16.02.2024 La Caserne, Paris #fashion

Jeanne Friot

When Clothes Become a Manifesto

Fashion is a means to get a message across, there is more to it than simply creating beautiful clothes

On Friday 23rd, as we eagerly awaited the kick-off of Paris Fashion Week 2024, we caught up with Jeanne Friot. The young French designer, who launched her eponymous genderless label in 2020, welcomed us to her studio, located at La Caserne. She spoke to us about her vision of fashion, which she considers to be an art form in its own right, as well as a political manifesto.

Your brand positions itself with a straightforward statement: “no gender, no carbon, no hatred”. Can you tell us more about the decision to launch a genderless brand?

We strive to deconstruct this binary approach and to convey the idea that clothing exists like a romantic encounter. We fall in love with a colour, a partner, the possibilities it opens up, what it represents… I want to detach the notion of gender from clothing, and so that we look instead at models, inspiring figures that we have grown up with.

Who were these role models for you? 

Growing up, few women were at the helm of Couture Maisons. Nevertheless, there were very influential figures to me such as Vivienne Westwood, who was overtly political and also created the punk movement. Her creative universe was closely tied to music, she spoke up about ecology… There was also Sonia Rykiel and many other artists, mainly writers. Virginia Despentes comes to mind, for example, fierce and strong women like her.

At Jeanne Friot, fashion becomes a political manifesto.

Absolutely. Almost every collection stems in reaction to a political subject or revolves around a relevant topic. As a lesbian woman making fashion and a creative universe, my point of view is bound to be dissident. The “Rouge” collection, for example, came out in reaction to the Roe vs Wade law in the United States. The same goes for the ‘Sirens’ collection, which alluded to the law against providing treatment to transgender teenagers.


Everything’s very touchy these days, and I find my identity constantly called into question. Fashion is a means to get a message across, there is more to it than simply creating beautiful clothes, which doesn’t mean we can’t do too.

 Politics are reflected in the “no carbon” stance too. How does one create a brand 100% sustainable yet financially sound?

There comes the real challenge. Aware of the fact that this industry is one of the most polluting ones, I wanted to think of a way to produce differently, to create a new economic model. Nowadays, we do a lot of upcycling and work with brands like Nona Source, which resells us deadstock from Maisons like LVMH. Nothing is being produced for us and every piece is made in France, we’re in a microcircuit. 


It is relatively easy at first, but as the brand grows… The more you sell, the more problems arise. Now I am forced to check the measurements and refuse materials if there isn’t enough tissue or drastically restrict the number of pieces that we will be able to create. It isn’t always practical – I have found myself having sold all the pieces even before the collection was on sale! At the same time, it also means that the pieces are virtually numbered, like limited editions, which is rare. There’s something that I like about this rarity, which is also a constraint, one that pushes us to be inventive and find alternative solutions.

 Is that the reason why Jeanne Friot is a luxury label? Since, given the importance of your discourse and political position, it would be interesting to share that with the largest public possible.

Partly, yes. I also actively positioned myself as a luxury brand. We create pieces with a careful savoir-faire, using high-end materials, and we invest a considerable amount of time in the confection of each piece. That being said, I also try to imagine collections that include entry-level pieces that everyone can buy. Take the feathered trousers, for instance, one of our most successful and creative pieces. It is indeed a bit expensive, but you can save up to buy them even if you don’t earn a big salary.

Who makes up your main customer base?

I think people are drawn to the brand for two different reasons. On the one hand, there are those attracted by my discourse, my political standpoint, because they want to buy made in France, from an ecologically conscious designer, or because they support my message. The LGBTQ community has backed me up since the very beginning. Still today, they represent the majority of my consumers, even if the original message has already spread and I construct the collections a bit differently. 


On the other hand, some buyers just like the garments themselves, they may or may not know the discourse at the heart of the brand, it is an aesthetic choice.

Is it a myth that needs to be deconstructed, the belief that creating genderless clothes poses greater problems, particularly when it comes to adapting to different body shapes?

This topic reveals a highly patriarchal approach to clothing. I don’t think that’s a real problem. If that were the case, we’d have to question the norms: what constitutes a woman’s body? And a man’s body? There are plenty of different female bodies, same goes for men. How does one create an entire wardrobe for intersex people or non-binary people? The possibilities are so diverse that we can’t talk about a single standard.


Moreover, women have long since appropriated the men’s wardrobe, it is no longer an issue. I’m interested in encouraging men to adopt the female one, in a way that isn’t condemned or regarded as a potential trigger for street violence against men who do. The more we spread this message, the more exposure it gains. A Fashion Show is a high point in terms of visibility, and from there fashion will gradually make its way to the streets. The longer we showcase this image, the faster it will integrate the established order and common culture. Eventually, we will stop thinking that if a man puts on a skirt he will be beaten up on the streets.

Is that the reason why, having to choose where to position yourself in the system, you chose to present your collections during Men’s Fashion Week?

Absolutely. There’s also the fact that during Women’s Fashion Week the programme is packed, it is a very intense period, which makes it quite hard for young designers to get exposure. In addition to that, Men’s Fashion Week attracts both male and female buyers, which isn’t the case for women. So the decision was partly a strategic positioning in terms of business. I also find it interesting to question the notion of virility nowadays, how can we talk about it in fashion?

We are currently witnessing a tendency for brands to feature both male and female models on the catwalk, even if they don’t position themselves as genderless. Are we breaking away from a binary approach to fashion?

I think, and hope so! I’d like to see the end of the “gender issue” whenever we talk about garments, to no longer have one fashion week dedicated to men and another to women. What’s a bit ironic is that I get a lot of press attention and people talk about me because I position myself as genderless, yet when it comes to buyers… that’s a different story. They’re lost, not knowing how to place us. I always tell them that they can choose how to display the brand in their shops. We are nevertheless faced with a system that works like an Excel spreadsheet, so choices are quite limited. We would have to devise new ways of designing shops, where gender isn’t a decisive parameter. There are already shops in Korea that aren’t compartmentalized according to gender, yet it remains the norm in Europe. Most of the time, I find my pieces in the women’s department, because my style isn’t ‘sober’ enough for men’s, which is a pity.

Is this also a common misconception, thinking of genderless clothes as something “neutral” or lacking personality?

Absolutely. In general, the menswear aisles lack colour and extravagance; all you find is blue, grey and not much else. I had to let go of some social constructs myself too. I created my brand to make clothes that everyone could wear, so why limit myself? I can offer skirts, dresses or very colourful and extravagant outfits for men too. We propose something different, more than just grey suits or pieces belonging to the classic “unisex” tag.

There are items that we find recurrently across your collections, such as the belts. Can you tell us a bit more about those pieces?

Two pieces make up the DNA of the brand: the feather pants and the belted dress, worn by Madonna. I found it interesting to rework these creative forces in other collections. This season, you’ll find the belt motif printed on tops and dresses, a trompe-l’œil effect that makes the dress more wearable and affordable. There’s also tartan, a fabric I use all the time, another one of our staples since the beginning. Some structures are becoming recurrent and I’d like to rework them. Lastly, there’s colour, I like to find a predominant colour and do something strong around it in each collection.

For the “Siren” collection was blue, then red for “Red Warriors” and now black and purple for “Coming Out”. Can you tell us more about the significance of colour in the last collection?

The idea behind “Coming Out” was to tell the love story with my partner. It was about asking ourselves: how can we tell a lesbian love story through a collection? I was inspired by Romy, a former singer of The XX. She wrote a song titled “Love Her”, which is precisely about lesbian love and its implications, like for instance how, in certain situations, we aren’t to share and live that love freely. There’s a duality between “I want to be myself and embrace this love completely” and “I know that I cannot do that in certain places”. Thinking about this, I visualize the situation as leaving the shadows to reach the light. So the collection opens with dark coats and sober pieces, which progressively let the purple come onstage. Purple has many connotations: it represents lesbians on the flag, but also stands for the purple revolution, feminism…

Flowers were also a key motif…

Indeed, which also stands as a loving gesture, to offer flowers. The same goes for the keys, when we reach a certain state of a romantic relationship we offer keys to that special person, those of our home or, more symbolically, those of our hearts… Ultimately, it is about opening up and sharing, a gesture that I liked. That’s how my “key” piece (laughs) came about, a bit like the phenomenon at the Pont des Arts, but turned around: instead of locks, I attach keys. Many gestures like those are transferred into clothing in the collection.

It becomes quite poetic in the end, what is fashion for you?

It’s an art! It becomes one from the moment that you deliver a creative message. It is, however, an art applied to an industry, you must sell if you want to stay afloat. At the same time, it is also a medium to narrate a story and share points of view, because it comprises many things, ranging from the piece itself to the fashion show, the music, the visuals… We can tackle and share our vision of the world, or of the one we would like to build. 


Interview by Cristina López Caballer

Photos: Ayka Lux



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