The cult designer to know bringing back French New Wave style
Laura Sfez is a modern femme fatale. Raised between her native home of Paris and Los Angeles, her womenswear label L’Ecole des Femmes celebrates femininity through an experimental lens of sophistication. Since starting to design back in 2005, Sfez has fashioned a love affair for al female archetypes – infusing classic elegance with contemporary rebellion. Her garments are a total marriage of all things cool from France and America: half babydoll through nods to new wave cinema and Gainsbourg, half rock sensibility through leather takeovers and Jim Morrison inspired tees. Charisma lies at the LDF forefront – completely personal, as Sfez manoeuvres between both sides of a camera lens. A master photographer and model, her signature visual (across an adventurous Instagram feed) embraces the female through a rolling film of romanticism.
The L’Ecole des Femmes uniform is a faithful definition of womanhood. Translated, it means ‘school for women’. That title is a reference to any form of female role, and Sfez has made sure to educate effortlessness across all kinds of charismatic styles. Schoolgirl, sailor, maid, catwoman, you name it – all have been given a modern upgrade after taking Sfez’s lessons on empowerment. In her mindset, a wardrobe of smart and sexy essentials continually usurps any current trend. So one day, she’s tailored to precision in her ‘Serge’ velvet smoking jacket, the next she’s styling Peter-Pan collared bodysuits with knee high socks and suspenders. Feminine? Always – and with seductive force. Her LDF ‘belle de jour’ dress and ‘oui, non’ emblazoned tee are her bestsellers, likely due to what they signify: sexy insouciance. And so Sfez has birthed a classic label to communicate her current rendition of the femme fatale. Innocent, coquettish and mysterious all at once – her uniform for women is founded on flair and feeling.
Hollywood’s pop culture continues to feed into Sfez’s vision. Face to face, she emits a raw burst of energy which derives from an adoration of words – whether they be composed by French authors or American punk musicians. She’s currently enjoying her life as an LA woman, continuing to work on new designs and teach herself the guitar. L’Ecole des Femmes is her thriving club for women, and all are invited. So we stepped into Sfez’s Californian office to chat about her design navigation, the enduring appeal of the French woman and her upcoming collaborations.
Have you always been interested in fashion?
Laura Sfez: I think that fashion is so profound. It’s a form of expression – an important one, too, because it reflects so much. You could be screwing up your entire life because you’re wearing the wrong things, I swear. But I love its capabilities, and that’s why I have so much fun with it. I’m all about romance and feeling. I tie it to the punk movement a lot – you rebel and say and wear what you want. You just need to be passionate. That mindset with true heart and soul is how I think of fashion.
So is that the basis of why you started L’Ecole des Femmes?
Laura Sfez: I’m quite a primitive character. I do everything by instinct. I didn’t create it to prove anything – I just had an idea of the kind of clothing that I liked and wished was out there. And I thought other girls might like that idea, too. For every fetish in the world – as crazy as they can get – there’s always more than one human who’s into it. So I thought, I’m sure somebody else is going to be into what I’m into. As it turns out, there was. The people that follow the brand are amazing. They’re eccentric and they embrace who they are.
So when you’re designing, are there any particular characters that you have in mind as a point of influence?
Laura Sfez: I find musicians to be a really organic source for influence, because fashion isn’t sold by them. Words are my favourite things in this world – they’re full of sentiment, feeling, romance. So those who have a capacity to put out those sentiments in a beautiful way are the greatest heroes for me. And their choice of dress accompanies that. So Leonard Cohen, for example. He went against the grain of everybody in the sixties, coming along with a Spanish guitar wearing a three piece suit, a hat, and tie. Everyone was like “who’s the square?”, but he wasn’t a square, he was actually a revolutionary romantic. That approach to dress influences me. Courtney Love, too – I like those little girly dresses she used to wear, but she was like a tiger wearing those dresses. I don’t like when those cutesy dresses are put in a cutesy frame and everything is rosy. Because inside, everything is not rosy for everyone. I like the broken doll personality.
That kind of reminds me of the characters Anna Karina plays in Godard’s movies.
Laura Sfez: Yes – broken doll, totally. She’s always suffering, there’s a sense of tragedy. But it’s important to embrace that truth of tragedy in life. I’ve always resented the antiseptic attitudes that a lot of people have towards tragedy. I don’t like to hide my emotions – I think there’s so much beauty in that broken part of a personality, and it marries the feminine aspect of my designs so well. That’s what gives them charm.
You have an interesting dialogue between Paris and Los Angeles in your designs. How has Paris in particular influenced you?
Laura Sfez: I find the whole experience of Paris to be influencing. It’s all art – the cobblestones, the buildings, the boutiques, everything. But when I go there I often find influence on small things, like a ribbon, for example. Or I’ll see a font on a piece of architecture that I like. I’m obsessed with French lingerie, so I always like going to lingerie stores in Paris to find influence for designs. Parisian girls too – they dress very androgynous these days. It’s all about the moto jacket and jeans with boots. It’s not overtly feminine, but I guess that is the new feminine. My mother’s always dressed like that – she’s always been like a cross between Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin together. That French approach to femininity has long influenced me – skirts and suits alike.
How did you come to choose “L’Ecole des Femmes” as your brands name, then?
Laura Sfez: So Ecole Des Femmes is a play by Moliere that I first read in high school. Translated, it means “school for wives”. I liked that phrase but wanted to play on it a little for a clothing concept, so I changed it to “L’Ecole des Femmes”, meaning “the school of women”. I wanted to create a female fashion label like a club or institution. There isn’t one kind of woman that you can be – there are so many different facets to our gender. The only thing a woman always has to be is fun; there’s no boring women in the L’Ecole des Femmes club. So it’s just like a million different cinematic characters that have come back through my contemporary lens. That’s why I insist on incorporating a lot of video into its supporting visual. It allows people to see it in its own life.
How do you approach your videography then, especially for social media platforms?
Laura Sfez: When I started out the brand, I didn’t model for my stuff. But with time, I began to incorporate myself into the brand, and I felt exhilarated. I now love to perform the characters that I create – especially through video. If you’re into music, you get to infuse that too, and that gives you more feelings than a photo. So I quickly became addicted to video. I started off doing it with my sister because she had a really cool camera. When I learned to edit totally by myself, the videos became weirder and weirder. I don’t take it too seriously, I just play. It’s make believe and I have lots of fun. Charlie Chaplin used to photograph himself and edit and stuff.
So you’re like a modern female Charlie Chaplin then?
Laura Sfez: I wish! He’s brilliant. But I am independent, I guess. A lot of people take influence from L’Ecole des Femmes, and not for niche reasons. It’s good to find influence from integrity. It’s about staying true to that your whole life and never selling out. If you have a vision for what you love in life, simply follow it. That’s how I view clothing – I love simplicity and anything that stands the test of time.
So what’s the latest piece that you’ve been working on for the brand?
Laura Sfez: I have a collaboration coming out soon with Kat Von D – we’re doing a simple goth dress together which is coming out really soon. We’ve known each other for years – she’s wonderful. She has a very powerful light and is a genuinely happy person. It makes me feel really good to be collaborating with a woman like that. I’ve rarely met anyone like her. We appreciate each other for the same reasons, like the fact that we’re both crazy and eccentric in our own way.
Exciting. So where do you see L’Ecole des Femmes travelling to in the future?
Laura Sfez: I hope that it can go on forever. The classics that always do well – like the “oui” t shirt, for example – I keep going. Whatever people like, I keep going. I’m actually in the process of teaching myself guitar, so I hope to translate that into new t-shirts, too. I’m changing one of the shapes to something softer with more of a vintage seventies fall as opposed to a totally fitting form. So for the future, I’ll be reminding people to have fun and rebel like they do in rock ‘n’ roll. I’m lost in that world!
Follow Laura Sfez on Instagram: @lecoledesfemmes