Us Brits have a habit of romanticising French girls’ style. From modern-day muses like Lou Doillon and Caroline de Maigret to ‘60s sirens Brigitte Bardot and Françoise Hardy, we grasp nouns like insouciance, while their je ne sais quoi feels like an unattainable fantasy. Here to demystify the fiction while delivering a dose of contemporary-cool pieces to our wardrobe is Sézane, a French brand which this year celebrates its fifth birthday.
Going from strength to strength in an industry oversaturated with digital retailers, founder Morgane Sézalory’s story is one of business savvy and sartorial skill. Shaking off the rest of the world's idea of the French aesthetic, Sézane provides wardrobe mainstays for the contemporary woman – with just a pinch of that infamous nonchalance woven in. Last year, the brand’s 'La Femme' T-shirt raised more than €150,000 for UN Women, and with her eyes firmly on the future, Sézalory is marking Sézane’s fifth year with an even bigger project: Demain.
An initiative aiming to raise serious funds for various charities working towards education, culture and equal opportunities for children around the world, Sézane's output is split three ways. On the 21st of each month, a new design will drop on site for you to buy, with 10% of profits alongside 10% of all sales made that day going towards the charity; a charity boutique will open in Paris where you can buy Sézane samples and prototypes; and the team will spend time each month with one of the charities supported by the brand.
Profit-driven fashion brands often mean a sacrifice at the source of the clothes we wear, but initiatives like Sézane's make buying and wearing clothes you love a whole lot better. Ahead of Demain’s launch, we spoke with Sézalory about the roots of French style, how to start a company with the clothes your sister leaves at home, and why she hopes her daughters won't join Instagram.
Tell me about how you got into the industry and Sézane’s beginnings...
I have a very particular story because I am self-taught. After high school I decided to take a year off because I wanted to go to art school, but I couldn't find one that felt right. I didn't know what I wanted to do, I just had an artistic, creative eye, and so the same year, I started to buy things on eBay – you know, like vintage-hunting. This was in 2002, when eBay in Europe was very small. At the time, my sister left to go to London, and she gave me all of her vintage pieces. I put them on eBay and realised I had a special way of making pieces feel interesting; I knew how to merchandise and make things look good through a screen. Of course, I didn’t realise this was the beginning of my professional story.
After a few months I saw there was something more to it, and eBay is good but there is not a lifestyle I like around it, so I thought, ‘I have to create my own brand.’ From the beginning it was solely vintage, with a selection of 100 unique pieces each month, and there was a digital rendezvous each Tuesday at 9pm, where everything would be sold out within two minutes. I had a lot of customers who demanded more, but I was already doing so much work. I felt ready to create my own design, because I’d spent five years just looking at what had been created during the 20th century in fashion. So, in 2009 I founded Les Composantes – 'to compose', it’s very poetic in French! – with both my pieces and vintage, but after two years I decided it was not clear anymore and Sézane – a combination of my first and last name – was born.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
My main concern today for the brand is the design of the collection, so I always work at least one or two hours on that. I'm also going to work with my web content team on the next photoshoot, so we will decide which models we're using, and then I have a lot of meetings in general with the people we hire or journalists for press. It’s never the same day twice, but I try now to always have some time for myself, as I want to stay curious.
How do you approach work so that you can keep that creativity?
I used to work so much but then I had two little girls, so a year ago I felt like I had to change the way I was working because the company went from being very little to much bigger, and I didn't understand the way it was changing. I'm talking to you from home because I try to stay at home and do some yoga and then work on my email and ideas, to be able to give my energy back to the team. It seems very simple, but it's true that it’s so important for someone who directs the company to be able to see it from the outside. My parents also taught me to look in front and not to the side – don't follow your competitor's moves. I challenge myself rather than look at others.
What would you say is the biggest inspiration for Sézane?
I think I'm obsessed with women. I grew up with my sister and my mum and a lot of girlfriends, and I’m a very sensitive person, so I can see how a woman can feel – I notice if they don't feel good in their clothes, or how it makes them feel confident. When I create a piece, I think of that.
Who is the Sézane girl?
A modern and very free-spirited woman who doesn’t want to be defined. She's a very open-minded woman who looks at the world through dreams and doesn't want her clothes to be just clothes – they make her feel great and they have a conscience. So, I always describe Sézane as a living brand.
Do you think the rest of the world romanticises French style, or do we have it spot on?
I think it’s this idea of effortlessness, it’s still very common today; when I travel, I can spot a French woman through what she's wearing. She won't wear a lot of makeup, unless she doesn’t have a good outfit, then she will just put on a good lipstick. It's about wearing just what is needed, that balance is very French. I think people's idea of French style is a mix of fantasy and truth. But now, because of social media, you can travel anywhere and people will be dressed the same.
Do you think e-commerce is the most successful way to capture customers' hearts?
What's very special about Sézane is that we were the first major digital brand in France to open a store. We have a big one in Paris called L’Appartement, and we opened one in New York last September. I want for us to be as strong in real life as online, and to be able to meet the customer in big cities. E-commerce is very successful, but good brands shouldn't think about only digital or only physical; it's a mix and I think we understood from the start. It's fascinating how customers enjoy shopping online, but the same customer will come into the shop and find something she didn't see on the website. But to open a limited amount of stores is great, because it gives you the opportunity to bring a very special and unique experience to the customer, while allowing us to keep the quality high and the price fair. A lot of brands have to give up on the quality and my obsession is to have the best quality.
What's your relationship like with social media as a brand founder?
In the beginning, for Sézane, Instagram was a very democratic way to make your brand travel – it's so important for us. I discover so many artists on there, and you see that so much wouldn't work if we didn't have social media. At the same time, I feel like everyone is getting too crazy, spending more and more time on it. To be honest, I have two little girls and I hope they never get Instagram. It’s important that people understand that this is not reality. We need to use it in a good way, for it to work for us, rather than the other way around.
What's the biggest lesson you've learned over the past five years?
The biggest strength is to have your own opinion, but to not ignore what others think. Listen to your team and customers and your brand will live on.
What can we get excited about from Sézane?
The spring collection, in September a new line of leather goods, the London and Los Angeles L’Appartements, and a new line called Les Edition Speciales, which will be more unique and special pieces, but without costing luxury-end prices.