Table of Contents
Trends come and go, but French fashion brands will always reign supreme. It might be somewhat of a cliched concept, but the effortlessness of Parisian style you’ve seen immortalised in many a meme/film/Insta grid will never date – some stereotypes exist for a reason.
Breton stripes. A red lip. The beret. These ‘French girl’ staples never disappoint. But there’s more to this look than the age-old associations. Just as the Milanese might be the only set still making an effort in heels, Londoners die by rule-breaking fits and Copenhagen girls will wear anything chic you can cycle in, the French prefer to duck out of the directional entirely and stick to more timeless pieces. Please, save your eye rolls until you’ve walked Rue de Rivoli and counted all the battered biker jackets, well-worn denim and ballet flats (they stayed true to this shoe long before its recent renaissance, we hasten to add).
No brand is more exemplary of this delicious insouciance than Sézane with its curated collection of fluffy knits, relaxed tailoring and vintage-inspired bags. But Ba&ash, Rouje and Claudie Pierlot are all go-tos for quality staples that’ll transcend trends. And if you’re after a French brand for eveningwear, look no further than Musier, Maje and Zadig & Voltaire. But if you’re bored of the Breton and here for something more alternative, check out Soeur for oversized workwear (we’re talking painter’s overalls, not office clothes) and sculptural separates, or The Irish Twin for a gothic spin on the classics.
ELLE UK’s edit of the best French brand looks beyond the exclusive glamour of the old school houses and to the more grown-up affordable labels everyday women actually shop in – when they’re not sifting through vintage pieces in flea markets that is. Keep scrolling to swat up on these gems
Morgane Sézalory launched now-cult French clothing brand Sézane back in 2013. In the past decade, it’s gone from rising label to B Corp-certified household name, racking up celebrity fans such as Selena Gomez, Sienna Miller and Kate Middleton in the meantime. It’s also collaborated with the likes of Sea NY, Farm Rio and Madewell.
Sézane might be best known for its fluffy mohair knits and boho blouses, but the brand’s accessories department is going from strength to strength: the Princess of Wales is a fan of its wear-forever belts and it’s recently expanded bag collection is a huge hit with fashion insiders.
Sisters Domitille and Angélique Brion set out to dress women of all generations when launching Soeur in 2008. If you’re looking for a more directional take on quintessential French dressing, this is the brand for you: designs focus on structure and shape, borrowing from menswear to create cool staples you won’t see anywhere else. We’re obsessed with its workwear-inspired cotton separates and overalls, as well as the sculptural balloon trousers and cocoon coats.
Balzac Paris has been around for 10 years now, but it only just launched in the UK this month (October 2023). It’s safe to say the French label has embraced this move wholeheartedly, dropping a collaboration with British brand Barbour to celebrate.
Fret not, though, all the French girl staples you could need are available on the label’s website – from leather bucket bags and snaffle loafers to boyfriend blazers and fluffy mohair cardigans. Each piece is designed in the label’s Paris Atelier and, since Balzac prioritises small-batch stock for sustainability reasons, once it’s gone, it’s gone. We learnt that the hard way with its sell-out pie-crust collar blouses – don’t hang around.
Jeanne Damas is up there with Caroline de Maigret and Carine Roitfield when it comes to exemplifying Parisian cool. So, naturally, the fashion world was thrilled when the model launched Rouje in 2016. And since the cherry on top of every good French-girl look is a red lip, Damas soon expanded into a beauty line too.
The label has been a go-to for flirty floral midis, retro Bardot knitwear and cool-girl jeans ever since it launched; and in 2023 you can rely on Rouje for lettuce-trim basics, sultry stretch-mesh dresses and lace-trimmed slips, as well as vintage-inspired accessories.
The Irish Twin
If the name The Irish Twin is throwing you off right now, rest assured only French clothing brands feature in this edit. The name in fact refers to founder’s Jill Bauwens sister (read: not twin) who was born in the same year as her. The Paris-based label, founded in 2022, makes all of its limited-edition artisanal dresses pieces in France. With its part gothic, part rockabilly vibes, and a collection that spans everything from gingham wiggle dresses to lace-trimmed velvet pieces and medieval Juliet sleeved tops, The Irish Twin is far from a French stereotype.
Bridge brands might be ten a penny in 2023, but Sandro was one of the first labels to launch at a mid-luxury market price point. Evelyne Chetrite (sister of Maje’s founder Judith Milgrom) established the business in 1984, setting out to dress the women of Paris in staples that tapped into trends but stood the test of time.
Fast forward four decades and the French clothing brand is still achieving just that – and some. Sandro Hommes was founded in 2008, and a year before that the label switched from wholesale to launch a chain of stores which now amasses 745 locations worldwide.
Claudie Pierlot founded her namesake brand in 1984 ‘for the women of Paris’. She’s since handed over the reigns to her design team, but the sentiment behind the French brand is still the same: cool, relaxed staples with an edge that are easy to dress up or down.
The Claudie Pierlot girl is a little different to your stereotypical Parisian picture; she might wear 1980s-inspired trainers or chunky loafers instead of a dainty ballet flat, and she might be more likely to rock a mullet than parted bangs. But, however you choose to wear it, you can still rely on the label for excellent denim, Breton tops, blazers and pussy-bow blouses.
Moroccan-born designer Judith Milgrom (sister to Sandro founder Evelyne Chetrite) launched Maje in 1998. Although the label feels quintessentially Parisian – Milgrom is inspired by the everyday women she sees walking down the street – there are still Moroccan influences running throughout.
The result is something gloriously fresh. The French brand is punky and youthful in its styling and campaigns (check out Lila Moss for AW2023), but the elements in collections appeals to all ages. This season we’re coveting the studded ballet flats, pleated plaid minis and Coco Chanel-inspired tweeds.
A young brand, established in 2018 by Anne-Laure Mais, Musier Paris aims for 100% French production. Look to Musier for the ultimate Noughties wardrobe – think centre-halter tops, ruched bodycon dresses, low-rise trousers and mules aplenty.
Ba&sh, the brainchild of friends Barbara Boccara and Sharon Krief, was founded in 2003. Fast forward twenty years, and the label has LVMH investment and more than 400 stores worldwide. The labels sentiment is still the same as it was back then; with a focus on easy-to-wear pieces that feel both comfortable and chic at the same time. Think boho blouses, printed day-to-night dresses, great denim and leather separates, as well as wear-forever accessories like suede ankle boots and metallic heels.
Zadig & Voltaire
Founded as an affordable-luxury brand in 1997, Zadig & Voltaire bring to the table an expertly crafted mix of grunge and polish. Their signature ‘Rock n Roll’ knits and lace trim silk camis are pieces you’ll keep coming back to.
SHOP ZADIG & VOLTAIRE
Husband and wife duo Kelly de Gaalon and Alexander Zhalezka founded their brand Gaâla in 2019. They source fabrics from high-end houses that would otherwise be wasted, which explains why the collections feature such rich silks, crepes and crisp cottons. When it comes to the label’s aesthetic, anything quintessentially ‘French’ will do – we’re talking duchesse-satin dresses in scarlet shades, retro cropped cardigans (styled with berets, naturally) and ladylike bouclé skirt suits.
If you associate French dressing with the Breton top, then you should get to know the OG creator of this look: Saint James. Founded in Brittany 1889, the brand has evolved from a simple workshop (supplying sweaters to local Breton fishermen) to founder of the iconic Mariniere. This striped staple is still made using the same craftsmanship; with weighty jersey, a boat neck, boxy proportions and the Saint James logo switched onto the arm.