Positive. Fair. Uplifting. Friendly. Somehow these words are not the first to come to mind when thinking of fashion, no matter which side of the spectrum you find yourself. From the ethical shortcomings of the high street to the cut-throat culture of ready-to-wear, the fashion industry has select outliers that are exceptions in the system. Morgane Sézalory, founder of Parisian fashion and lifestyle brand Sézane, is one of these rare gems.
Sézane had its humble beginnings as a small online vintage business that was merely a side hobby for Morgane. With a natural flair for spotting vintage garbs, she began sourcing vintage for a community she was building on eBay. When demand far exceeded her ability to source the supply, it was time for the business to evolve. Les Composantes, as the vintage business was called, then became Sézane. The brand as we know it was founded in Paris in 2013 and has seen success few brands could dream of. From 0 to 60 employees, 200,000 customers, an offline space and immersive store “L’appartement” that on any given weekend has queues around the block, Sézane is nothing short of a phenomenon. We sit down with its founder, who is as close as it gets to the Parisian girl-next-door, to chat positivity, motherhood, trusting your gut, and what it is like to be the heart and soul behind the fastest growing e-commerce brand in France.
Semaine: 12 years ago you founded Les Composantes which would later become Sézane.
Morgane: “It [Les Composantes] started after high school. I wanted to find my passion for life but I couldn’t find it at academic school, so I took a year after high school to look at options. Fine art schools were too segmented, you would learn how to become a photographer, or become an illustrator. I always felt I had a sense of composition…to mix things and make things look good, but I didn’t think I wanted to just be a photographer, artist or painter. I couldn’t find a school and that’s how it started. My sister left for London and left some bags of vintage things and clothing she used to wear. On my side, I was already starting to hunt vintage things on eBay. I would find treasures. When she left, I got her stuff and thought maybe I could make some pocket money by selling it. I discovered I had a true feeling about making a picture, and making it look good and working on the vintage pieces to make them look even better.
At that time, 12 years ago, if you looked on eBay, everything was dark and you couldn’t find anything pretty because no one made an effort. Even today it’s not a pleasure to look on eBay! I was coming with my pictures, full of light. It used to be a crazy time where people were bidding and the girls were crazy about my vintage pieces. I realized that it could be the start of something. 12 years ago, you couldn’t believe the internet would be your future life professionally. Most of all, if you were a girl not in the fashion industry, I was only 18 and I was not connected to anyone. I didn’t know anything about the internet apart from eBay. It was crazy, some points, I was still looking at schools but earning some serious money. I didn’t feel like it was real, I thought, it couldn’t be real. Even if you were telling people that you were doing something amazing on eBay, people would think you’re crazy. I am a very free spirited girl. I didn’t go to school at the end, I kept doing my thing, hunting for beautiful vintage things. A community started following my work and a lot of girls that were working in nice luxury houses were inspired by vintage pieces so I had a lot of people buying things very quickly.”
Semaine: At what point did your popular eBay change evolve into Les Composantes?
Morgane: “I started on eBay for two years and at some point, I thought you can’t make a brand on eBay. It’s not possible, so I had to create my own website. That’s why I started Les Composantes. I wanted a brand for my selections. Because I was by myself, I needed to find a way to structure my time, so that’s why I decided to make a “rendez-vous” each month with my followers. I had their emails and sent emails to people from my Hotmail account, “OK the next rendez-vous is on Tuesday at 9pm”. In the beginning I had about 1,000 [followers], then it became 5,000, 10,000. At some point Les Composantes was a monthly selection of 100 unique vintage pieces, but of course so many people were following the selection it became ridiculous because things sold out. Too many people following and not enough pieces. People were beginning to be frustrated and it really encouraged me to start creating my own designs. “
Semaine: Was there a turning point that made you think the brand and following was strong enough to make your own clothing?
Morgane: “My brother’s death made me realize you should live your life as you feel it. Not wait to do something you like, or wait to be happy. Try to do things. Once you truly feel it and understand that it works like this, everything in life doesn’t look the same, even a conversation with someone. If you want to do something you just do it. If you want to ask a question you ask it. You don’t have anything to lose more than death, so it taught me and made me do things better. After this it was still named Les Composantes. This project really helped me accept what was happening in my family. It gave me meaning. People liked it and I had built a personal relationship with the community so I started my own design. It went slowly. I wanted to do only one. I was still doing my vintage selection with one rendez-vous, and then offering one new, limited edition design.
I always thought it’s too bad all those unique vintage pieces are only one unique piece. So many girls wanted that unique piece. I thought, OK I need to make them. But how do you make them when you have no contacts? I was waiting for signs of destiny…something that has always been true about my story. I never had a strategy, I just did things very organically and with my heart and everything came. I followed my instinct. When you are open-minded you can see the signs in life.”
Semaine: What was the first design you made?
Morgane: “The first one was a black dress…the perfect black dress. Then I did a bag. I started with the twenty pieces I wanted but couldn’t have. It was crazy how people responded, so I quickly realized that I had to do only that. It was also harder and harder to find good vintage pieces. You had to travel a lot to find nice things. I met my husband and he also really helped me and pushed me to do things and not wait. One day for example, I was telling him I didn’t know how to make this shoe. We were dating for a few months, and before he went traveling for a week he said, ‘Morgane, by the time come back I won’t see you again if you haven’t seen the [shoe] factories.’ He had printed the list of all of the factories, the little manufacturers. He believed so much in me and the project and also helped a lot on the internet, he is much better in understanding as he advises online companies.”
Semaine: When did it become Sezane?
Morgane: "So that was 2010. It went so well that at some point it wasn’t clear anymore what Les Composantes was because it was linked a lot to vintage at the beginning. So we had to make it clear that it was becoming only [my] design. So we did it (I say we because my husband helped me so much at nights and weekends). We decided we should change the name to make it clear that Sézane was going to be a brand only, not vintage clothes, and journalists were always asking what it was. It was 2013 that we actually changed the name. It took time, we had a shortlist of names and I couldn’t choose. It wasn’t obvious yet. Someday we just had to do it. I could feel that people were lost, it is really important that people that follow your project what you are doing."
Semaine: And where does the name come from?
Morgane: “It is the contraction of my last name and first name. I wanted people in the company to be part of this name, it was easier than my full name. You don’t think it is a person. I think it changes everything because people don’t think they work for me, they work for this brand and have a little part of it.”
Semaine: What was the site like in 2013?
Morgane: “At the end of Les Composantes, it was a collection each season. Four small collections. When it became Sézane, it was bigger collections. We made it very clear and official that it was a brand and [that] the ambition of the project was to be a brand.
Semaine: And at the time in France was there anything similar that existed?
Morgane: “There were none. Even Les Composantes, no one could believe it, even with it getting bigger. People thought that it can’t be a brand that exists online. It cannot be credible. I really felt I had to fight…”
Semaine: For the credibility?
Morgane: “Yes, because it was online native. But it was also a good thing because you make things differently. There are no rules. I am a very free girl so I liked that I could do things I wanted and I didn’t need journalists at the time. I had a very direct communication with the customers. Since the beginning, here in France, I started to talk to people like they were not used to as a brand, a very transparent relationship. They tell you when it’s good and not good. You can’t hide in your office and not consider what people think. It only works when people are liking and believing and that’s how it became bigger and bigger.
I have been working for 12 years so now it is not an issue anymore. Today there are no online or digital brands. It is only brands. This is new in the past 2-3 years. But when I started, even 6-7 years ago, if you were online you were an alien. I was an alien. Now it’s changing and everyone wants to be digital and physical.”
Semaine: What is Sézane in your own words?
Morgane: “Sézane is a living brand. It is your everyday closet but always with a twist and sense of fabric and quality…high standards. I say living brand because it is not static. It evolves, it travels, it’s curious…I hate brands that are square and you cant think differently. I am not like this. I am so curious…I try to give this open-minded feeling so it is not like you are a type. Even in the space we have, L’appartement, people who are there and host the customers are very different, their age, their style. They are very friendly, I wanted it to be welcoming. It’s not a marketing tool. It’s how I’ve always imagined the brand.”
Semaine: Tell us about L’appartement. Calling it a bricks and mortar store doesn't quite do the space justice...
Morgane: “I never decided I wanted to open a physical space but it fell on me. I was walking on the street (Rue Saint Fiacre), and I never walk on that street in Paris. But we had a rendez-vous [meeting]. I never drive, since I was a little girl, so when you don’t drive you look at windows. Even when I walk I’m always looking up. I saw these beautiful windows and doors and said what is this. I opened the door and there was a guy going up the stairs and said joking, what are you doing here. I said to him, ‘Don’t you want to leave this space?’ We started to talk and discovered he had a knitwear company. So then we started to make our knitwear with him.
Two or three weeks after I came to the space I made the joke again and said, ‘are you sure you don’t want to go?’ He said Morgane, forget about it. But the next day, the woman he was living with called us and said, actually the place he wanted for years is available and he wants to go. So I felt that it was destiny. You know it was so crazy that day. I was walking in the street with Corentin [Morgane’s business partner]. I did some steps back and opened the door. It was private, there were curtains it wasn’t a shop, there wasn’t any signs to let. The space was so amazing we started to work there. The place feels like history, it is history. I think that because we are digital and even if it was a 12 year-old project, it was good to have a place that could say what you can’t always say. People were frustrated to not touch or try the products. And this place says everything. You know how we are attached, you can change the world with new tools, like the internet but you can’t change that clothes are always made by man and the space shows that we consider what history brings to the brand. We have a cinema in it, as you know cinema is one of the biggest inspirations for Sézane, traveling and cinema. We wanted to make this place a living place where people could come and be treated nicely. You don’t have to buy anything you can take a coffee, open a book.”
Semaine: This attitude is quite contradictory to the normative attitude towards retail.
Morgane: "The team that works at the apartment, the goal of that place is not to sell more. It is for people to see the brand. Feel the brand. Touch the brand. It changes everything. We tell them, you don’t have to sell anything you just have to welcome people and help them. At the end, I think people like your brand better. So if they have to buy a white shirt they come.”
Semaine: In the last few years, there was a big shift towards vertically integrated brands that cut out the intermediary. Part of many of these brands’ marketing was centered around their honest pricing that was achieved by cutting out the middle man so to speak...
Morgane: “We became big enough early, we can offer the nicest products for a better price. A very fair price. To me, the price shouldn’t be the reason why you buy something. It should be natural, honest. At Sézane, we never talk about the price. A lot of vertically integrated brands that cut the intermediary…they say oh look at us we don’t have [an] intermediary and talk about the price. We don’t. To me this is the natural way. It is not why you should buy something. It is a good surprise. But the reason you buy something, the brand is honest. We do it this way. What we want people to remember is the colour, the style, the quality. You have a good product, good quality, good colour, good fabric and at the end you discover the price and it is always a good surprise. You should never buy something because it is not expensive, you should buy it because it is well made and you like it. The fact that it is not too expensive is just honest. That is the fair price you should pay for it. Me, I am obsessed with quality. On the internet, the community is very big and engaged. You cannot do anything bad. It is a big stress all the time for me, and I am so honest. You can’t be otherwise. To me and Corentin, it is so important that people are happy. They trust you and you want them to trust you forever and not loose them because you haven’t sent them a good product.”
Semaine: We are speaking to you on the eve of the launch of Sézane’s denim brand. What made you decide to launch this line?
Morgane: “I felt that it was missing. I don’t know any girl that is truly happy about denim. Sometimes you find the jeans you like but they are either too expensive, or vintage then you can’t find it again. I was also missing the jeans I wanted to buy. All the jeans I have at some point are too old, so it was my obsession. I can wear jeans every day...I think most girls can wear jeans every day. Once you find a good pair of jeans it changes your life. It’s crazy to say this. But when you don’t think in the morning and waste time when you have a good pair of jeans…you can wear it every day with anything. We don’t pretend to be what we are not. I want the girls to find somewhere where it is easy to dress up and it makes them feel good and it’s also surprising. I don’t think your brand should be one way. The strong thing about Sézane is to be a living brand, a curious brand, a brand that evolves and truly wants to make the customers happy. At the same time you can’t listen to everyone. My mom is always telling me, listen deeply to what you believe. For example, when we want to launch something new, I always ask my customers or friends."
Semaine: And the future plans for Sézane?
Morgane: “We want to go abroad. I want to see more of the world. It’s also a way to travel and share more. When I travel, I realize a lot of countries are missing a brand like us. This is one of the big things, to make Sézane more international. Me, I would love to not lose what Sézane is. We put passion into everything. When it is growing bigger you have to keep this up. And not to say, this is working so let’s do it again and again. I am never satisfied, I don’t have time for this so I keep thinking how could we make things more exciting, what is not good enough. We need to keep this. To be critical about what we do, but in a positive way. What will surprise even us. What would surprise me."
Semaine: Why do you do what you do?
Morgane: “I’ve done it for 12 years without any strategy. Life made life. I don’t know if that makes sense but I love it. I think it’s an extension of myself, so it makes it easier. I don’t do it to do it, or for money. It’s just living. And since I’ve had my two little girls and my husband, who is a huge passion in my life. I know it sounds stupid and crazy but I feel it so deeply. Sézane has been a huge part of my life. Since I was 18, it helped me when my brother died. And the girls are much more than I have experienced anything in my life. With a brand you give so much, but it’s not your personal life. Kids…I am now thinking I want to have more time and more balance and I feel that I have turned the page. Sézane used to be a lot of me, but it’s growing and I feel very ready for it. I was so young when I started. When the first people joined the project I was still learning so much. But now I feel like I can help them in their work. I feel like I have so many things to give to the people and help them grow and I am looking forward to this. In this type of company, at some point they need to be in charge of things, so I feel this has been happening for a few months now and I am very excited. A lot of people say it is hard to let go. It’s not hard when you have the right people. You learn they bring you something else.”
By Michelle Lu for Semaine.