Sylvie Facon would like to see you in the library. That is, she would like to see you wearing the library, namely in the form of one of her fantastic couturier gowns.

Made from actual antiquarian books that she takes apart and manipulates, Facon’s creations are at once both avant-garde and romantic, innovative and steeped in history. She collects materials from the odd corners of library and bookstore, where she says you’ll find “passion fully expressed, a mastery of subjects”—though the tomes themselves have probably languished unopened for years. Or think of them this way: waiting. It is their destiny to be rediscovered and repurposed, cleverly fashioned into marvels to make their wearers and beholders gasp.

By now you’re already imagining yourself slipping into a one-of-a-kind Facon. Pull the heavy bindings and spines up around your spine. Settle the gathered pages around your waist and get help lacing yourself into that corset. You have entered the fever dream of a writer, bookseller, couturier, reader, lover. With every step, your gown sways like a bell; your pages rustle; the edges of your bodice part to reveal precious handwritten lines. You can truly call yourself an open book when an ancient tome’s pages unfurl from your hips.

Already known for unique bridal wear and floral gowns, Facon—a resident of Arras, France—was inspired to create her first book dress when she encountered steampunk. The movement’s philosophy about using old materials to make something unexpected and new gave her exciting visions of new uses for book covers and bindings.

In an interview that took place over email, Facon said, “What I love most in old books is what I call ‘the colors of time’s passing’: the aged leathers, the color of their pages, what’s unique and precious. The fact that they have been witnesses to lives, generations, big events—that they’ve survived all of that to arrive at me.”

Model | Sarah Vanhoorebeke

By making books into dresses, she “can put them into conversation with other precious materials that enhance their beauty.” So to their sturdy leather and foxed pages she adds tulle, rattan, and lace to create garments both spectacular and personal: showy statement pieces that feel as intimate as a whisper.

“I work from an impulse toward harmony and gentleness,” she says, “thus very few contrasts.” When she looks for materials, she has an eye out for “sketches, drawings, and paintings with a lot of finesse. Elegant typography. An impression of profusion.”  The colors are in half-tint, slightly faded, never “garish.”

She has completed nine out of a projected ten chapters, each one a different dress. What drives the series is “above all a desire to say things in my own way, to tell stories.” Her authorship is emphasized in a technique that partially erases it, as she makes sure none of the sewing work shows. Only the final creation should be seen, she says: “We move from one kind of material to another in an almost invisible way.”

The effect does not come easily. A dress needs curves to fit a woman’s body, but the old leather bindings and spines are not supple. Facon has a “little secret” for protecting their integrity while she works with them—and an artist must guard her secrets closely—but she says she does not use steam or any chemical products to alter the physical books. She simply works with them gently, coaxing them into the shapes she requires. Call her the book whisperer.

Inspiration comes also from a friend’s bookstore in the center of Arras. The ground floor may look like a typical bookshop, but, she says, “the mezzanine level takes us to the past. Thousands of old books are packed tight on shelves that sag under their weight”—old books that are no longer for sale and that “have no great value, but in my eyes are very aesthetic.”

Her own personal library is curated for the visual and the magical. She loves illustrated editions about fairies, elves, dragons, and other enchanted creatures, and the work of French artists Sandrine Gestin and Didier Graffet. “Their world is also mine,” she says.

That world is ever expanding into entire universes of possibility. One idea sparks another as Facon builds couture out of fantasy. One of the challenges she faces while creating the book dresses is precisely “to stay in the realm of original haute couture, not costume.” She explains that a costume is a way of transforming oneself to embody a character or era; a costumer puts her creativity at the service of the client’s vision. Original haute couture requires precise technical savoir faire and flawless handmade execution—most important, it represents an artistic vision that soars above the materials to express ideas of the art, artist, and time themselves.

In one of Facon’s creations, you don’t just wear the story; you are the story.

Visit Sylvie Facon online at
Find Susann Cokal online at

Model | Fanny Wargnier


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Susann Cokal is the author of four novels, including the award-winning Kingdom of Little Wounds and her latest, Mermaid Moon, in which a mermaid goes ashore to find her mother, only to fall into the clutches of a witch who wants to harvest her magic. Cokal also writes short fiction and essays about oddities, and she lives in a haunted farmhouse with cats, peacocks, spouse, and unseen beings who bump in the night. “I’ve always suspected there was more to mermaids than the shipwrecks and love stories that lead them to land,” she says. “I’m glad I had the chance to figure them out in these changing times—both in the novel and here among the creatures of Enchanted Living.”