Haute couture was put on hold for a moment of 2020 in favor of quarantine-season loungewear. But for fashion artist Marie France Van Damme (mariefrancevandamme.com), the brief inactivity catapulted “Curated by MF,” an online project rooted in her compassion for fellow small businesses seeking uplift during an economic slide.
Van Damme is a creative force propelled by a lifestyle of wanderlust. Since 2011, the Canadian-born, Hong-Kong-based globetrotter has designed resort-ready wear for an international clientele.
She said she “traveled the world for 40 years” before the pandemic. Her niche lies in “finding inspiration and materials” wherever she goes and fusing “understated European elegance with dramatic Asian aesthetics” for women who dress and wander in luxury.
During the past decade, Van Damme has introduced her apparel to beloved fashion destinations in Singapore, Thailand, the Middle East, California and South Florida. In March 2020, she opened her first permanent collection at Miami’s Bal Harbour Shops, where she’d always dreamed of housing a boutique after piloting a successful pop-up there in 2019.
However, the storefront was shut down by COVID-19 public health policies in the blink of an eye. What to do for Van Damme? Two months later, she launched her ongoing campaign spotlighting the fashion entrepreneurs she’s encountered across her globe-spanning career.
“Curated by MF is a platform where we invite audiences to discover my very talented friends sharing my passions and their wonderful products,” she said.
Every two to four weeks, she introduces a new designer and showcases a curated selection of their items on her website.
“They work with the finest artisans,” she said of her colleagues. “Their creations are limited, beautiful and ethically sourced.”
She said she’s always taken delight in “collecting objects and beautiful things” and wished to share this love with her following during dark times.
From wear-anywhere shimmery floral sundresses to metallic babouche slippers, Van Damme’s sophisticated fare is always crafted with the earth in mind. Her eco-friendly warehouse produces garments using China’s finest silk fabrics and natural dyes and is committed to dismantling the fast fashion industry.
“It’s very important to note that she is an independent, sustainable and family-owned atelier, and 90% of production is made in-house,” said Basia Irzyk, Van Damme’s public relations director.
Curated by MF doubles as a storytelling opportunity for like-minded, sustainable business owners. According to Irzyk, each blog-style entry includes “Van Damme’s personal interview with the artist.”
For those who’ve also recently lost their brick-and-mortar outlets due to forced shutdown, the project elevates their exposure and voice via digital and social media.
Luis Morais, a Brazilian jeweler in Miami Beach and longtime comrade of Van Damme, was featured in early June. Morais shared how they first met ages ago through fellow artist and mutual friend Elad L’Objet (also showcased on Curated by MF) and twice a year they’d “grab a quick coffee in Paris during fashion weeks” to catch up.
“What I love about his pieces is that you can travel the world with many bracelets stacked on your wrist, black diamonds and white diamonds,” said Van Damme, who won’t miss her next opportunity to visit Morais when she’s back in Miami.
Morais elaborated on his métier and understated, chic jewelry in the interview:
“Funny everybody thinks I am primarily a men’s jeweler! Maybe because I wear a lot of jewelry. My jewelry has personality, so the women that buy and wear them know exactly their style and what they’re doing. Skulls look good on everyone!” he stated.
Both Morais and Van Damme share a focus on sustainability. Morais explained his label’s cautious efforts:
“We have five people in the factory and three people in assembly at the studio. It’s all handmade and I work side-by-side with them on a daily basis.”
According to Van Damme, there will be a “renewed interest and appreciation” for creatives like Morais post-pandemic. Designer apparel, quality and timeless luxury will re-popularize as travelers start purchasing fine garments again.
“People are still buying, but I think people’s buying habits will change,” she predicted. “They will invest in better pieces, not buy more pieces.”
Irzyk agreed, commenting that since the tumultuous year of 2020, many people, “now more than ever, are looking for sustainable and small businesses to support.”
Since COVID began, Van Damme’s online sales have soared to new heights, but nonetheless, looking at her budget, she knows 2021 will be tough. She has full confidence, however, that her company will persevere thanks to its recent advancements in e-commerce and digital marketing.
“When we had to quickly go into ‘survival mode’ and rethink our whole strategy, we decided to put all our energy into digital platforms, and it’s already paying off,” said Van Damme, who originally didn’t consider herself tech-savvy. “So we know it’s possible. We just have to work differently.”
Surprisingly, Van Damme said she thinks Curated by MF would have happened either way, even without a pandemic. But what’s next in store for the campaign? She said she plans to extend and utilize it as an initiative to “bring the MF lifestyle to clients in all aspects of their life, from home to entertainment to fashion.”
Every small business is fragile during this turbulent era, and Van Damme’s aim is to help them grow in any way possible.
“It’s important to support one another in all times, good and bad,” she underscored. “If we don’t look after each other, no one will.”
words_gianna milan photo_edwin datoc