PARIS – Jeanne Damas is no stranger to labels – it girl, influencer and entrepreneur are just a few – but there is one she would gladly get rid of: the French Girl Style poster.
As she celebrates the fifth anniversary of her clothing brand Rouje with a new book, Damascus is aiming far beyond her country’s borders, with plans to open new stores, including its first permanent location in the United States. , and to rename and expand its beauty offering.
And while she epitomizes the image of the Parisian, with her red pout and vintage-inspired style, this image starts to feel a bit reductive as Damascus, who gave birth to her first child at the end of last year, is about to turn 30 in March.
“The French Girl Style thing is boring, and that’s where my position is a little tricky, because the press has always labeled me that way, so I’m seen to be a representative of that to some extent.” , she told WWD.
A savvy social media presence with 1.5 million Instagram followers, she is clearly aware of the recent online backlash against the French Girl Style myth from critics who say it does not reflect the diversity of the population of the country.
When approached to write her first book, Damascus refused to write yet another guide to Parisian chic. Instead, her 2017 book “In Paris”, co-authored by Lauren Bastide, featured a diverse cast of women living in the French capital.
“I often travel to get inspiration, because I don’t necessarily find her in Paris, so I think the image of the Parisian is a bit cliché, and it’s good to challenge her. At Rouje, we do not see ourselves as a French or Parisian brand. We see ourselves as an international brand that dresses all the cool girls, ”she added.
Damascus spoke at the brand’s headquarters in the Sentier district of Paris, the clothing manufacturing center that gave birth to contemporary French brands, including powerhouses Sandro and Maje. It is expanding to the third floor of the building, having tripled the size of its team to 60 employees in the past two years.
“It doesn’t hurt to celebrate the brand’s fifth anniversary by finally getting my own desk,” said Damascus, who has been sitting at an open plan desk since launching the brand online directly to consumers. . Working from home is clearly not for her. “I need to see people every day, talk to each department and do this brainstorming, this permanent ping-pong.”
The building on rue Bachaumont is also home to Rouje’s only store and until recently housed a restaurant called Chez Jeanne, which opened in 2019 but was forced to close during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I really want to reopen it, because I think it gave a soul to the place,” said Damas, who grew up above his parents’ brewery Le Square Trousseau. Although they have since sold it, she returned there for a birthday dinner on Tuesday with friends including designers Guillaume Henry and Simon Porte Jacquemus, who sang on the live cover of “La Vie en Rose” by the French group Mauvais Oeil.
Jacquemus said he has known Damascus since they were both teenage bloggers. “The first time I came to Paris, I was 14 or 15 and I stayed with her,” he says, pointing to the apartment of the first.
“We were both doing what we do today, creating images and describing a way of life. We hooked up and spent a lot of time talking online, and one day I came to Paris and she showed me around, and we never lost sight of each other, ”he said. recalling that he then chose Damascus in his first campaign images. “We have a great bond, and I think we always will.”
Both have used their eye for large images in brands that project a quintessentially French sensuality. Damascus expanded into beauty in 2018 with the launch of a line of lipsticks, and has since added other color cosmetics.
“I want this to become a brand division alongside ready-to-wear – not just lipstick to go with a dress,” she said, adding that the new line name would be revealed at spring. “I would like to have another store just for beauty, to provide a different experience, because the two can coexist, but they can also talk to two different customers.
Damascus believes there is room for a more natural makeup style. “I would like to do a new type of beauty that does not necessarily exist in France, a new approach which consists less in hiding, like the American trend of contouring, and more in being yourself”, she said. Explain. “It’s a beauty to play with: fun and easy. “
In addition, Rouje is expanding its assortment of handbags around three pillars: the J bag, Bobo and Baguette, which sell for between 260 and 345 euros. The brand has also expanded its line of outerwear, reflecting its growing focus on physical retail.
“Since it was only available online initially, people thought we were more of a summer brand, because we were known for our Gabin dress. But I always liked the winter collections,” he said. declared Damascus.
While declining to release any numbers, she said Rouje’s small retail footprint was a boon during the lockdown and the brand has seen a big increase in online sales. With the stores reopening, Rouje unveiled a corner at Parisian department store Le Bon Marché in September and a pop-up at Fred Segal in Los Angeles the following month.
“With the success we are currently experiencing in stores and the gradual return to life, we have decided to open several stores this year, including one in the United States,” said Damascus, who visited New York. last week to discover Locations. “We are also considering one or two in Europe, but that remains to be defined. “
The book “La Vie en Rouje”, to be published by Editions de la Martinière on November 25, celebrates the brand and the women who represent it with a selection of scrapbook-style images combining its archives with more personal documents, including photos of the brand. ‘childhood. from Damascus – but don’t expect a confessional.
“I think if I showed my family everyday like on a reality TV show, I would have 20 million followers, but that’s not my thing. But I think people like to see someone evolve, and that’s part of the story, ”said Damascus.
“It’s a very beautiful book, and it’s quite moving because we realized when we saw it that we had created a Rouje look,” she continued. “It’s the key to a brand’s success, I think. A brand that does too many different styles and wants to dress everyone, that doesn’t have a clear identity, can get lost very quickly.
While the side button Gabin dress is a perennial favorite, oversized blazers, high waisted jeans, and shrunken cardigans are all part of the Rouje allure. Damas works with artistic director Nathalie Dumeix, a family friend she has known since her teenage years.
“We are proud and we realize how far we have come. At the beginning, it was a very family organization. There were very few of us and over the years, especially in the last 18 months since COVID-19 started, everything has accelerated, ”Damascus said.
The main challenge when it launched was to convert subscribers into leads. One of the lessons she learned is to be more open about how the business works.
“At first, I never talked about CSR, and that was a mistake. From the start, we used eco-certified fabrics. Initially it was 50 percent, and now we’re close to 80 percent, ”she said, noting that Rouje’s website now has a page on sourcing. “People need to know, and you just need to learn to be fair and transparent. “
Made in small drops to minimize overstocking, around 90 percent of Rouje products are made in Europe, while the jeans are made in Tunisia and the woven bags are made by a women’s workshop in Madagascar.
Damascus also supports La Maison des Femmes, an organization that provides a refuge for victims of domestic violence, with initiatives including a capsule collection launched last year.
This conscious approach partly explains his frustration at being reduced to an archetype. She remembers one particular magazine article last year. “The title was ‘Profession: Parisienne’. Looking back, I was struck by the fact that “Profession: Parisienne” is really like saying “Profession: nothing”, ”she said.
“Would they have done the same with a man, with a designer?” I am not sure. It’s the return to this story of being a “pretty Internet girl”. Some people can’t see past that, ”she added. “So there’s that, plus my impostor syndrome, or my lack of confidence, which I hope I can get over one day.”
Moving into his new office at the end of the year should help him feel more legitimate as an entrepreneur, despite his lack of formal business education. “Five years later, I’m finally starting to feel like the boss of my own business,” she said.
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