Meet The Inspiration Behind Aurélie, The Home of Chic French Clothing
We caught up with Lucy Robinson to find out how her passion for French fashion has become a successful business, and what exactly it is that gives Aurélie a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’
What inspired you to set up Aurélie?
Six years ago I set up my own travel PR agency and was doing pretty well, then obviously Covid hit and pretty much all of my clients left within weeks of the pandemic starting. I found it really, really hard because the business that I’ve built on my own over six years disintegrated within the space of 14 days. Then I just sort of had this moment where I thought ‘actually I’d really love to sell French clothes – it was just an idea that kept nibbling away at me.
What is the concept behind the brand?
The concept is effortless, everyday style, so it’s about making the everyday feel special. I would say my target market is late 20s up to 65, but we’ve had customers that are in their 70s so it’s really inclusive. It’s a curated edit so it’s about choosing pieces which work for the British figure because the way French women dress is different to how British women do. It’s about educating people about French style but I’m really strict on the quality, and I’m not just going to sell anything. Essentially, if I wouldn’t wear it, or if I didn’t think it was good enough quality, it doesn’t go on the Aurélie website.
Obviously the premise is that it all comes from France and I’m very transparent in that I’m not designing, I’m sourcing through French suppliers with items coming from Paris. I go to France and buy just before the season starts so it’s a very different business model to the traditional fashion setup. I only stock limited quantities as well as it’s all self-funded. I’m reinvesting into stock all the time. Once it’s gone, it’s gone and my customers actually really like that because if they get a piece, they feel like they’re getting something a little bit exclusive.
What makes you different compared to other brands?
I don’t really know of anyone else doing something similar to this. I’m bringing clothes that you would buy in an independent boutique in France to the UK market. It’s very authentic in that I have lived in France and worked in fashion in France so I would like to think I have a fairly good understanding when it comes to French fashion, but then obviously making it work and thinking about my audience. Simple things like British women have a bigger bust than French women. So French women would often wear dresses without a bra and therefore would have a lower back, whereas that doesn’t work for our figure because British women need to wear a bra so therefore wouldn’t want to have their straps showing. It’s always about thinking that’s a great piece but is it going to work for the UK figure?
Also each piece might come from a separate showroom meaning they’re all sized differently so I then do the sizing myself. I have a friend that’s an 8, I’m a 10, I’ve got a friend that’s a 12 and my mum’s a 14, so I get all the stock out and get everyone to try it on. I’m actually doing the sizing on real women which I think is really, really important. At the same time, items are sized up depending on what that garment is. For example, if an item comes up really big and I think it would swamp a size eight I’ll just say it starts at 10 otherwise it just wouldn’t look right. It’s just about being really honest.
Also it is literally just me at the moment, I am a complete one-man band. I’m packing orders, I’m doing social media, I’m doing press, I’m doing everything that you can imagine. But that means customer service is really important to me. People message me on social media so we’ve got this personal dialogue going on and I’m having real connections and relationships with my customers. My retention of customers over the last year has just been incredible. It’s almost like they’re becoming obsessed. I see the same names come up again and again. It also works well around my daughter as she’s only three and a half at the moment, so I often pack orders once she’s gone to bed. It’s actually ironically way more work than my PR company but it’s nice not to be restricted by those hours. It’s different but I’m really happy, really enjoying it, and glad I did it.
You talk about creating timeless looks rather than following fast fashion – is sustainability important to you?
Yes, totally. It’s all about timeless looks, it’s definitely not about being fashionable. It obviously ties in with French style, so I’m thinking about what is the curated capsule French wardrobe and it always is like a white shirt or an interesting blouse, a simple skirt, a blazer. There are kind of key things. Obviously Bretons, I mean they’re the iconic French staple. So it’s all about creating that kind of capsule wardrobe.
Another part of the sustainability angle is that I’m only buying small quantities so I don’t have any waste. Once something’s sold out, it’s sold out, I’m not going to be left with loads of stock and not know what to do with it. For packaging I’m using FSC, all my cards and swing tags are sustainable. It’s recycled plastic mailer bags that are going out. I’m going to get some cotton bags made for when people come and shop in Harrogate. So where possible I’m implementing sustainability. Obviously I’m buying from French suppliers so to be completely transparent I’m not in control of that, but where I can be I am.
Tell us about the collections you have just launched.
So there’s the pre-spring and spring collections which are out at the moment. They include a selection of blouses with lovely florals and starred appliqués, as well as classic white shirts. I’ve got my first blazer because I’ve managed to source one that I feel is good enough quality and right in styling – it’s oversized, sort of longer line, really cool and that’s been really popular. I’ve got little knitted tops, so rather than T-shirts, which you can get anywhere, I’m doing more interesting knits that you can dress up or down. For spring there are also lovely dresses and Liberty print-style florals that you could wear with a pair of trainers or espadrilles, as well as some lovely full skirts.
We want everything to fit seamlessly into your existing wardrobe. You don’t have to change the way you dress to have something from Aurélie. Everything will basically go with a pair of jeans or go with your favourite pair of trousers, so it’s about easy dressing but making you feel special at the same time.
You’re taking on studio space at Windsor House – tell us more about that.
Until now I’ve been doing appointments at home and people have been loving that, but obviously doing it all in my house is difficult. So that’s what’s driven me to get a working showroom, studio space at Windsor House.
It will be by appointment, and you can either come on your own or with friends, whatever you feel comfortable with. There’ll be a changing room within the showroom, and basically it will be my showroom-slash-studio, so if people want to ask questions I can explain and talk them through the pieces. Meanwhile, there’ll also be all the photography set-up and packing stations, so people will also be able to see behind-the-scenes of how a fashion brand works. I think that’s the way retail is going anyway, it’s all about experience.
Also people want transparency now. They want to feel like they’re part of the process and the way my brand’s grown over the last year I’ve taken them on the journey with me. I literally started off by taking selfies on my iPhone and putting them online because I didn’t have any money for models, to then telling my followers ‘Guys, I’m going on shoots, I’m getting models’ and people are so happy to see the brand growing.
What’s your most popular product?
Any form of Breton is popular. Over the winter I had a Breton jumper that I called it the Aurélie jumper because it sort of epitomised the brand, and that was so popular. Then cream or white blouses that have interesting details whether that’s broderie Anglaise or an interesting cut. It’s timeless, classic, slightly minimal items, yet still pieces that are a little bit prettier and more feminine.
What are your hopes for the future of Aurélie?
I’ll be honest, I have no idea. I’m just rolling with it and seeing what happens. But I would love to design and manufacture. From the point of view that I could then have more sizing and have control of the supply chain which is an amazing long-term goal. I’m still not sure if I would want a physical retail store and the reason I don’t know is because I kind of feel like the high street and bricks and mortar is changing all the time. If I did do it, I’d want to put a French-inspired café into it so that ladies could have a coffee and a croissant with girlfriends before taking a look at clothes in the boutique. That would be wonderful. But right now I’m just so happy to be starting with my showroom space.
What is your favourite thing about living and working Yorkshire?
The people. I’m originally from here, and coming back after 15 years you realise everyone’s just so friendly. You go to walk your dog through Valley Gardens and you make loads of friends, it’s incredible. Also the support that I’ve had has just been phenomenal and I swear if I’d set up in London it wouldn’t be the same.
Showroom shopping appointments will take place at Windsor House, Cornwall Road, Harrogate HG1 2PW. For details on how to book an appointment visit aurelie.co.uk