Sandro offers French style for the masses

Sandro brings affordable French style to the people, founder Evelyne Chetrite tells Divia Harilela

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 October, 2012, 6:12pm

The Gallic fashion revolution continues in Asia, with chic brand Sandro opening its first free-standing boutique in the region at IFC Mall earlier this week.

"I love the way women are in Hong Kong - they live a busy life but they love fashion," says founder Evelyne Chetrite, adding that more stores will follow, perhaps in China.

Chetrite and her husband Didier launched Sandro in 1984, as one of the pioneers of the affordable luxury category.

Chetrite, who also designs for the brand, has fashion in her blood - her sister Judith Milgrom is the founder of competitor Maje, which opened its first standalone store in Asia in Hong Kong's IFC Mall last month. The sisters also design for another French contemporary brand, Claudie Pierlot.

Chetrite embodies the unfussy chic French look that Sandro is known for. She's dressed entirely in black, and her leather jacket and chunky jewellery create a feminine yet rock'n'roll style.

While her look is distinctly Parisian, she hails from Morocco. She says it was the eclectic mix of French style and African colours that made her fall in love with fashion. "Fashion entered my life in Morocco with all the colours and beautiful fabrics. It was always a pleasure to get dressed up and enjoy beautiful things. That continued when I moved to Paris at 15," she says.

"My mother didn't want me to work in fashion, so I studied law at university, where I met my future husband. He had a small fashion business, so I started creating sketches and working with the seamstresses to make a few pieces of clothing. People loved them, and that gave me the confidence to devote my time to it," she adds.

When Sandro launched in the mid 1980s, there were only a handful of affordable fashion brands on French high streets, and most of them specialised in basics.

Sandro was different because it offered elegant clothes with a distinct fashion edge.

"There was clearly a gap in the market between luxury and mass. How can you dress a woman who doesn't have the money to pay for luxury, but who loves fashion and wants to be different?

"We created a market for ourselves," she says. "I wanted to make women look sexy and feminine, but not in a vulgar or outrageous way. Sandro has always been trendy, but the brand is poetic and romantic".

Over the years, Sandro has attracted a strong following, thanks to its easy combination of fashion-forward styles, offbeat details and unusual mix of fabrics. While trends play a key role in the design, Chetrite says it's the needs of her clients that define the direction of the brand.

"The design inspiration comes naturally from the market, from where you go, what you see and what sold well in the previous season. People lead you to where you should go; they give you your direction," Chetrite says.

For autumn-winter 2012, Chetrite was inspired by the New York of the '90s. Minimalist silhouettes are punched up with graphic elements and contrasting fabrics - so tailored blazers come with leather sleeves and trims. There's also a chic sporty element in the zip-up vests and tailored puffer jackets. Signature dresses include a demure black style spiced up with mesh back and bow.

"I was thinking Peter Lindberg and top models of the time like Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington. I've taken the roots of the 1990s and mixed them with a modern feeling. It's also a little masculine," she says.

LVMH bought a controlling stake in the brand in 2010. Today, the Sandro empire includes 150 boutiques worldwide in cities such as New York, Los Angeles and London. Chetrite enlisted her son, Ilan, to design Sandro Men in 2008. The menswear line will launch in Hong Kong next year.

"If you look at labels like Chanel or Tods, most of the success stories are family ones because people work with their heart and put their souls in the business," says Chetrite.

"Being humble is very important to me. We've always been surprised by our success. It's a spontaneous brand, and that's the key. We are constantly aware [of what's changing] and we keep in mind that, in this industry, you can't take anything for granted," she says.

While affordable luxury continues to grow as a trend in the industry, many insiders have speculated that the market is quickly becoming saturated. But the upscale retail stampede doesn't appear to bother Chetrite.

"There is always space for luxury and affordable products. Some spend a huge amount of money others will not," she says.

"But as people spend more on travel and lifestyle they want clothes that are stylish, well made and affordable."