Why The ‘French Girl’ Is Worth a Billion Dollars (And How Your Brand Can Be Too)
When I say ‘French Girl’ what comes to mind?
For me, it’s the book Love, Style, Life.
I saw this book crop up on a thousand Instagram photos before I, too, decided that it was the perfect prop. Once purchased, I thought it would be novel to actually read said book.
For the uninitiated, Love, Life, Style is a book written by Garance Doré.
I’d always been aware, of course, of French ‘style’. Casual yet elegant, red lipstick, stripes and jeans, not too revealing but endlessly captivating nevertheless.
However, I have to admit, reading this book was the first time it really struck me just how much a particular niche of people yearned for it. It wasn’t just a style, it wasn’t just about the food, or the love of Coco Chanel quotes.
It was about the life
Then suddenly, like noticing a corner shop in a hometown that has been there forever and you’ve never entered, I started seeing ‘The French Girl” everywhere.
Brigitte Bardot themed playlists on Spotify, the art of ‘shopping like a French Women’ in Fast Company, how to dress, exerciseand date like a French women. This woman who is intensely stylish, without putting in any effort at all, who ostentatiously does not care about diets but nevertheless remains nothing short of off-duty model stature and ages whilst remaining completely timeless.
She must, of course, have her signature scent. Whilst never snobbish enough to claim to be a wine expert, a glass might be in her hand at a laid back but completely chic gathering. Gathering, not party – that connotes planning and effort. No, French women roll out of bed, effortlessly and arrive without pre-arranged appointment at gatherings which no one RSVP’d to.
Admittedly when you put all of these ‘French women’ tropes together, the image becomes less and less reasonably attainable. Nonetheless, the French woman has power over us.
Billions of dollars worth of power.
From iconic French brands such as Coco Chanel to French style icons Birkin to Bardot and even those brands that are simply just borrowing the reflected glow of French glamour, La Garçonne and Agent Provocateur spring to mind, all of them inspired by the French Girl in one way or another.
So how is this relevant to your business?
Especially if you don’t have a French connection to speak of and nor are you interested in your brand becoming another purveyor of said French lifestyle. Or, even more elusive, you’d love to be a French Girl brand but simply jumping on the minimalism style trend and rolling out the Chanel quotes doesn’t seem to be making any headway.
Many people have tried to break down the allure of the French Girl. Words like chic and sophisticated are thrown around. There’s also a hint of sexuality present, from the appeal of Bridget Bardot to the aforementioned Agent Provocateur.
Personally, I am compelled by the idea of ‘effortless’ and understated beauty. That is a tale as old as time: how do I achieve a thing, with the minimal amount of effort on my part.
For a business, looking to capitalise on these traits, it might be difficult to just pull one or more of these attributes out. Much like tugging at a single thread that unravels the whole garment, it seems that just taking a bit here and a bit there rather fails to capture the allure.
Especially when so many of these attributes seem so contradictory. Agent Provocateur, for example, seems to be, if not world’s away, from a very different neighbourhood than French Girl Organics. Yet, they clearly seem to have that same, almost unidentifiable, feel in common.
Something we can hardly call ‘Frenchness’, especially given that on some level we all know that these traits are not something that all French people are all naturally born with and that actually all French women spring out into the world with perfectly messy bangs and a bank account big enough to have an understated ‘investment’ piece to go with every laid back outfit. As far as I am aware.
So, what is it that all these brands, despite selling different things and targeting different customer needs, have in common? More to the point, what is it exactly they have in common that is making them into multi-million dollars companies?
What Do You Feel?
There may be many convincing answers to that question, but for me it’s all about the ‘feel’ of a brand. This is something we find hard to put into concrete terms, we might say elegant, or chic, or French and you would understand what I mean.
However when it comes to translating it into your own brand, how do you do so when you can’t put your finger on ‘exactly’ what it is?
And this is why when we look at brands we admire and we try to emulate them in order to be successful, it often fails. Or, at least is not the success we want it to be.
Because you emulate all the things you can see. The layout of the website, a style of cut, a way of marketing. Whilst all of these things help contribute to the feel of a brand, none of them can do so by themselves or taken out of context.
Branding as a discipline that is all about feeling. From your copy to your colour palette, you are trying to make an emotional connection with your audience.
Back in the day, it might have been good enough to be the best, or the first company to do something. Even now we are told that we need to have a unique selling point. Which is completely true, we absolutely need to differentiate ourselves from everyone else.
But man, it’s hard right? It seems like everyone is selling what you are selling. Even if it’s not exactly the same thing, it seems like your market is just flooded with people and you are drowning in the noise.
Connecting on an emotional level with your customer? Is it 100% necessary? Maybe not. But it’s smart.
Less Eat, Pray, Love
When I say connect on an emotional level, I don’t necessarily mean in a personal way.
Naturally, when we think about connection on an emotional level, we might think about how we communicate with our audience. About how we can write heartfelt emails, how to really serve their needs, how we can connect more on social media.
These are all great things to do and they are important.
But for the new brand founder, it’s all about balance and scalability.
In the beginning the personal touch is vital. Most sales comes from true, one to one, in person conversations. The trust, the refining of your idea, the getting feedback, making those initial business partnerships and getting into the manufacturing. This often comes from selling to friends, family, friends of friends and then branching out.
But once you start to scale, you need to learn the art of creating emotional connections with your customers at scale. Remember, you are not your brand.
Even a personal brand, is still a brand. It’s not 100% you and nor should it be.
It’s important to have that boundary.
You can make personal connections with peoples still, of course and you will need to.
But your brand also needs to make personal connections with people. And don’t forget, your brand is going to make a lot more connections that you, personally, will ever be able to.
Which brings us back to our French Girl.
What is it about that persona that makes it a billion dollar industry?
The Lover Archetype
To my mind, one of the reasons why the French Girl persona is so effective is because it is almost completely a perfect embodiment of The Lover archetype.
For those who are not acquainted with archetype, or archetypes in branding, let me give you a quick crash course.
Jung and The Archetypes
Stories resonate with us. I’m sure I don’t need to convince you of this fact.
Books and films and theatre have the capability to make us laugh and cry. For fans to obsess, create art, write their own stories and create passionate online communities.
As you know, we live in an age where pretty much every product, service, course and ideas are already out there. Products are no longer sold on whether they are the ‘best’ on the market, or, indeed, the ‘only’ product in the market.
It was in 1983 where Paul Hawken claimed that “meaning” was starting to take on more significance than “mass”. Which makes sense, after all, how many purchases do we make because it ‘feels’ right – rather than simply on the base of factual pros and cons? Maybe all of them.
By using these timeless archetypes to tap into these feelings, we can ensure we are building a brand that will inspire our audiences, connect with them and with stand the test of time. These aren’t gimmicks, tricks or marketing tools of the day. This is human psychology and psyche that as been observed since antiquity.
Anthropologists and mythologist alike see the same themes, situations and stories played out through both time and through geographical space. Indeed Joseph Campbell believed that all myths throughout the world as the same expression of the inner emotions and journeys of all humankind. Dr Pearson believes this is because archetypes reflect our realities and struggles. Whilst the external factors and situations may change, in the essentials, the journey remains the same.
In this way Margret Mark and Carol Pearson believe that the understanding of archetypes can help lead us to the missing link which marketing and science has so far being unable to give us. This is , what is the missing link between customer motivation and sales? The link between customer motivation and product meaning.
Archetypes have recurred through history, from the Greek myths to the Bible. In Jung’s belief, these archetypes represent the most basic and timeless of human desires.
By tapping into these most base emotions, Pearson believes that we can create products which tap into these desires and trigger a sense of recognition and meaning to our customers. If we understand these needs and desires, we can build products which will act as mediating function between the need and the fulfilment of that need. Making for very happy customers indeed.
When it comes to branding specifically, Jung’s archetypes have been expanded into twelve.
Of relevance to us, in this particular case, is the Lover
The Lover Archetype
Accordingly to archetypal lore, the Lover persona’s core desire to attain intimacy and their goal is to build relationships with people, work, experiences and the surroundings that they love.
And the biggest Lover Brand?
Seamstress, cabaret singer, mistress to a wealthy playboy. There is a no doubt a certain romance to the story.
But this is not all flowing gowns and romantic pinks.
Chanel dressed to shock. Bucking standards, trends and using menswear to inspire her women’s lines.
The Lover archetype is not simply about love, romantically, at least. But also about aesthetics.
It’s about the senses, about ambience, about savouring perfectly balanced flavours in a dish, enjoying the complexity of a musical score or the scent of fresh flowers.
The Lover fears being a wallflower and is often engaged in acts of self-improvement. Although many cosmetic and beauty companies take on the Lover persona, it is not about creating a superficial transformation. It is about the products better reflecting and enhancing the truth of your character.
As Griffin-Grimes, Founder of French Girl Cosmetics was quoted as saying in a recent Racked interview: “We’re not French girls just because we think being French is cool, which it is,” she says “We’re French girls because we’re on a mission to promote self-love and self-care. I think that really is at the heart of it.”
At the end of the day, the Lover archetype yearns for a deeper connection. This is where you can see the French Girl brands converge, irregardless of what the product is they are selling.
The most powerful of them offer a deeper connection to self. Whether that is through self-care, a la French Girl Organics, sensually, as per Agent Provocateur or through creating the best connection between our inner selves and our outward projection, as in the case of our Lover fashion houses.
So sure, it’s about effortless style, loving beautiful things, aesthetics and signature perfumes.
But’s at it’s core it’s about connection. To ourselves and to others.
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