It’s late July and Paris is buzzing. Not during fashion week or any other celebration, but because of the start of the summer holidays in August, the city is full of life. There’s an uncharacteristic strain on the carefree atmosphere of Paris, though not enough to deviate too far from the norm. It’s Paris after all.
I’m sitting in Morgane Sézalory’s office. The founder of French fashion brand Sézane, like many other Parisians, is late for our interview at the moment as she ties loose ends before her own summer plans begin. She has an annual summer party to organize and two little daughters to say goodbye to on vacation.
In her office, you quickly get a feel for what makes the founder of France’s first online fashion brand tick. The space is stylish yet accessible, comfortable yet elevated, structured yet clean – much like the clothes she designs for Sézane.
There are books neatly stacked all over the place on a variety of subjects, but they’re the kind of stacks that aren’t just for display, it’s obvious that Sézalory is flipping through them for inspiration. There are several books on James Barnor, a nude book by Matisse, photo-heavy tomes on Los Angeles and Las Vegas alongside a text on African textiles, and there is a book on the Peggy Guggenheim Collection exhibition Surrealism and Magic.
As one of France’s most revered iconic labels, known for its contemporary femininity, wearability, attractiveness and – most importantly – accessibility, it’s odd how Sézalory translates her sublime inspiration into Sézane’s whimsical and vintage-inspired designs.
“What I love about life is putting a little magic in everything. Because I can see it in everything. I think that’s my gift,” says Sézalory when asked about these inspirations. “It’s the way I connect the higher beauty and art with the mundane, it’s this ability to see the magic in everything.”
Sézalory’s education in fashion is hardly traditional. In fact, it’s not even formal. She left school at the age of 16, choosing not to pursue university education. Instead, she started a business acquiring and selling high-end vintage pieces, which she sold through e-Bay, which eventually grew into an online store called Les Composantes.
“I learned so much about fashion from the vintage beauties I would sell. It was the best school of design because when you need to remodel, repair, or repair a vintage piece, you see how it’s made and you have to work with the intricate, small details,” says Sézalory.
With an innate eye for the unique and the artistic, Sézalory selected 100 pieces each month for Les Composantes and released them in what she called a monthly rendezvous that sold out in minutes. It was a business that brought her a legion of customers eagerly awaiting her latest selection, and was also the ancestor of Sézane, which she founded in 2013. Today, Sézalory leads a team of 400 people spread across Sézane’s corporate headquarters and retail locations, and holds her a coveted spot on the BoF 500, the definitive list of the world’s most influential fashion professionals.
Les Composantes also helped Sézalory lay the foundation of their business strategy. She saw firsthand how her customers’ frustration grew as her vintage business boomed – there just wasn’t enough supply to satisfy her hungry demand. The experience led to the realization that monthly drops of random, one-of-a-kind pieces didn’t meet a woman’s everyday needs. When she launched Sézane, she continued to offer 12 drops per year, but with a much wider range to meet customer needs. It’s a concept that’s common today, but she pioneered the practice when Sézalory started it over 15 years ago.
“It was something very special back then. I was just being very honest about the season and the needs you have each month of the year at a time when most brands were only releasing two major collections. You came in February when it’s still winter and you would find sundresses and clothes.” She smiles with a slight nod of her head. “Which was crazy.”
Her voice evokes a sense of pride in her practicality.
“Dégourdi,” she says. She goes on to explain: “It’s Dégourdi. I have two girls and they always say it. ‘Oh mom, it’s going to be okay, you’re so dégourdi.'” It basically means finding a way to make things happen, a skill that Sézalory says was nurtured by her family.
“I grew up with a lot of trust, but also with a lot of pragmatism. What my mother always wanted in life wasn’t for us to go to the best schools or have the best grades. We actually did that because we – my sister and brother and I – were good at school, but my parents were just, in a good way.
They come from a very humble family and lived as children with nothing but love and they know how to make things with and beauty and not much else which gave them common sense for everything. And my mother wanted us to be happy and she wanted us to find our way, to find solutions. Degourdi! To find a way,” she laughs.
When Sézane was founded, Sézalory was the epitome of this French word. She was self-taught, self-funded — and not to mention young — and backed by her parents’ values and by honoring their sensibilities (she says she does business more by picking up signals and empathy than just relying on numbers ), she is able to build a business that spans the globe from Paris to New York with a variety of pop-ups in major international cities. The latest of these pop-ups opened in San Francisco last week.
Dubbed Apartments, the stores aim to bring the essence of Paris into the retail world of Sézane by surrounding the customer with an interior design that brings to life a dream Parisian apartment. Located in the heart of San Francisco on Fillmore Street, the store brings together the Sézane universe of fall handbags, jewelry, clothing and even a selection of menswear (Sézane’s diffusion line called Octobre Editions) with pieces created by local San Francisco companies and artisans were chosen for the ultimate marriage between the Left Bank and the West Coast.
Growth begs the question: how big is big? Where does Sézalory want Sézane to go? After all, not all fashion companies want to become Chanel. Many are happy to be on the level of a Dries Van Noten – consistent, clear, with respectable sales to know your worth.
“I never wanted anything but to be an independent woman and to be happy. I think that was my only goal, to be honest,” she explains. “I work like the very good baker who wants to bake the best bread, who loves his customers, who wants to make a very nice shop, a place for his people to be, and who wants to serve people best with a smile . And sometimes the kind of baker who will gift you the leftover crust.
“And that’s really my way of doing things. There is so much common sense, common sense, quality, love and respect for consideration. And I’m totally obsessed with making things better every day than yesterday. So the fidelity is there, and that’s the only secret. Because it’s like that, growing and growing with no real intention, then it grows by itself. It just grows.”
The conversation shifts to their 6 and 8 year olds who are going on vacation in a few days. “I’m going to miss her too much,” Sézalory regrets. “So I’m going to spend time with them at home tonight. But first I have to design. Then my girls, then the party.” All in one night? Well. She is degourdi.