The French have style down to a tee. There is something so elegant and refined about the Frenchman: a swagger in his suited stride; an air of confidence as he saunters down cobbled boulevards, cooly insouciant. Style, it would seem, is part of their DNA across the channel. This is, after all, a country that has given us such fashion behemoths as Dior, Saint Laurent (probably a sore point among les Français now that Hedi Slimane has relocated the creative team to L.A. en masse), Lanvin, Givenchy, Balmain – to name but a few.
Times, however, are a-changin’ and while those fashion giants will historically always hold court, there have been tremors on the French underground scene which have seen a new brigade staking its claim to a piece of the fashion pie.
No longer do the grandes maisons alone dictate to the man on the street what he should and shouldn’t wear. Things are different now. The streets and the people who walk them have created street style, and brands which respond to the phenomenon by offering accessible fashion to an audience of men who love their clothes but don’t want to remortgage their house in order to wear them.
These street style brands offer a carefully considered balance of style and affordability, and the French are at the forefront of the movement. In recent years, a number of creative talents have emerged, resulting in an eclectic smattering of clothing lines that offer modern street looks and classic workwear. They appeal to the masses and provide us all with the opportunity to harness that French debonair style in a contemporary context.
But what are these brands, I hear you ask. Well, here are five of the best you’ve never heard of…
Études perhaps best represents this new wave of French brands. Hailing from an artistic background, Aurélien Arbet and Jérémie Egry only founded the label as recently as 2012, but have already become a major hit among those in the know. Bold prints and fashionable cuts (oversized tees and tapered jeans are the order of the day) are the signatures for Études, which finds a decent middle ground between high fashion and street style, and is very much headed for continued success.
Of the five brands covered in this edit, Brooklyn We Go Hard is arguably the biggest hybrid in its aesthetic. It’s very much a hip-hop-meets-basketball-meets-contemporary-cool affair. Instead of the looser fit traditionally associated with rappers and ballers, BWGH refines the look to create clothes that cross over from fashion to trend-transcending style. The Brooklyn Parle Français sweater is already a must-have modern classic.
Not all brands need to have started in the 21st century to warrant a place on this list. Just as well then, because the somewhat iconic Armor-Lux has been around since 1938. With its Breton stripes and sailor jackets, this as traditional a French brand you are likely to come across. And as you may expect from a company that started by making heavyweight knits for local fishermen, there are no fanciful pretensions – just old-fashioned hard work and great craftsmanship. The t-shirts have been worn by the likes of James Dean and are still made in Brittany to this day, with the team ensuring authentic Gallic suave in every garment.
Bleu de Paname
If traditional workwear interpreted for the modern age is your thing, look no further than this Parisian brand. The brainchild of lifelong friends Thomas Giorgetti and Christophe Lepine, Bleu de Paname brings together traditional American workwear (deck jackets, peacoats and a hearty dose of denim) with more contemporary sweaters, t-shirts and jersey shorts to ensure all your wardrobe essentials are covered.
As you might expect from a brand founded by architect Masaya Kuroki and manager of Daft Punk, Gildas Loaec, Maison Kitsuné is at the cutting edge of contemporary menswear. With an emphasis on the highest quality fabrics and great lines in everything from t-shirts to suits, it isn’t difficult to see why this brand has quickly rocketed, with its own stores opened in Paris, Tokyo and New York.
A Final Note
It might be the Englishman who boasts the global reputation as the dapper gentleman of Europe but, when it comes to contemporary fashion and style, the Frenchman certainly holds his own. The beauty of these brands is in their typically French interest in looking good combined with an openness to unique designs and more novel approaches to dressing. Of course, we are not looking to shun Dior or Saint Laurent from our wardrobes, but while their price tags render such exclusivity, these brands will work as a more easily achievable option.