The Damas Effect: Or Why So Many American Women Want To Be This French Girl

Photo: Courtesy of Rouje.
Jeanne Damas.

She never leaves the house without rouge. She doesn't fix her hair because she doesn't have to. She's a coquettish remix of France’s most iconic women (Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin, Lou Doillon). She's the most e-famous of her friends, see: Jacquemus, Héloïse Letissier, her cat Charlie. She smokes, she drinks, she swears. She's the French Girl, 2.0.

She's Jeanne Damas — and she literally woke up like this.

"She started young, and she nailed it," Stéphanie Delpon, co-founder of Paris-based creative agency Pictoresq, says of Damas, who has made a successful career as a designer, influencer, joie de vivre extraordinaire. "She’s a bit like the heroine of the movies, like Isabelle Adjani: amazingly attractive, sexy, [but] aware of this power of seduction. It's fascinating, but it annoys people — at least, girls who do not dare to have the same attitude and guys who can't get them in their bed. She does everything with grace and simplicity, and people are cynics in Paris. And also a bit jealous. They don't like easy successes."

From the streets of Paris to the front rows of some of the most exclusive runway shows, Damas rode into the industry with the first shipment of bloggers from the world’s fashion capitals. The strange part? She didn’t even have a website. Instead, Damas earned many of her now hundreds of thousands of followers via a Skyblog (think the French version of MySpace) and a random Tumblr of personal photographs that hasn't been updated in a year. And instead of posting her every #ootd, she rose up the ranks by simply being French.

While her success can seem easy from the outside looking in, what she has pulled off is a bit of a magic trick; Damas has created a version of French girl chic that American women can't live but can buy into — and they do so in droves. Now in its second season, her online clothing line, Rouje, offers pieces that sell out almost immediately; meaning those who want a slice of Damas’ aesthetic are perpetually watching, waiting to cop a dallying dress or front-tie blouse the moment they go live.

For Rouje's fall offering, all of the classics are there: Be it a peasant blouse, her many pairs of vintage denim, or a ruffled-edged swimsuit, she's well-versed in what draws outsiders to French style, and how many times the key elements can be cut, cropped, and filtered to appear new again. The line is effortless and Instagrammable, sure, but it’s also a look we've seen ripple across the many brands that consider themselves rooted in the luxury basics phenomenon — ones with price points that aren't exactly accessible, but are nonetheless covetable (see: Réalisation Par, Ganni, Reformation). But beyond aesthetics, Damas insists the pieces all play a leading role in the method acting required to be a French woman (even for French women themselves). And she's learned to not just capitalize off the fantasy, but commercialize it.

Photo: Edward Berthelot/Getty Images.
Emmanuelle Alt and Geraldine Saglio.

"We are not perfect, which we embrace, and we are not looking for perfection. I think some people admire that," Damas explains. "French girls are cool, I think; not 'cool' as in hype, but in a chill way. They are effortless and natural — it’s our culture. What unites all French girls is the natural beauty, lifestyle, culture, and history of our country. Maybe it’s in our genes? Come live in Paris and you will become a real French person very quickly. I think you can only find a real Parisian girl in Paris."

That’s why she considers her customers (and followers) to be mostly non-French. "French people are not the type to be 'fans,'" she says. It's why so many Parisians resettle to New York, specifically Brooklyn, to either start or continue their careers. "I see a lot of French people moving to New York because they don’t grow, there are no opportunities, it’s not a place where they can really progress," French-born, Brooklyn-living Clémence Polès, the 20-something founder of Passerbuys, notes. And that might just be why Damas’ popularity in America versus France is so different.

"When Parisians think about what it’s like to be a French woman, or style, or a way of being, we don’t associate with Jeanne," she says. "There's much more. I think they just see it as a scene, but I feel like that’s kinda the same with It Girls in the states, as well. There is that Why aren’t we focusing on something else? in the air."

Damas has taken the inaccessibility of high-brow French figures like Caroline de Maigret and Emmanuelle Alt and crafted her own brand of je ne sais quoi. And despite the fact that the company she's built is centered around an impossible feat (becoming the French Girl of all French Girls), Damas has, at least, found a way to take something so elusive and seemingly unachievable and turn it into something accessible — and shoppable.

Photo: Courtesy of Rouje.
A scene from Rouje fall 2017.

As Delpon says of Damas and co.: "You want to follow them on their next journey, their next books, their new collaboration, their new homes, their boyfriends. It's like the Parisienne version of the Kardashians.” She offers the illusion that we Americans can be just as cool, so long as we follow her get-French-quick rules to chicness. And that’s likely why she’s become so popular: Damas is the face of a new generation of French women who've traded secrecy for exposure — and, whether you’re buying it or not, she’s just giving the people what they want.

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