The “Je Ne Sais Quoi” of 4 Iconic French Pieces

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That French women are effortlessly stylish isn’t a new idea to anyone, but as our Paris-born model Rebecca Dayan (that’s her, above) told us, it’s not entirely true. That lived-in dishabille is no accident—it’s basically heirloom style that’s passed down from grandmothers to moms to daughters. And our latest collaboration with Sézane wouldn’t be complete without four of those timeless styles that each generation’s lived in. But how’d these pieces reach icon status? And how are we wearing them now? To learn about their origins, we stopped by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute collection (a massive archive of clothes from throughout history) and then strolled over to our photo shoot in Central Park to find out more.

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MADEWELL ET SÉZANE: BEHIND THE COLLAB

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Our exclusive collaboration with French brand Sézane lands tomorrow, 10/21, and to learn exactly how it came together, we arranged a little tête-à-tête with both our head designer Somsack Sikhounmuong and Sézane designer Morgane Sézalory to ask them a few questions. Turns out the trick to a great collaboration isn’t just a shared fashion sense.

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The French Way To Get Dressed

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It’s no secret that we’re enamored with French women. Whether they’re toting around freshly baked baguettes at the weekend market or dashing to work in chic little numbers, their laid-back uniform of wear-forever staples (think sexy jeans, tailored jackets and sublimely broken-in button-downs, all worn with a certain je ne sais quoi attitude) hints at a well-considered lifestyle that’s inspiring, to say the least. As a little homage to our favorite Parisians, here are 13 très chic ways to wear the pieces we love the most, from a fresh take on the pantsuit to leather motorcycle jackets, sheer blouses and stackable jewelry. (Accent not required, but certainly encouraged.)

P.S. Remind you of a certain fashionable French editor? Good eye. We think she’s great too.

SINGER CONSTANCE VERLUCA’S FRENCH TOMBOY STYLE

We instantly fell for singer Constance Verluca. Why? For starters, she embodies two of our great loves: tomboy style and that je ne sais quoi of French-girl chic. And then there’s the fact that this Paris native borrows from the boys when it comes to both music (Buddy Holly) and fashion (Bob Dylan). It’s no surprise that during our My Madewell shoot she picked some classic pieces with a hint of rock ’n’ roll edge. Find out more about what she calls her “casual garçon” look (which translates to “low-key tomboy” in Madewell-ese), her music school for kids and her go-to concert look.

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Where are you from and how has that influenced your style?

I’m from Paris, born and raised. Since I was about 15, my style has been mostly tomboy. I live in Vans, oversized sweatshirts and T-shirts, jeans, well-worn boots—nothing too tight or itchy. I really love beautiful, quality fabrics, especially cashmere.

How would you describe your style?

Casual garçon.

Who do you think is the most stylish musician?

There are so many. Strangely the two that come immediately to mind are so different: Bob Dylan and Michael Jackson. Bob Dylan because his style corresponds so directly with his music—simple, honest and timeless. And Michael Jackson for his sophistication and imagination. I love people who have a unique, even iconic, element to how they dress.

How do you dress for a concert?  

I always wear the same thing: vintage white jeans, lived-in boots and a white button-down shirt. I always leave the top of the shirt unbuttoned and prefer the sleeves to be short.

What is your music about and what influences you?

I love the early rockers like Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley. My music starts with a base of rock ’n’ roll with different styles, like electronic or something more audacious, mixed in. I want to do something more unique and singular.

Aside from music, do you have any other passions or hobbies?

Literature, cooking and children. I run a music school for kids in Paris called Le Club Pop, where we teach and create pop-rock music.

What is your most treasured piece of clothing?

My favorite item is this vintage blue T-shirt. It was my first skate shirt and I’ve been wearing it for ten years. I wear all of my clothes very well, until they are either threadbare or falling apart! I love things that last.

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Caroline de Maigret’s Bon Mots

A little repartee with Caroline de Maigret about a few of her favorite things.

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Style motto: Always dress to meet the love of your life.

Guilty pleasure: Tex Mex. I love chili con carne.

Treasured possession: Records, for sure

Favorite musician: Elvis

Favorite music venue: Le Bataclan in Paris. It’s the perfect size—big enough to have great bands but small enough to still keep things intimate. It’s also in the center of Paris, which I love.

Gadget of choice: Jambox by Jawbone. Great sound, with a wireless connection to my iPhone. Perfect for all the time I spend in hotel rooms.

Favorite book: The Idiot, by Dostoyevsky

Flower of choice: peonies

Best city: Paris

Favorite film: Le Mépris, by Jean-Luc Godard

Best place to grab a meal: La Coupole, Paris, for its history and big seafood platters

Best facial: Caudalie [near Bordeaux, France]

Best massage: Hotel Bristol, Paris

Favorite travel destination: the Cyclades islands, Greece

Favorite person to follow on Instagram: Michel Gaubert, @michelgaubert. He’s a really fun and witty DJ.

Catch Caroline test-driving a few of our favorite fall pieces here.

Tuning In: Caroline de Maigret’s Ultimate Playlist

It’s pretty obvious Caroline de Maigret has great style instincts—see our fall catalog shot in her hometown, Paris, for further proof. But the model also happens to have killer taste when it comes to music; she created Bonus Track Records with her partner, Yarol Poupaud, in 2006. So obviously we had to raid her playlist for her favorite tracks of all time. Here, she shares her cleverly curated picks. (For an idea of how eclectic they are, one is from 1930.)

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1. “On the Beach,” Neil Young

2. “There Is an End,” The Greenhornes (feat. Holly Golightly)

3. “Suspicious Minds,” Elvis Presley

4. “Mama Said Knock You Out,” LL Cool J

5. “Working Class Hero,” John Lennon

6. “John the Relevator,” Blind Willie Johnson

7. “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” The Stooges

8. “Givin the Dog a Bone,” AC/DC

9. “Time of the Season,” The Zombies

10. “Voodoo Love,” Black Minou

11. “The Humpty Dance,” Digital Underground

12. “Nutbush City Limits,” Ike and Tina Turner

13. “Love That Burns,” Fleetwood Mac

14. “Sur la Planche,” La Femme

15. “F–k It, You Win,” Hanni El Khatib

Listen and stream them all with our Rdio playlist.

Labels We Love: By Zoé™

Leave it to the French to master the art of effortless romantic style, which is why we’re pretty much always on the hunt for hidden fashion gems from the City of Light. Our latest find is By Zoé™, a Parisian line founded in 2005 by a trio of stylish sisters. We chatted with eldest sister Melvina Sebban (she also doubles as head stylist for the brand), to hear first-hand how she and her siblings cultivate that quintessentially French je ne sais quoi that embodies each and every piece in this emerging line.

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How did you and both your sisters get involved in fashion?

We grew up in the fashion industry. Our father was a pant maker who specialized in denim, and growing up, we all worked with him. As kids, we would dress our dolls with bits of fabric we found in the factory.

Your designs feel so essentially Parisian. Why do you think that is?

Paris is romantic. We try to translate that into our collections and represent a vision of modern femininity.

What inspires you beyond the local culture?

We’re crazy about music! And we spend a lot of time looking at street style from around the world.

How can one easily master a laid-back French look?

We don’t buy head-to-toe looks from one designer, and we never hesitate to mix different pieces, even pairing fancy luxury goods with perfectly worn-in vintage denim.

Describe By Zoé in 5 words or less.

Cool, urban, feminine and sexy.*

*Editor’s Note: We couldn’t agree more.