For anyone who thinks it’s impossible (or expensive) to emulate Parisian chic, Sandro founder Evelyne Chetrite wants you to think otherwise. We report on the appeal of her 30-year-old label.

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When it comes to style, French women are often used as a yardstick. That cool, self-possessed nonchalance; that devil-may-care spirit that’s part joie de vivre, part spunk; that effortless sex appeal. Where else would you find women who can sport a bare face, unkempt hair, man-shirt and jeans, yet still come off as stylish instead of slipshod?

Evelyne Chetrite is one who understands the allure of this Gallic X-factor well. She should. That X-factor is one of the pillars on which she built Sandro, the Parisian mid-luxury label she founded in 1984 that has since become a burgeoning empire with over 400 points of sale worldwide. Her debut here, a 1,900 sq ft boutique at Ion Orchard (#03-17A/18), opened in end May.

“I believe that for our customers outside of France, their style definitely becomes a bit more French when wearing our pieces,” says the 50-year-old, who has called Paris home since she was 15 (she grew up in Morocco).

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Expect sporty or unexpected details

Describing the brand’s DNA as “chic Parisian cool – a mix between sophistication, effortlessness and androgyny”, her pieces are smart yet relaxed, infused with a bit of a sporty, urbane character and a bit of a rock edge. Her latest collection, for example, includes track-inspired pants with leather panels, boxy tees with mesh layers or inserts, and clever interpretations of the biker jacket, including one that’s cut like a cape. Neutral colours like black and white are staples.

The French touch, she says, is all about classic shapes given a twist with unexpected yet sophisticated details, then worn with a personal stamp. “I like to mix masculine and feminine clothes. I don’t have any fashion rules. I would rather wear clothes in an unconventional way, and that is reflected in all our collections.”

Even though she once described her customer as a working woman who “is 30, or wants to look 30” – she counts celebrity fans like Kate Moss, Dree Hemingway and the Delevingne sisters as women who best embody the brand’s aesthetic – she insists that Sandro is designed for everyone. “(It is true) that our smallest sizes are the most popular, but our clothes aren’t just made for slim people,” she says. “I would like to reiterate that they are for all women looking for great style.” (Sizes run up to a three, the equivalent of 40 in France, or medium in the United States.)

Calling herself “discreet and sensitive” (much like her designs), Chetrite was drawn to fashion at a young age. Her family settled in a neighbourhood not far from the Opera district, where the windows of department stores like Galeries Lafayette and Printemps provided her with a running display of trends. At university (she studied law but found it boring), she met her husband Didier, a young entrepreneur looking to start a fashion label, and soon became increasingly involved in his plans, playing both muse and adviser.

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Sandro was born after a collection of boho-chic patchwork dresses they made drew positive responses. The first boutique opened in Rue Vieille du Temple in the heart of Paris’s historic Marais district. Six years ago, their son Ilan hopped on board to start the men’s line, while Chetrite’s sister Judith Milgrom, who worked with her at Sandro for 12 years, set up Maje, an affiliated label with a sexier, more glamorous slant, in 1999.  

According to Chetrite, Sandro occupied a unique niche in the market upon its launch. “There were the designers at one end and then Tati, a very cheap department store – not much in between,” she says. Today – with luxury goods getting increasingly expensive – plugging the gap between high and mass fashion has become an even bigger deal.

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Together with the likes of The Kooples and Zadig & Voltaire, both of which started in the mid-’90s, Sandro is part of a wave of French contemporary labels championing affordable luxury. Its sleek designs, sold in spaces that look like and offer service no different from that of a designer boutique, have prices ranging from $200 for a belt to $1,400 for a jacket – and the formula works.

Industry online newspaper The Business of Fashion reports that the brand’s turnover is expected to reach  €200 million (S$343 million) this year, up from €110 million (S$188 million) two years ago. That kind of potential has attracted major investors, with LVMH and then private equity firm KKR acquiring a majority stake in Sandro’s parent company SMCP, which also owns Maje.

Part of the brand’s appeal, says Chetrite, lies in the make. Her pieces are produced mostly in Europe and look and feel luxurious; materials include silk and butter-soft goatskin. “Customers know they will be able to find well-made garments in beautiful fabrics at accessible prices.”

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Sandro’s outerwear features a modern take on classic styles

It’s important, too, that her designs are practical and meant to fit easily into anyone’s wardrobe. Signatures include outerwear and simple, flattering dresses that gently skim the body. “Our credo is to put a modern spin on classic pieces. There’s always an influence of a trend, but you won’t be able to tell which season the trend is from.”

Instead of the catwalk, her main sources of inspiration come from the arts – cinema, exhibitions and paintings, for example – and the people she meets. From there, she catches on to attitudes, shapes and colours that can form the starting point of a whole collection. She adds: “To boost my inspiration, I like to sit at a cafe terrace and get caught up in the incredible atmosphere Paris offers every day. Being located in Paris is the most quintessential element in Sandro’s creation process.”

This article was originally published in Female July 2014.