When Jeanne Damas — French "It" girl, style star, influencer — set out to launch her brand, Rouje Paris, a little more than two years ago (and with the support of one of her closest friends, Nathalie Dumeix), she dreamed up a collection that was rooted in her personal style: a love for vintage details, floral dresses reminiscent of the ones her mother wore to drop her off at school and plenty of wrap dresses, the silhouette she grew up wearing.
"I wanted to create my ideal wardrobe and share with the world my inspirations through the things that I like to wear every day," Damas says. "Each collection is very personal to me and directly reflective of my lifestyle."
It was all that and more: Rouje became a label that captured all of the decades-long characteristics that have come to define the eternally elusive "French-girl look" and funneled it neatly into plain, pretty clothing. There were breezy, printed wrap dresses saturated in rich, retro hues, along with their skirt counterparts (the Gabin dress and Gloria skirt sell out every season), peekaboo tie-front tops that were somehow both modest and alluring, frill-edged cardigans and a capsule of high-waist, button-fly denim with cropped bootleg flares.
But it wasn't until Selena Gomez wore three different printed Rouje dresses in the span of a single month last year that Rouje's coveted "French-girl look" very quickly went from being the subject of covert fascination to becoming a mainstream phenomenon. Soon, it felt as though every brand — French and otherwise — was touting a version of this "French girl," with an assortment of romantic, vintage-inspired dresses, an accompanying straw tote and a pair of cute, block-heel sandals. Polly Walters, editor of the trend feed at trend-forecasting firm WGSN, says the fact that the book "How to Be Parisian" was such a hit at Urban Outfitters, of all places, speaks to the style's immense popularity.
The "French-girl look," of course, isn't a new concept. And Rouje, of course, isn't the first French fashion brand to sell said look. Justine Carreon, Elle's digital fashion editor who has written extensively about the look (and the problems that come associated with it), is quick to point out that it's an aesthetic that's been around since the dawn of fashion. It makes sense — the oldest ateliers are based in Paris.
"The 'French-girl look,' which has become the epitome of style and effortlessness, exists in our vocabulary and it's been that way since fashion existed; it's what people have always heralded as chic," Carreon says. "But now, with this new wave of brands, the idea of French-girl style has become more accessible."
Unlike contemporary French brands that live in the more "contemporary" space between fast-fashion and luxury, like The Kooples, Sandro, Maje and A.P.C, this new crop of internet-derived brands not only boast a slightly lower price point, but they're born from the entrepreneurial spirit of Instagram influencers.
Take AnneLaure Mais Moureau, for instance. After two previous capsule collections with French fashion brands, the French influencer-slash-fashion editor felt it was time to strike out on her own, introducing her own made-in-France clothing brand, Musier Paris, which consists of perfectly draped printed dresses, polished jumpsuits and leopard-print trousers, in April of this year.
"It's true that there is something with French style — it's a myth we love to cultivate, and I guess social media plays a big part," Mais Moureau says. "Now we can easily follow girls from the other side of the world, and obviously, there are a lot of French girls to follow."
Damas, too, has felt that Instagram has given her brand a global reach. "It feels good to have my personal space with Rouje, to create what I want with who I want, to be completely independent and free," she adds. "I like seeing girls from all over join les filles en Rouje!"
The success of these brands, Walters notes, is inextricably linked to the success of their buzzy founders. "In a social media-led era, influencers are really leading the charge from the ground up instead of high-end designers and trickling down — they're selling an experiential lifestyle, and their followers are buying into that," she says. "These brands aren't doing anything new — the wrap dress has been around forever — but they're appropriating the classics, these tried-and-tested winners, and reformulating it for their market."
Unlike mad maximalism, deliberately outsize streetwear or literally any other fashion trend, the French girl look isn't scary or hyper-niche. And its timelessness means that it has the unique power to transcend demographics and even generations.
"As long as you've got a really great pair of jeans and a silk blouse, that's it, you're doing French style," Walters states. "It really does have mass-market appeal. It's really applicable."
There's also the draw of the look's unabashed femininity. After decades of boxy minimalism as a way to assert power, women now don't have to choose one over the other — a movement that perhaps coincides with the current fourth wave of feminism. "We're realizing that we don't have to be hiding our bodies in order to be respected," Carreon says. "It's this idea that I'm still a multidimensional human and still wear a dress that's flattering on my body; I shouldn't feel 'bad' about liking pretty little dresses."
Despite how pervasive the "French-girl look" has become, Walters doesn't believe it will go away anytime soon (though she does think the hype for wrap dresses will, eventually, die down).
"It's going to become more about reinventing vintage classics. French style is a confirmed example of retail success, and the momentum is still going, so I don't think it's reached its peak yet," she continues, pointing to designers like Marseille native Simon Porte Jacquemus — who has injected a new level of sexy femininity into French style with his Riviera-chic pieces — for pushing the aesthetic forward.
"I think the market is growing because the demand is, as well, especially for brands like us that don't necessarily follow the trends and offer a style that's more timeless," Damas says. "The 'look' reflects an effortless, natural style, and it seems like girls everywhere are seeing that and adapting it into their own lifestyles."