American women have long coveted French style, and, though it’s often associated with luxury brands including Chanel and Dior, a new crop of French contemporary lines is selling a more accessible version of that sartorial je ne sais quoi.
These newer indie labels, including Rouje, Sézane, and Miaou, have some aesthetic similarities to their predecessors like Isabel Marant and Iro — bohemian frilled blouses, cropped flared denim and tailored blazers — but they’ve followed different business models, launching as direct-to-consumer brands with lower price points.
Camille Rowe stars in a Sézane lookbook
A Marant piece, for example, will often retail into the thousands, while Rouje pieces — designed by the Parisian model and influencer Jeanne Damas — are all under $200. Sophie Roche Conti, a partner at the PR firm Catherine Miran, described the younger brand as “France’s answer to Reformation,” sans any eco-friendly bent.
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While 25 percent of its business is in France, the Rouje team said they’re currently focused on the U.S., the brand’s fastest growing market.
Sézane, which launched online, now has four stores in France, but has made a name for itself in the states through an ongoing partnership with Madewell. The resulting collection of striped shirts and miniskirts is directly inspired by fashionable French icons from the ’60s, like Jane Birkin.
Finally, Miaou’s bread and butter is its quirky jeans, complete with vaguely nautical grommets and rope details. It has been picked up by Opening Ceremony (plus it’s available through its own e-shop) and has been spotted on American celebrities like Selena Gomez and Bella Hadid.
“There’s a reason we’ve been enamored with French-girl style for what seems like a lifetime: Nobody pulls off that undone-yet-polished vibe better,” said Bobby Schuessler, the editorial director of Who What Wear, which has found its French-centric style content to consistently surge in traffic. “With the rise of indie brands like these, it’s now even easier to achieve that [look], as they offer those easy, Parisian-esque staples like cool graphic tees, interesting denim pieces and timeless outerwear finds that you’ll often find in a French girl’s wardrobe.”
Imagery from Miaou’s F/W ’17 lookbook
Stephanie Trong, the fashion features editor at InStyle, agreed. “French girl style is all about looking like you’re not trying too hard, and these brands specialize in the type of ‘throw on and go’ pieces that walk the line between sexy and somewhat girl-next-door-ish, à la Brigitte Bardot,” she said, pointing to the juxtaposition inherent in their flirty pieces, like an uber-short or plunging wrap dress paired with a sweet ruffle or floral print.
“It also helps that [most] of these brands are helmed by women who seem to really live and breathe this aesthetic. That goes a long way toward getting the details right,” she added.
Indeed, like Jeanne Damas with Rouje, Sézane and Miaou are designed by Morgane Sézalory and Alexia Elkaim, respectively — two uber-stylish ladies prone to sharing their outfits with their large social media followings.
And with native bloggers like Camille Charrière and Anne-Laure Mais dominating customers’ Instagram feeds, “being a ‘French girl’ has never been hotter,” said Charlotte Austin, an editor at Lyst. In fact, the fashion marketplace has seen a 45 percent increase in overall searches for French contemporary brands in the last three months.
“We’ve found that emails and editorial articles on ‘how to get the French girl look’ consistently sell product [more than others],” she said.
But, these days, you don’t necessarily need to buy French to achieve the French look, said Schuessler. Brands like Avec Les Filles — which is designed by Joyce Azria, the former creative director of BCBG — and Réalisation Par — an Aussie brand launched by the model Alexandra Spencer — traffic in French girl style, with deceiving names to boot.
It doesn’t hurt that the definition of “French girl style” is so elusive. “Really, you can toss on a gray crewneck, a pair of straight-leg jeans, heels or sneakers, and a moto jacket from just about anywhere, and step out in a look that feels like it belongs in Paris,” he said.
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