Liz O’Reilly met the woman behind Valerie’s Corner at the island’s much-loved BSPCA Thrift Shop and found there’s more to the talented mannequin dresser than meets the eye.
If, like us here at WTM, you love a bargain, you’re probably well acquainted with the charity shop which raises funds for the Bahrain Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Tucked away in Bushehri Gardens, off the Budaiya Highway, it’s a treasure trove of clothes, books and all sorts of other goodies.
Shop manager, Sarah Khouri, frequently posts pictures on Facebook from Valerie’s Corner, showing the latest donations, beautifully styled, on the store’s mannequin, prompting the question: “Is Valerie a real person?”
The answer is an emphatic “yes” and her history is not quite what you would expect of someone arranging clothes for fun in a thrift store – except in Bahrain!
Parisian native Valerie Dourmap has a degree in haute couture and, from college, went straight to work for renowned fashion house Givenchy. She says: “Everyone who studies this goes straight to one of the big couture houses, but I soon realised it was not for me.”
Instead she spent around a year working in ready-to-wear before joining the Société Français de Production, which creates costumes for films. “I worked in the military outfitting department; it was all buttons and braid and I loved it,” says Valerie.
From there, she met a costume designer,“a crazy woman who lived in a tiny apartment in Pigalle [the area of Paris that’s home to the Moulin Rouge, among other notorious attractions!], stuffed with fabrics up to here [she holds her hand above her head] and three sewing machines. I was lucky to learn with her until eventually she told me she had nothing more to teach me and it was time for me to spread my wings.”
A job with Club Med, the holiday company, followed and for nine years Valerie travelled the world creating costumes for the company’s nightly cabaret shows. While there she also met her husband, who was in food and beverage, and after a stint in Moorea in French Polynesia, the couple set up home and spent nine years with Club Med in Florida before making the move to Bahrain.
“We’ve been here eight years now and it has gone in a flash,” says Valerie.
So, how did she come to be putting her skills to use for the BSPCA? “Well, it was 2011 and I was working with a group of women who were trying to put on a play based in the 1970s and someone told me ‘you have to go to the charity shop’. I did and I was delighted with all the good clothing and costume material. Due to the issues in 2011, the show didn’t go ahead but I had fallen a bit in love.
I was here all the time and eventually I asked Joyce [the former manager] if I could volunteer.
“When Sarah took over, she brought the mannequin and I started to put together outfits. It’s great fun and often I will be dressing it and will turn round to find someone’s bought part of the outfit while my back’s turned. That’s great; it shows people like it.
“My inspiration comes from the items in the shop – I’m a big fan of bright colours and clashing patterns – and my aim is to show people that, just because the clothing in donated, you can still have fun with it and make it look great.”
In fact, she also adapts clothing from the shop for herself as well as making lots of her own pieces and, taking advantage of her husband’s job as a buyer for an interior design company, she makes use of curtain fabric samples to create a range of stunning jackets, which can be latelierdevalerie on Etsy and Instagram.