit about your personal work – how did you begin to write and illustrate children’s books?
I already mentioned why children’s literature is so important to me and how much it has given me. By creating children’s books, it’s possible that today I am in a state of gratitude for this incredible gift, for wanting to pass on this tradition of sharing laughter, kindness and hope. Of course, I wouldn’t even try to compare myself to most of the authors and illustrators who have inspired me –
There are awesome publishing houses in Paris, but they are completely slammed with projects. Apart from local talent, here authors and illustrators from the whole world are situated. It’s a real blessing to be able to make it on this market. So for publishing my books I was really fortunate to meet the right people at the right time. I was lucky to be surrounded by awesome people – close ones who supported me and publishers who trusted me.
My first book “Mi and the Blue Mountain” (“Mi et la Planete Bleue”, ed. Anabet) came out in 2009 and since then I have quite a bit of publications, some of which are entirely made by me: text, graphic design and illustrations.
Which is favourite children’s book and which ones have influenced you?
There are a lot, but in my present mode of work (while trying to finish a new project) I would mention authors who are illustrating their own books: Tove Jansson, Hervé Tullet, Oliver Jeffers… Or an example from Bulgaria: Jordan Radichkov. I adore the illustrations of “We, the Sparrows”, such bravery!
My books are very different subject- and illustration-wise. From example, the “Mi” series is in ink, “The Happiness Glasses” (“Les lunettes du bonheur”) is poetic, in light watercolour, “The Greensighters” (“Les Touverts”) had digital, extremely stylised illustrations; “Tales of the Blue Nile and the White Nile” (“Contes du Nil Bleu et du Nil Blanc”) is like an engraving. To me each text is а seperate universe that needs a different artistic approach in order to find its true form. Every book has something I like at least a little. In each book I invest a little piece of myself. It’s interesting that when I finish a book, it just disappears for me, I don’t even want to go through the pages. Like once published, it waves goodbye and takes on a life on its own. Which may actually be true – I recently saw on the internet publications of French teachers who organise and share their experience on “The Happiness Glasses” workshops. Together with their classes they make murals, heather shows, even small “happiness glasses” replicas for digital download and colouring.
How did you master the French language so well that you could create in it in such a short time?
The French language is just beautiful. I used do dislike it a bit, but now I’ve learned how to love it. It’s rich and flamboyant, very nuanced. French people express themselves with ease and grace, in an extremely detailed and exuberant way, I would say sometimes even too much so. A lot more than Bulgarian people – it’s just a different way of communication. Sometimes a French person I know made a joke that from his point of view, we are communicating through telepathy.
A few months after my first ENSAD exam, the second one was approaching: a conversation with the committee. I didn’t know a word of French… So I had to make a decision: either let go of this crazy adventure or really get on with it. I chose the second option and it was great fun. I started an accelerated course and in the nighttime – because somebody had told me that the brain is really perceptive in its sleep – I slept with the RFI radio on. Highly recommended, it works! Later one I just had to fit it really fast, because I needed to speak French at work (writing and editing included), with my family and most of my close ones: in fact, almost all the time.
To start talking and thinking in a new language is a big change. I am not a linguist, bit I’m quite convinced that language is linked to the way of thinking, which affects the whole being. I try not to forget Bulgarian, which remains truly important to me, as a connection to Bulgaria.
How is Paris changing?
It’s a really vibrant city where you can find everything fo everyone. New places appear all the time, new events, young people. There has always been strong energy in this city, but in the last years it’s just boiling: social movements, protests, discussions. Gilets Jaunes, for example: “For greater social justice and institutional reforms”, which started the “Big national debate”; “Marche pour le climat” – ecology-driven protests; “Stop féminicide!” – against violence towards women; there are lots of animal rights movements as well.
As we are talking about a trend, I believe Paris has always been one of the cities which create – if not reflect – the big world trends, including social ones.
What should the world expect in the following years?
A seductive question for people with wild imagination. Scientists will finally create a time machine, alchemists: the Philosopher’s stone? Aliens will be contacting us?
On a more serious note, I believe huge changes are on their way: actually, they are already here. People will be facing radically new situations, ways of thinking, new opportunities. I am an optimist for the future.
I recently stumbled upon this quote by Mary Oliver: “Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable”.
And what’s next for you?
Oh là-là, a very busy period ahead. In the following weeks I can mention two book fairs, several book events in French schools and libraries. I also have to do illustrations for „Kid & baby trend book” Autumn-Winter 2020, design for „Environments & Design trend book” Spring-Summer 2021, and a trip to New York.
Apart from that, I am excited that soon the first six books from my “The Squares” series are going to be published and distributed by a big Chinese publishing house. We are also working on several new projects for children’s books for French and German publishers.
And last, but not least: soon the “Greensighters” book will be published in Bulgaria. It’s subject is really “hot” right now. We are working with Manol Peykov and Zornitza Hristova from Zhanet 45. I can’t wait.
La vie est belle!