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Why Are There So Many Fake French Brands in Fashion?

From Être Cécile to Journelle, non-French brands with French names are everywhere — and with good reason.
Photo: Être Cécile

Photo: Être Cécile

If you were to study a list of established fashion brands and retailers, you’d see a lot of French names. Which is by no means surprising — until you learn that many of them aren’t in fact French.

Être Cécile, Agent Provocateur, La Garçonne, Joie, Glossier, Pour la Victoire, Les Copains, A Détacher, Cushnie et Ochs, Journelle, Vensette, Atelier Delphine, Loup, Pas de Calais, Marais USA, L'Agence, Comme des Garçons, Net-a-Porter... not one of those brands is headquartered in France, and yet each of their names is either French or derived from French. French brands pursuing international expansion are keen to emphasize their nationality — see: Maje, Sandro, Comptoir des Cotonniers and Maison Kitsuné — but it’s become increasingly common, it seems, for brands founded outside of France to appropriate that, too.

So in honor of Bastille Day, I decided to ask a few non-French brand founders pourquoi, exactly, they want their brands to sound French.

One obvious reason is that France’s culture and style are inspiring. The country begat many of the world’s most influential designers, style icons and artists. And it’s not unreasonable for a designer to name her brand something that references its inspiration. “I've loved France since I was a kid and I knew that I wanted the brand name to be French,” says Yukari Suda, Japanese founder of the womenswear brand Pas de Calais, which has stores in Japan and New York and will soon open one in Paris. “There are so many things I love in France — the cloudy skies, natural colors, styles, food. I feel like I and France share something similar which is why I gravitated towards a French name.” The name, specifically, references a region in France.

Atelier Delphine founder Yuka Izutsu counts French Riviera culture and French new wave actress Jean Seberg among her inspirations, while Marais USA founder Haley Boyd named her affordable footwear brand after the Marais neighborhood in Paris because, in her words, "the philosophy of the company is kind of to mix the effortless style of the Parisian and the confident practicality of the New Yorker."

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An image from a recent Journelle lookbook. Photo: Journelle

An image from a recent Journelle lookbook. Photo: Journelle

New York-based Claire Chambers named her lingerie retail chain and brand Journelle after the French word journellement, which means “daily,” to reflect her goal of inspiring women to make lingerie a daily part of their routines. “One of the things that was really important to me when I was starting the company was my mission was to focus on everyday lingerie, which is something I think French women do particularly well, so that’s kind of where the French angle comes from,” she explains.

One French-sounding brand is actually quite transparent about the fact that it is not French, but wishes it was. UK-based fashion consultant Yasmin Sewell started Être Cécile with the tagline presque parisienne, meaning "almost Parisian." "When all of the founders sat down and tried to find any sort of French link — the founders are from Sydney, Melbourne and Leeds, UK — we realized one of us had a great aunt who lived in France at one point," says Sewell. "She was an eccentric artist who loved animal print; her name was Cecile… and voila!” The founders were drawn to an easy, French aesthetic as well, and have tapped into the desire many of us (myself included) have to look French. “We joke about the fact that we are a fake French luxury brand, it’s all supposed to be tongue-in-cheek," says Sewell. "One of our bestselling slogans is ‘Je Parle Francais,’ but the things is… none of us do.” Shirts and knits with those slogans are a big part of Être Cécile’s business. The label recently collaborated with The Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine on a t-shirt that reads, “Am I French Yet?”

Photo: Être Cécile

Photo: Être Cécile

While the founders I spoke with aren’t necessarily trying to trick people into thinking their brands are French, they won’t deny that a French association offers a sense of legitimacy. “It’s the heritage — so many brands established out of France are still considered the best,” says Sewell. “I think French style is timeless but has all the fashion credibility to push boundaries when necessary.”

Chambers acknowledges the country’s aptitude when it comes to lingerie as well. “I think French lingerie is classic, it’s beautiful, they have a long history of making the most exquisite lingerie in the world,” she says. “I do think there’s an association with French lingerie being the best and certainly many of the brands we carry are French, so I think having that international element in our name is not a bad thing.”

And then there’s the simple fact that French just sounds good. As Sewell puts it, “It’s the home of fashion really and, well, the words just sound better, right?”