Fashion All The Rage

Sandro and the new French contemporary fashion wave in L.A.

Like Vince, Joie and A.L.C.? Meet their French cousins Sandro, Maje and Iro.

Los Angeles, birthplace of some of America’s most successful contemporary fashion labels, is seeing a new wave of brands from Paris opening stores with their own French take on affordable luxury.

One such brand is Sandro, which made its presence known in Los Angeles last week by hosting a star-studded bash at the Chateau Marmont on Thursday night to celebrate two new stores, one on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills, and the other in the Beverly Center.

Emmy Rossum, Emma Roberts, Jaimie King, Hilary Rhoda and others dined under the stars by the pool, before the dance party started with music by DJ Chris Holmes and alt-rock act Polica.

For those who don’t know (and that even included some of the people elbowing their way into Bungalow 3 for the party), Sandro is a trendy-casual brand that was founded in Paris in 1984 by Evelyne Chetrite. Her younger sister, Judith Milgrom, worked with her for 12 years before launching her own label, Maje, in 1999, which is owned by the same group — SMCP — which stands for Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot.  

If Sandro is more tomboyish and street edgy, Maje is more glamorous, sexy and resort chic. And now the two brands have stores nearly side-by-side on Beverly Boulevard.

In the store now at Sandro, you’ll find zip-front skater dresses ($375), zip-around leather jackets ($855), python printed jeans ($315), oversized fringed cardigans ($315) and black Birkenstock-like sandals decorated with rivets ($415).

At Maje, it’s about Moroccan-flavored pink palm printed T-shirts ($220), chain-trim cardigan jackets ($515) and lace-trimmed maxi-dresses ($415).

Prices for most items from both brands are less than $1,000.

Sandro has 350 stores worldwide, 15 of them in the U.S., as well as selling in Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom.

“Los Angeles suits us perfectly because the city is casual, feminine and sporty like the brand,” Chetrite said over coffee on a recent Thursday afternoon.

Chetrite launched the label in 1984 with a handful of patchwork bohemian dresses. Back then, France was the land of haute couture and haute cuisine, and starting a lifestyle label in the middle was pretty revolutionary.

Now that the world has gone casual and high-low is the modern mode of dressing, there are a number of French contemporary brands expanding internationally at wholesale and retail, including Zadig & Voltaire, which has two stores in L.A., The Kooples, which recently signed a lease on Robertson Boulevard, and Iro, coming later this spring to Beverly Boulevard.  

“There were two lives for the Sandro brand,” Chetrite explained. “The first was wholesale, and then in 2007 we started opening our own retail stores. What we created was a new business model for France, the positioning of a contemporary brand between the high end and the mass market, which was something new in Europe and new for a French brand internationally.”

Chetrite herself, like most women, dresses in a mix of high and low, Celine and Sandro on the day we met. “The Sandro woman is a working woman. She is 30 — or she wants to look 30. The clothes are designed to be wearable,” she said.

Undoubtedly for Americans, part of the appeal of Sandro, Maje, and other French contemporary brands is that they are French, which connotes a certain cool at any price point. “That’s part of it,” says Chetrite, whose design studio is in the Marais district of Paris. “But besides the French touch, I hope there is something else we bring.”

The future certainly looks bright for Sandro, which is now more American than ever. Last year the New York-based private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. bought 65% of the SMCP Group.

And after a $450-million turnover in 2013, the group has a $1-billion goal for 2014, according to Fabio Mancone, head of global branding and business development strategy for SMCP, who recently joined Sandro after years at Giorgio Armani. There are plans to expand in China, and further into the U.S.

The next local store opening? A Sandro outlet coming in August to Desert Hills Premium Outlets.

A party at the Chateau, a gaggle of celebrity fans and its own outlet store? Now the brand has truly arrived in America.

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booth.moore@latimes.com

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