A look from cult French favorite, Sézane. Photo: Sézane
When I learned about French fashion label Sézane’s first collaboration with Madewell in 2014, I had one thought: We’re finally going to talk about Sézane in the US. The Internet loves a French girl fashion story: How to make your hair look French, tuck in your shirt, tie your scarf. I’m French—and even I click! But I’d come to accept that French-girl style is more of an idea, a concept perpetuated by editorial spreads in fashion magazines and a few famous French women, than something tangible. However, if one person’s managed to bottled its essence, it’s Sézane’s founder, Morgane Sézalory. French women (everyday, you and me women) are buying her embroidered blouses, flowy dresses, heeled booties, and chain bags by the basketful.
For all her French-ness, Morgane Sézalory’s rise to fame is something out of a classic American success story. Not convinced college was the right path for her, she spent the year after high school selling her sister’s vintage clothes on eBay. It worked so well that she launched her own online shop named “Les Composantes” (The Composers), where she sold flea market finds, as well as her own creations. In 2013, she renamed the brand Sézane (a contraction of her last and first name), offering monthly limited-edition collections she designed with her own wardrobe desires in mind. Turned out, that’s what every other woman wanted to wear too.
When I tell my friend Floriane, a French New Yorker, like me, that I’m working on this piece, her eyes light up. She’s often dressed in head-to-toe Sézane, but I know her enthusiasm isn’t just about the clothes—it’s the Morgane Sézalory effect. The self-taught, self-funded, self-starter with a strong sense of adventure didn’t just create a fashion label, but a community of 300,000 women (and counting) who cheer her on as they buy her stuff. Five full-time customer service employees are on hand to help the “Sézanettes” or “Sézane Addicts,” as her fans like to call themselves, navigate heel height, sizing, prices, new iterations of Sézane classics like the Clark bag or the Django pumps, and figure out what exactly they’ll buy from the lookbook images as they trickle in on Instagram. The most sought-after pieces will sell out within the hour, gone forever. To ease fans’ frustrations, the label recently launched more permanent Spring-Summer and Fall-Winter collections featuring classic pieces, with stocks replenished on a regular basis.
Sézane designer, Morgane Sézalory. Photo: Sézane
As Sézane expands to the US, the challenge is to recreate the love and affection for the label outside of France. The first collaboration with Madewell was such a success that it led to two more (one’s available now) as well as US ecommerce, which launched about a year ago; its American customers now represent about 10% of Sézane Addicts. “We’d love to have a stronger presence in the US,” Sézalory says, but she’s focused on keeping the label true to its roots: “100% digital, no middle man, straight from the best factories to the clients. The idea is to offer original creations, perfect cuts, at the fairest possible price.”
Though Sézalory finds it “very stimulating” that her creations are appealing to a growing number of American women, she doesn’t sound that surprised either. Her “obsession” with quality and the perfect cut, and the fact that all Sézane pieces are “crafted to fit a maximum number of women” mean that there’s no need to change anything for a new market. The pieces are the same, because they’re what Sézalory and her girlfriends want to wear.
“There are many fantasies around the French woman,” Sézalory admits. “I think it has to do with the very natural, falsely unkempt look. The French woman likes to give the impression that she just got out of bed, [but] I like American women’s way of owning their look: either very casual or, on the contrary, very evening. In France, we’re always in between.”
A head-to-toe look from popular French brand, Sézane. Photo: Sézane
While it makes total sense that the label that manages to sell French-girl style to French women would want to stick with what works when exporting itself, I was surprised to discover that Sézane’s prices in US dollars are a straight up conversion from the Euro ones. There’s no shortage of French fashion brands in the US; many have stores in the fanciest neighborhoods like New York’s Soho or the Upper East Side, but hike up their prices significantly after crossing the Atlantic. When I ask Sézalory why she hasn’t jumped on that bandwagon, she needs only remind me of Sézane’s pricing model: “It has always been essential for us to offer our products at a fair price. This applies not only in France, but also internationally.” Indeed, Sézane is also known for its no-sales policy. Clothes, shoes and bags are never discounted, and there are no promotions, even at the end of the season. Every price has been carefully considered to make Sézane’s value for money not only remarkable, but also pretty hard to beat.
Though Sézane is proud of its online-only model, calling itself the first 100% digital label in France, Sézalory couldn’t resist a growing desire to connect further with her customers. In October, she opened the first Appartement Sézane, which she describes as “a dedicated space where our customers can step inside our website.” With its flooding light, bright pink and brass accents, and wooden floors, the cozy and feminine showroom in the heart of Paris makes it easy for Sézane fans to browse, touch, and try the pieces, even though they won’t be able to leave with their purchases. “We wish to stay an online brand,” is how Sézalory explains the choice to open a store that isn’t one. “But we wanted to give our clients a new service, so we could meet them, let them discover our world, so they could have a new experience with us.” In just a few weeks, the new hangout space has already hosted a slew of meetings and breakfasts with the brand’s most devoted customers, who were specially invited to meet Sézalory and attend private events as a reward for their loyalty. The plan is to open an Appartement Sézane in New York within the next three years. Until then, Sézalory is enjoying watching her US fan base grow. She says with a smile, “They feel like that they’ve found a well-kept secret.”