We're at a point in society where putting the term "French girl" in anything pretty much ensures some success, regardless of the merit of that piece of content or product. So French brands would be wise to capitalize on our collective obsession with its chicness right about now.
For cult denim brand 13 Bonaparte, however, things happened a bit more organically than that, and the line is more patronized by French men. Founder David Sarfati opened his design studio and store in Paris's hip Marais neighborhood in 2012, starting with a tight focus on men's denim. Gradually, the brand expanded, adding more seasonless wardrobe staples, e-commerce and, most recently, women's. The aesthetic of the contemporary brand is not quite A.P.C. but similarly cool and classic, and also pairs well with French insouciance.
"In Paris, we had so many girls coming in with their boyfriends, asking, 'When are you going to design women's?'" explains Sarfati at the opening of the brand's first U.S. store in Downtown Los Angeles. So they launched a small capsule collection earlier this year including a crop top, a mini skirt, a jacket and a women's version of the brand's signature elastic-waist jeans.
The U.S. push was also the result of customer feedback. For the first few years, the brand was only available in its Marais store, then Sarfati launched wholesale with a French department store and opened up distribution in Japan. This past spring, the brand opened a temporary pop-up in New York's Lower East Side. The L.A. store, located within the up-and-coming Row DTLA retail hub, is the brand's first permanent standalone store outside of Paris. "We had a lot of us customers coming to Paris and coming back and talking about it, so we really saw that something was happening with the brand in the U.S.," says Sarfati.
He saw success with the NYC pop-up and wanted to continue building on that momentum. The Row DTLA developers have been approaching him for the past year and a half, he says, and he was attracted to the mix of retail, food, art and architecture in the industrial-looking marketplace. Like in Paris, the brand also has an office within the store space. "We can be working on 10,000 things, but still always be in touch with our customers and close to them, observing them," he notes.
The vast majority of the inventory is still menswear — all wardrobe staples but with interesting details, like a twist on a mandarin collar on a jacket or a gathered elastic waistband. The latter, Sarfati says, is inspired by childrenswear. "It's super functional and practical for them and I think for us as adults it's also great," he says. But an expansion of the women's line is in the works, as is U.S. e-commerce and a partnership with an "interesting retailer" he couldn't announce in the U.S. to distribute the line. A New York location will soon follow.
LA has no shortage of denim brands, so 13 Bonaparte has the challenge of setting itself apart and making itself known in a new market, which could be something of a challenge at The Row until the development nails down a few more tenants (it's a bit sleepy at the moment). Then again, it has the whole French thing going for it, and if you're tired of aggressive distressing, or like a high waist but don't want a vintage Levi's or Vetements knock-offs, or just want to dress like a you-know-what girl, this brand is a good place to start.