MaisonCléo, a French design house that’s grown organically on social media thanks to its stylishly quirky yet timelessly chic style, has made waves in the industry during summer 2021. Thanks to a published receipt that detailed exactly how much it cost the brand to produce a piece of garment (the news were picked up by no other than Vanity Fair), fans of MaisonCléo were given another reason to love family-run label that’s championing not only sustainability but also (the much-feared) transparency.
Speaking to Marie Dewet, the designer and one half of the founders of MaisonCléo (the family firm was founded by Dewet and her seamstress mother, Nathalie Dewet), I find out more about the journey of the young brand as well as their goal of making fashion the “old-fashioned” way.
Angela Lei (AL): Tell us a bit about yourselves! We can’t wait to learn more about how MaisonCléo was founded.
Marie Dewet (MD): I did all my internships in fashion during my studies and I was shocked by what I saw, even from French brands or well-known brands. I really saw all the backstages during these experiences and the way the clothes were made. The fabrics used (mainly synthetics, and synthetic fabrics are really not expensive) or the big margins brands made have made me want to stop buying from brands I used to wear. After this [experience] I only wanted to wear clothes that were locally produced, in good fabrics and well-made (not cut by machines but by someone real) but I couldn’t find any brands like this I could afford because they belonged to the luxury sector. So I asked my mother, who has always been a professional seamstress, to make my clothes. I bought some silk fabrics, drew some pieces and she made me exactly what I wanted. I then created an Instagram account, not even called “MaisonCléo” at the time, to post pictures of the clothes we were making together, and it appeared that more and more people were interested to buy these pieces, so we had to think about creating a brand’s name and a website to be able to sell our custom-handmade-to-order pieces. That’s how it started!
AL: As a young and small brand, MC has such a strong focus on sustainability and ethics — were you ever worried about the potential costs which may hinder your growth?
MD: Of course, as we make everything in our studio internally, everything including the T shirts etc. Our packaging, ribbons and cards are also made in recycled materials and locally in our neighborhood. I also found a local button production factory last year in our neighborhood — of course it has a price attached and we would be way more profitable if we would delocalize some things. Making each garment customized and to-order has a high cost, as we have to adapt each pattern before making every order. It’s a bit stressful, because I don’t want to raise our prices too much (even though our accountant said we should at least increase our prices by 20% or it will be difficult [for the business]), I want [to stay this way so] that the maximum number of people can afford a handmade-to-order in France process.
AL: How would you describe your design aesthetics and inspiration? How would you describe your own style?
MD: I don’t like to say I belong to one style. I love several styles. For me you don’t have to stay in a particular style but just simply wear what you want to wear, and feel good in your clothes, that’s the most important — regardless whether it “corresponds” to your own style or not. And this is what you can see on our pieces. When I look at our clothes racks at the studio, there is not so much coherence, we use all types of colors and fabrics. As we don’t produce any fabrics but buy from leftovers, I won’t know beforehand which styles of fabrics or which colors I will be able to get. So we make clothes with the fabrics we can find. All I can say is that I am obviously inspired by all the clothes that my grandmother has in her wardrobe (90% handmade by herself as she was a seamstress as well), and that reflects what we make at MaisonCléo, particularly for our love of big sleeves.
AL: How do you work as a mother/daughter duo and how do your roles differ?
MD: My mum is the seamstress and I take care of all the communication, marketing and design parts. I did communication and web studies and I have always been passionate about fashion and craftsmanship. I don’t know how to sew and I have never learnt. My mum can literally make anything from a pencil case to a wedding dress so I never feel the need (or even the patience) to learn. On the contrary, she would never know how to use Instagram or how to communicate, she doesn’t even speak English. I think having our own role is something that makes us stronger, because we have no choice but to trust each other.
AL: Why did you decide to publish the manufacturing costs of your garments? What message did you want to send out?
MD: Our first website launched in September 2017 and I already explained all the costs that were brought into each piece on each product’s page, as well as the time needed. The reason why I created this brand with my mum is because of what I have seen during my internship, and the prices you pay for a lot of brands were not worth it, so that’s why I wanted to detail all the costs. In June 2020, I decided to create a detailed printed receipt coming with each order, to really give people an idea about this. The way clothes are made has changed a lot for the last few decades and that totally changed people’s sensibilities on fashion production, and it’s so important that we need to speak about it — it’s not normal to find clothes at $10 or less. There are people behind the product and fashion is not a disposable good but a work that needs to last.
AL: Your designs are loved by girls all over Instagram. In your opinion, what’s the secret sauce for your success?
MD: I think what people love is the way they feel close to us because of our transparency and the way we show our process and try to educate people on this subject at the same time. I still manage all the social networks, posting videos every day of the pieces being made by us in our studio. All the pieces are made-to-order and can be custom-made to any measurements. Sometimes people tell me that they have the impression that their piece of clothing was made by someone in their family, as it’s a very “old school” way to make clothes.
AL: What’s next for MC and for you as founder/designer?
MD: I never like to think about the future as I just want to make things I like and show people that the handmade-in-France still exists. What I would love to do is to launch our first shoe line as well as bags. We are currently working on it and it’s not easy as all the factories that were still open a few years ago have now closed and have all been delocalized. But nothing will stop me in my goal of maintaining the true craftsmanship in fashion, how this should always be ;).
You can now purchase MaisonCléo pieces from the brand’s website at www.maisoncleo.com.