When a young Morgane Sézalory left school to make a few dresses, little did she know she would transform the way the fashion industry worked, becoming a champion of clothing with a conscience.
Over the past six years the softly spoken Sézalory, founder of the cool yet accessible French brand Sézane, has quietly amassed an impressive following of devotees. With no formal training, she sold her beautifully detailed and feminine clothing purely online. Now with stores in Paris, London and New York, Sézalory is showing how fashion can be responsible, both to the environment and its customers. We caught up with her in between moving home, and juggling work and children, to chat about how quality is everything, and why she is striving to make Sézane sustainable in everything it does.
Our philosophy at Wardrobe ICONS is to curate a wardrobe filled with iconic pieces, so we love that Sézane feels almost anti-trends – it marches to the beat of its own drum. Where do you draw inspiration from?
I started with vintage pieces, so I guess that is my inspiration and where the feeling of timeless fashion has come from. I want to create clothing that women want to collect and never feels dated, because ultimately those are the items you cherish the most.
What was your aim when creating Sézane, and how have you achieved it?
It’s a very organic story. I never had a real strategy at the beginning, I didn’t even know I was going to end up working in fashion. But when I realised it was how I expressed myself, I realised there wasn’t a brand out there that offered high quality at a fair price, that had an honesty and a little bit of soul too.
Did you have a design background?
Not at all! I’m self-taught. After school I began to wear vintage clothing and that was it, it was the start of something. When you work on vintage pieces, you learn so much about the history of fashion, about the fabrics, the shapes, the designers. You pick up a considerable amount just by looking at how things were made.
Where is your favourite place to buy vintage?
Well, of course, I love Parisian flea markets, or car-boot sales. On the weekends I go all over France and visit different ones. Every time I travel I look for places where I can find those special pieces. While it isn’t the traditional, tourist method of discovering a city, it’s actually an amazing way to do it.
Is there a decade you are particularly drawn to?
I think I love the 1960s the most, because of the modernity and freedom that you can see in the clothes. I like the shapes and fabrics. You can really feel this was an era of revolution for women.
What is your daily uniform and has it changed over the years?
I collect things, so I wear a lot of the same pieces over and over again that I’ve had for a long time. But I love more colour these days.
How would you sum up your style?
I love this idea of having beautiful, timeless clothing, like gorgeous flannel trousers with a white shirt that has a nice detail on the collar. I love items you know you’ll keep forever, but at the same time have this special detail that makes them feminine and unique.
Do you have a style muse?
Yes. My two favourites are Farrah Fawcett in the 1970s, and Charlotte Rampling.
How do you see the brand evolving?
I love to discover new artists. I have a big project called ‘En Residence’, where I want to help artists create, to have a place, and have time to help that process. Then I’d like to share it through the brand, through prints and exhibitions. It’s a big responsibility for all companies, not just the fashion industry, to try to bring something to the community. For me, it’s another big priority.
I started with vintage pieces, so I guess that is my inspiration and where the feeling of timeless fashion has come from.
What are your top five go-to beauty favourites?
What has been the biggest challenge since launching Sézane?
I would say the biggest was that I was very young when I started. Initially it was just me, now we are more than 200 people. I love it, and I’ve really enjoyed growing the team. However, it’s difficult maintaining that balance between meeting work demands and finding time for my two little girls. I think I’ve got it right when I can give everyone attention without forgetting myself.
How do you manage your work/life balance?
I have to realise I’m not perfect. Some women are very harsh on themselves, with what they eat and how they look. I just try to be my best, but I realise I can’t get everything right, so I endeavour to accept it. Also it’s important not to feel guilty. I always want to give my best to my girls, and even if it’s not enough time, at least it’s quality and they can feel it. Sometimes I know I have to make sacrifices and I cannot do everything. I guess once you’ve made your peace with that, then it’s good.
We think one of Sézane’s strengths is the element of exclusivity. With limited product runs, there is always the fear of missing out on your favourite item. Was this a conscious decision or a happy coincidence?
When I started out I was very young and self-financed, so I couldn’t pay for big quantities. And it just so happened that people really liked this. There was a bigger community than I was able to cater for. But I don’t want to over-produce either, because we have a commitment to sustainability. There was never a deliberate intention to frustrate our customers with limited runs, though.
Sustainability has become a buzz word in fashion in the past few months. Is this a long-term commitment for you, do you think sustainability can become a successful business model in the industry?
For two years now it’s been a big priority for Sézane. I want to be a part of this revolution. We are trying to make sure all of the fabrics we source are ethical and environmentally friendly. The new sustainable denim collection has been a huge project for us – we wanted to make the process the cleanest possible. Then when it comes to our leather, we try to work with vegetable tanning. It all takes a lot of work, research and time, but it’s so worth it.
At the beginning everyone was afraid, they said it wasn’t possible, but I was convinced it was. For me it was an absolute priority. If a factory doesn’t want to change its methods and think about innovation, then we cannot work together to improve the way we do things. We’re also trying to deliver from the factory to the customer in a way that makes a minimal impact on the environment, so we’re sustainable here too.
We love how you want your customers to treasure each piece they buy from you – it’s the opposite of fast-fashion. How else are you transforming the way your business engages?
Next month we are opening a new place in Paris called La Conciergerie Generale, where you can come and pick up your order, as well bring your purchases back and have them repaired. We make a guarantee to our customers – that we will always repair your clothes, bags and shoes to make them last. We’ll also be holding classes about how we can make environmental changes through fashion.
What an exciting concept! Especially for a label that started online. Your four stores are referred to as ‘l’appartements’ and feel like an exclusive boutique but with a home-like quality. Was that intentional?
Yes, because I love unique pieces and I want the customer to feel like we consider them as unique too. My passion is also for vintage furniture and antiques, so I like to bring that feeling to the shops as well.
Is there a possibility you’ll add interiors to the Sézane world too?
Yes, but that’s a really big project and takes time. I want to source items that you can’t find anywhere else. If I launch a furniture and interiors range, I want to make sure they’re not only beautiful pieces, but still offer them at a price that is affordable. I’m hoping we’ll be able to launch it next year.
When a company starts to become bigger and makes a profit, it also needs to commit to sustainability.
You raised 1 million euros last year through your philanthropic program Demain (which means ‘tomorrow’). Tell us more about your ideas and the passion behind this project…
We make one item of clothing each month where all of the sales go to Demain, and on the 21st of each month, 10% of the proceeds from Sézane goes there too, so actually we’ve managed to raise more than 1 million. It’s been a big success, bigger than we expected. In October our men’s brand will be included in this too. When a company starts to become bigger and makes a profit, it also needs to commit to sustainability.
What projects have you chosen for Demain to support?
This money will provide assistance to thousands of children, to ensure they have access to a better tomorrow. In 2019, this momentum continues, with two new partner organisations joining the cause alongside French charity La Voix de L’Enfant (The Child’s Voice), Pencils of Promises and Sport dans la Ville (Sport in the city).
You started the brand online in 2013. How do you see the relationship between bricks-and-mortar retail and online developing? And how can you create a synergy between the two?
I didn’t choose to do an online brand, I just wanted to make beautiful clothing and the only access I had to people was through digital. At the time I didn’t have the money to open a shop, so actually I found it a bit frustrating, because I love to host people. Instead I tried to put that into the online experience, to create something that was innovative and magic. Then when I opened L’Appartement it was an extension of the website, there is no division between the two. The idea is to make the experience even more special – not to sell products, just to share the atmosphere and the quality.
Where do you shop outside of Sézane, and what do you buy?
I still buy beautiful vintage pieces when I can find them, and I love a brand called Forte Forte, especially their colours and prints. Etro printed trousers are amazing. I want to buy pieces that are good quality and will last.
What are your favourite Sézane pieces for spring/summer?
For me, I always love the Will jacket, it’s just the best product. Every woman should have one. The long linen dresses are beautiful, with their volume and shape. The Ama bag has a very unique shape, and the wide-legged trousers are gorgeous too, my favourite style is called Arthur. But then I love a lot of the clothing, so it’s hard for me to choose.
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