French designer Sylvie Facon takes fairy-tale couture to a new level with her intricate, otherworldly, and seemingly impossible gowns that are themselves storybooks. You might have seen her Arras dress (featured image above) that went viral last year, including on our own social media accounts—a dress she made to honor and celebrate her pretty hometown in northern France.

“Love for my city motivated this project,” she says. “I wanted that at first sight, the Arrageois, or inhabitants of Arras, would recognize their city. I wanted to make a series of dresses using the emblems of Arras and take pictures of them on my beautiful friends in the beautiful places of our city.”

To compose the dress, she chose elements in the city’s architecture and history, as well as the treasures of the city’s museum, “which is the best known and which represents our city.” Among the real-life Arras details and people that adorn the gown are the Flemish Baroque-style houses that surround the town’s main square, the 13th century gilded wood angels from the Church of Saudemont, the 14th century countess Mahaut of Artois, and the golden statue of the lion of Arras that stands atop the bell tower.

“For me, there are many ways to design dresses,” she says. “You can use beautiful materials such as lace, silk in all its aspects, and you can enrich them with pearls or embroidery. But what really interests me is to treat a theme or a feeling. A dress is a place of great expression, a painting where you can express everything with a universal language of beauty.” She likens it to a kind of poetry “that can only amaze and touch” and emerges from “the combination of finesse, the shimmer of colors, the originality of the materials, the balance of forms, the details brought and the work done in perfection.”

Facon was overwhelmed by the popularity of the dress, and the idea that she can create alone in the “calm and sweetness” of her studio while her creations take on a life of their own, shared by people all over the world. Another of her creations that caused a social media sensation was her gown made entirely from old books. Facon explains that a friend of hers in Arras runs a bookstore where the upstairs shelves are filled with books that are no longer for sale. These books, she says “have no great value but in my eyes are very aesthetic.” The dress she made from them is the first in Facon’s steampunk series, though she became aware of the trend only after a website described the dress in this way. Inspired, she next created a stunning violin dress in which what appears to be an actual wooden violin lays across the torso, and the scroll and tuning pegs jut from the shoulder. The flaring skirt seems to be made from lacy pages of music.

Her inspiration? Though she’s inspired by her town, by books, by the beauty of the world around her, she remains “a child in front of beautiful images of nature,” which is why she tries to add natural elements like wood to her design. “I particularly like forests and undergrowth, and I try to get closer to the atmosphere of Pre-Raphaelite paintings when I work,” she says. “There is always dark and bright, a form of enchanted atmosphere brought by a host of small elements, including tiny rhinestones.”

Because Facon doesn’t sell these one-of-a-kind storybook dresses (though she makes her living creating bridal gowns), she is not limited by practical concerns, whether a dress is washable or when and where it can be worn. She also falls in love with each dress and in fact cannot name a favorite. “I am forever passionate,” she says, “and this passion is my tree under which I shelter when life is not easy. And conversely, it also allows me to express happiness when I am happy and enthusiastic.”

Find Slyvie Facon on Instagram @sylviefaconcreatricefrance.

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Carolyn Turgeon is the author of five novels, most of them fairy tales, and the editor-in-chief and co-owner of Enchanted Living. She also penned The Faerie Handbook, The Mermaid Handbook, and The Unicorn Handbook, all from HarperCollins.