It’s late July and Paris is humming. Not with the buzz of Fashion Week or other celebrations, it’s the onset of August summer holidays which has the town bustling. There is an atypical strain on Paris’s devil-may-care vibe, although not enough to deviate too far from the norm. It is Paris, after all.
I’m sitting in Morgane Sézalory’s office. The founder of French fashion brand, Sézane, like many other Parisians at the moment, is delayed to our interview due to tying up loose ends before her own summer plans begin. She has an annual summer party to host and two small daughters to see off for their holidays.
In her office, it’s easy to get a sense of what makes the founder of France’s first online fashion brand tick. The space is stylish yet approachable, comfortable yet elevated, textured yet clean—very much like the clothes she designs for Sézane.
There are books stacked neatly everywhere on a breadth of topics, but they are the sorts of stacks not just for display, it’s obvious Sézalory thumbs through them for inspiration. There are several books on James Barnor, a book on nudes by Matisse, photo-heavy tomes on Los Angeles and Las Vegas next to a text on African textiles, and there is a book on the Peggy Guggenheim Collection’s exhibition called Surrealism and Magic.
For being one of France’s most adored cult labels known for its contemporary femininity, wearability, desirability, and–most importantly– accessibility, it’s curious how Sézalory translates her elevated inspiration into Sézane’s whimsical and vintage-inspired designs.
“What I love about life is to put a little bit of magic in everything. Because I can see it in everything. I think that’s my gift,” says Sézalory when asked about these inspirations. “That’s the way I connect the more elevated beauty and art with the everyday, it’s this ability to see the magic in everything.”
Sézalory’s education in fashion is hardly traditional. Indeed, it’s not formal, even. She left school at age 16 and chose not pursue a university education. Instead, she started a business acquiring and selling high-end vintage pieces that she sold through e-Bay which eventually evolved into an online shop called Les Composantes.
“I’ve learned so much about fashion through the vintage beauties I would sell. It was the best school of design because when you have to rebuild or repair or fix a vintage piece, you see how it is made and have to work with the complicated, little details,” Sézalory says.
Through her innate eye towards the unique and artful, Sézalory selected 100 pieces each month for Les Composantes and released them in what she called a monthly rendezvous which would sell out in minutes. It was a business that garnered her a legion of customers who eagerly awaited her latest selections and was also the forefather to Sézane, which she launched in 2013. Today, Sézalory leads a team of 400 spread across Sézane’s corporate office and retail locations and she holds a coveted spot on the BoF 500, the definitive roster of the of the most impactful fashion professionals in the world.
Les Composantes helped Sézalory lay the foundation for her business strategy as well. She saw firsthand how, as her vintage business boomed, her customers frustration grew in tandem—there simply was not enough supply to feed their hungry demand. The experience informed the realization that monthly drops of random, one-of-a-kind pieces did not suit the every day needs of a women. So when she launched Sézane she continued to offer 12 drops per year but with much bigger selection to satisfy customer need. It’s a concept which is normal today, but she was the trailblazer in this practice when Sézalory started doing this over 15 years ago.
“At the time, it was was very unique. I was just very honest about the season and the needs you have each month of the year at a time when most brands released only two big collections. You were coming in February, when it is still winter, and you would find summer dresses and clothes.” She smiles with a slight nod of he head. “Which was crazy.”
Her voice elicits a sense of pride for her practicality.
“Dégourdi,” she says. She goes on to explain: “It’s Dégourdi. I have two girls, and they are always saying, it. ‘Oh mom, it’s going to be ok, you’re so dégourdi.’” It basically means to find a way to make things happen, a skill which Sézalory says was encouraged by her family.
“I was raised with a lot of trust, but also a lot of pragmatism. What my mom always wanted in life was not us going to the best schools or having the best grades. We did actually, because we were–my sister and my brother and I–were good in school, but my parents were simple, in a good way.
They come from a very modest family and lived with nothing but love when they were kids, and they know how to make things with and beauty, and not much else which gave them a common sense about everything. And my mother wanted us to be happy and she wanted us to find our way, to find solutions. Dégourdi! To find a path,” she laughs.
In founding Sézane, Sézalory was the epitome of this French word. She was self-taught, self-financed–and not to mention, young–and through her parents’ values and by honoring her sensitivity (she says she does business more by picking up on signals and empathy than relying on just numbers), she’s been able to build a business which spans the globe from Paris to New York with a myriad of pop-ups in major international cities. The latest of these pop-ups opened in San Francisco last week.
The stores, which are called apartments, aim to bring the essence of Paris to Sézane’s retail world by ensconcing the customer with interior design that brings to life a dream Paris apartment. Nestled in the heart of San Francisco on Fillmore Street, the store melds together the Sézane universe of fall handbags, jewelry, clothes and even a selection of menswear (Sézane’s diffusion line called Octobre Editions) with pieces selected from local businesses and artisans from San Francisco for the ultimate marriage between the Left Bank and West Coast.
The growth begs the question: how big is big? Where does Sézalory want Sézane to go? After all, not all fashion companies desire to become a Chanel. Many are happy to be at the level of a Dries Van Noten–consistent, clear, with respectable enough sales to know your worth.
“I never wanted anything, except being an independent woman and being happy. I think this has been my only goal, to be honest,” she explains. “The way I work is just like the very good baker, who wants to make the best bread, who loves his customers, who wants to make a very pretty shop, a place for his people to be, and who wants to host the people in the best way, with a smile. And sometimes the kind of baker that will gift you, with the leftover crust.
“And this is really the way I do things. There is so much common sense, good sense, quality, love, and respect for the consideration. And I’m totally obsessed about making things a better way than yesterday, every day. So the fidelity is there, and that’s the only secret. Because it’s like that, with no true intention of growing and growing, then it grows on its own. It just grows.”
The conversation shifts to her 6 and 8 year-old who are leaving on vacation in a few days. “I will miss them too much,” Sézalory laments. “So I will spend time with them at home tonight. But first I have to design. Then my girls, then the party.” All in one evening? Bien sur. She’s dégourdi.