A CULTURE OF CHIC
It’s the French go-to label for Parisian street-wise fashion. Vogue speaks with the creative force behind Sandro, Evelyne Chetrite. By Tina Isaac-Goizé.
Sandro is the French go-to label for Parisian street-wise fashion.
Evelyne Chetrite is a textbook example of why you shouldn’t always listen to your parents. Had she not followed her heart and instead done what was expected of her, Chetrite would have probably become a lawyer. Which means that Parisiennes would never have had Sandro, one of only a few aspirational, mid-priced French fashion brands that offers style-conscious customers staples and seasonal pieces with serious cred, at prices that won’t break the bank.
This season, that translates into Cuban-inflected statement pieces such as pyjamas edged with guipure, pearl-embroidered denim jackets, gentle pink jumpsuits, easy striped dresses with an open back that can go urban with a pair of tuxedo-striped trousers and do double duty after a day at the beach – just throw it on and you’re set for cocktail hour.
It’s a winning recipe. Last January, Sandro posted outstanding sales growth, edging close to 1 billion euros in sales (AUD1.4 billion) across 540 points of sale worldwide. And it has landed Chetrite and her family – her sister Judith Milgrom is the force behind the brand Maje – among the top 500 fortunes in France.
Today, Sandro and its sister brands in the SMCP group (which also includes Maje and Claudie Pierlot) are majority-owned by Chinese textile giant Shandong Ruyi.
Chetrite, 57, looks astonishingly like a Mediterranean Julia Roberts, with a wide, smile, a perennial tan and the kind of chic that non-French women of all ages strive to copy. She’s the kind of woman who can throw on kick-crop frayed jeans and a white top and look like a million dollars. (Clearly, both style and business savvy run in the genes: her handsome son, Ilan, launched the thriving Sandro Homme brand.)
But if Chetrite has conquered French fashion on her own terms, she traces her influences back to Morocco, where she lived before immigrating to France at 15.
“I was surrounded by lots of artistic influences,” Chetrite notes, recalling how her aunt, a seamstress, and her grandfather, a specialist in men’s shirting, initiated her to a love of beautiful materials. “There were fabrics, rugs, Berber objects, lots of colours all around, from the souks to the spices, “she explains.
When she was an adolescent, Chetrite’s mother would have her wardrobe made twice a year. Whenever there was a party, her aunt would drop by and take measurements for dresses. Then there would be an expedition to the fabric merchant. “It seems incredible today, because no-one spends three hours deliberating over colour or fabric,” she says. It was only much later that she came to realise how those values had stuck.
Despite her parents’ view that fashion wasn’t prestigious enough, it turned out to be Chetrite’s destiny. After meeting her future husband, Didier, Chetrite started skipping classes at law school to hang out with her new boyfriend, who was then sales director for a clothing brand in the Sentier, Paris’s garment district. But Didier told her he wanted to sell his own clothes. “The only problem was, he knew how to sell but didn’t have a clue about design,” Chetrite explains. “It might have been love or passion that changed my path, but I started skipping class to go to the office – and I was having a lot more fun,” she says with a laugh.
Overnight, Chetrite became a consultant, and the couple launched Sandro in 1984. Chetrite set about infusing the nascent brand with what she herself wanted to wear. Sandro has moved from strength to strength ever since, but Chetrite shies away from describing the ‘Sandro woman’. “In Paris, women love to mix things up and invent a look,” she says. “The result is chic without being instantly recognisable in terms of brands.”
Asked about her own wardrobe, Chetrite counts her essentials on one hand. “Having the right jeans is very, very important,” she says. Her other staples: a perfectly cut suit, tailored trousers and a sexy dress, and a good pair of ‘baskets’, the French term for sneakers.
It’s those sneakers – that particular mix of feminine and street – that keeps chic Parisiennes coming back for more. “Every woman is sensitive to [comfort],” she says. “We live in a time when sports, movement and work are all a part of a woman’s life. It’s such a pleasure to go out wearing trousers cropped at the ankle, a roomy coat and baskets. Oversized on top and fitted below is one of my favourite looks right now. It’s smart, and it makes sense.
“After all, we’re not just selling clothes. Women have so many things in common and so many things to share. To me, that’s the future. That’s Sandro.”
“OVERSIZED ON TOP AND FITTED BELOW IS ONE OF MY FAVOURITE LOOKS NOW”
Sandro’s headquarters occupy a late19th-century townhouse in central Paris.