Sustainable Chic: Meet Les French Demoiselles
When Fanny Grosbois decided to launch her own fashion brand in 2010, she had a clear goal in mind: to produce clothing for women that was not only beautiful to look at and appealing to wear, but also ethically sourced and sustainably produced. Five years later, Les French Demoiselles has gone from the spark of an idea in Fanny’s mind to a thriving independent brand that has made its way into boutiques across Paris, Marseille and Strasbourg in France, with plans to expand internationally.
“Pour comprendre la mode d’aujourd’hui, il faut se plonger dans la mode d’hier”
(“To understand fashion today, you have to delve into the fashion of yesterday.”)
Designed for “urban dreamers who love fashion but are not a slave to trends”, the brand Les French Demoiselles puts femininity at the forefront of its aesthetic. Its designs are heavily influenced by Fanny’s Mediterranean roots; the collections celebrate the heritage and craftsmanship of the south of France, where she grew up. Many pieces feature special details, such as hand-finished lace from Calais (a region with a long history of lace production), or patterns reminiscent of motifs found in traditional Provencal fabrics.
Designer Fanny Grosbois at work in her atelier. Photo courtesy Florie Berger.
We recently had a chance to sit down with Fanny and find out more about what inspired her to create Les French Demoiselles, where she’d like to go next and how new technology from a company in Italy is helping her take sustainable sourcing to a whole new level.
Tell us a bit about your brand’s story. When and why did you start it?
I created the French Demoiselles brand in late 2010 and launched my first collection, which was made up exclusively of dresses, in the spring and summer of 2011. Starting the brand was kind of a natural evolution in both my personal development and professional career path.
Ever since I was little, I’d always loved drawing and fashion, and I think I always knew that at one point or another, I wanted to create my own brand. I just didn’t quite know how. Then, shortly before my grandmother passed away, she gave me one of her beautiful old negligees, which was trimmed with lace and dated back to the 1940s or 50s. And that gave me the idea of creating a brand whose style encapsulated femininity, and was made with beautiful fabric and traditional lace from Calais, in the north of France.
The first few collections of Les French Demoiselles embodied the spirit of this idea: clothing that was very delicate, feminine and fluid, a bit like negligees and lingerie. With the later collections, the brand style evolved and expanded.
Did you have any other sources of inspiration when creating your brand’s identity?
I drew a lot of my inspiration from the Roaring Twenties and the 1930s. It was a very interesting time with respect to the role of women in society, as well as fashion trends. The tomboy look was in style, you know, and it was more or less the beginning of Coco Chanel and her famous dresses. Women were being liberated from their corsets and breaking free from all the restraints that were weighing them down. Women started to become more masculine but at the same time, this was making them even more beautiful and feminine than before.
It’s a period of history that I adore and you can see it in my work; I use a lot of straight lines. Take the “Kate” dress, for example, which is one of my favorites. It’s simple. It’s straight. But it adapts to different kinds of silhouettes and is flattering on different body shapes. There’s the lace part which runs from the neckline right up until the very beginnings of the décolleté, creating just the right effect. It’s a design that’s been quite successful and sells extremely well.
How would you describe your brand’s style?
It’s a style that is above all feminine. That’s easy to say, but it’s true. At the same time, I don’t like to say that I have one particular style. It’s limiting to say, “I have this or that kind of style for this or that kind of woman.” For me, Les French Demoiselles should be adaptable; it’s for all kinds of women. Each one can wear the clothing in a way that works with her own style, make it come to life and create her own story with it. The Kate dress, for example, will bring out something different in you than it will in another woman.
But there are some common elements found throughout the different collections: femininity, simplicity and elegance. It’s a simple formula, but effective.
Then there is everything that defines the brand behind the scenes: keeping it “Made in France”, using natural fibers, fine fabrics and hand-finished lace from Calais, plus the idea of sustainability and responsible sourcing.
You identify your brand as “mode éthique”. What does sustainable fashion mean to you?
First of all, it’s about the materials you use and how they are sourced. I use 100% natural fabric. I adore silk. It comes with a high price tag and sometimes it’s hard to find because suppliers often impose minimum order quantities. So I get mine from suppliers who salvage surplus fabric from big fashion houses that produce their own. For me, it’s kind of like recycling because I don’t initiate any silk production. I just make do with what I can find, which gives the fabric a second life instead of it ending up in the garbage.
I also use organic cotton from France and Portugal, as well as 100% linen from Portugal. I wanted to use linen that is made in France but it was really too expensive; I would have had to double my prices and my customers wouldn’t have understood. So I work with a Portuguese supplier who has similar values and uses sustainable methods when it comes to dying, using and recycling water, and production.
People are always saying things like, “You’re making things so complicated by insisting on staying in France. If you produced in Morocco, you’d be more profitable.” But I don’t want to. I want to stay in France and have as much visibility as I can on how things are made, even if this is sometimes limiting, especially when it comes to sourcing. It’s one of the key values of my brand. I can tell my customers where something was made, by whom and what fabric was used… because I have all this information. I actually know. And at the same time, I’m supporting local craftsmanship and preserving my country’s heritage.
Labels from Les French Demoiselles are made from recycled paper mixed with seeds and can be planted to produce poppies, forget-me-nots, carnations and other surprise bouquets
Tell us about the New Life fabric that you used in your Autumn/Winter 2014 collection.
New Life is a new fabric which has been on the market, if I’m not mistaken, for only two or three years. It comes from a plant in Turkey but the idea came from an Italian company. Basically, it’s fabric that is made from recycled plastic bottles.
The company has figured out a way to extract thread from the bottles, which they wind onto a bobbin and then weave into fabric. The process is mechanical and not chemical, which uses less water and doesn’t pollute water with chemical waste. That’s a huge advantage. The fact that the material isn’t produced chemically means it’s not harmful to people or the environment. It’s a pretty revolutionary development in textile manufacturing.
But what I also like about the fabric is that it resembles silk. It has anti-bacterial properties, provides UV protection and as far as maintenance goes, it’s essentially recycled polyester, so ironing and washing are a super easy and there are no unpleasant surprises!
What is your best fashion secret?
When you try something on, don’t be afraid to try on a different size to see if it works better. Often, when you tell a woman, “It’s a medium,” when she’s used to wearing a small, she’ll say, “Oh no, it doesn’t look good on me.” But you shouldn’t look at size when you try on clothing. You have to feel good in what you’re wearing, whether it’s a men’s sweater on a woman, or a large when you usually wear medium because you want to convey a certain style. Focusing on size is too limiting.
What is tomorrow’s goal?
I want to continue developing Les French Demoiselles, expand its range and create an e-shop. I’d also like to continue developing partnerships with local artisans who work with lace and fabric, or even wood and ceramic, so that I can put the spotlight on their savoir faire and incorporate more of their work into my collections. Voilà.
Les French Demoiselles is sold in boutiques in Paris, Marseille and Strasbourg, France, and is also available from select online retailers.
All photos courtesy of Florie Berger
Be sure to check back in next week for part two of our interview with Fanny, where she tells us about the path she took to becoming a designer and what steps she took to get her brand off the ground.