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(French) Anne Fontaine, a Franco-Brazilian fashion designer, entrepreneur, businesswoman and philanthropist, was born on November 1st, 1971 and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Anne designed her first collection in 1993. Her taste for the natural is clearly expressed in her white shirt, to which she has attempted to bring new faces and unforeseen levels of diversity to the fashion industry.

She is now known as the “queen of the white shirt.” Thanks to her, the white shirt is now definitely a staple in women’s wardrobes as a key piece. What began as a collection of just white shirts has grown into a lifestyle brand offering a full collection of tops, bottoms, outerwear, knits, accessories, handbags, a home fragrance collection and an exclusive cosmetic skin-care line.

Anne Fontaine opened her first store in the Rive Gauche section of Paris in 1994. Since then, she has expanded to over 85 boutiques worldwide, including flagship stores in Paris and New York. In 2011, Anne Fontaine launched her environmental philanthropic charity “The Anne Fontaine Foundation.” Anne Fontaine / The Anne Fontaine Foundation

The Anne Fontaine Foundation

AWP: Your career has evolved into a seamless combination of two passions: your fashion brand of women’s clothing and accessories, and your commitment to nature conservation, especially the Atlantic Forest. How did these projects unfold?

AF: Both fashion and the environment has always been important to me. I became a designer, but I have always been dedicated to protecting our planet and making sure to leave a healthy and sustainable environment for future generations. Earlier in my career, I participated in the protection of whales and the promotion of eco-friendly materials in my company. In 2011, I decided to commit myself to the long-term goal of setting up a Foundation for the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest.

AWP: What made you so passionate about the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest in Southern Bahia?

AF: I was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, and I spent the first 20 years of my life in Brazil. I have always felt very passionate about the tropical forest. As a teenager, I discovered the forest and I learned to appreciate its riches and virtues. I had the opportunity to share in the lifestyle of a South-American Indian tribe and since that experience, I have connected deeply with nature and I have committed myself to protecting the environment. Even after moving to France I kept personal ties with the region of Southern Bahia and the Atlantic Rainforest. I used to spend several weeks in this region where the forest is extraordinary. It is for me a source of joy and peace. Today I want to give back to this forest and I wish to help restore what has been lost by centuries of deforestation. 

AWP: Every year, on Forest Day, November 17, 50% of the proceeds from all sales in the 85 Anne Fontaine stores worldwide will be donated to the Anne Fontaine Foundation. The Foundation’s aim is to encourage reforestation and to concentrate its financial resources specifically on the protection of the Atlantic Rainforest in Brazil, also known as the “Matâ Atlantica.” How do the efforts of reforestation reach people at the local level? At the global level?

AF: The Foundation aims to raise environmental awareness by associating local people with reforestation projects to supplement their income and provide them with environmental education. This is done through the involvement of local farmers who provide our partners with seedlings, and through the promotion of training initiatives related to environmental conservation and sustainable development. At a more global level, the Foundation spreads awareness on environmental issues through its social media, and fights on an international scale through global events such as Forest Day.

AWP: The Anne Fontaine Foundation takes part in the “Plant a Billion Trees Campaign,” of the UNEP (United Nations’ Environmental Program), established in 1972 as the voice of the United Nations for the environment. What are the objectives of this program? Which forests are targeted? Who participates. 

AF: The Billion Trees Campaign was launched by the United Nations Environmental Program in order to encourage reforestation at a global level, through the planting of a billion trees. To this day, more than 12,000,000,000 trees have been planted, and the goal has been set to 14,000,000,000 per country. This effort is worldwide and all forests are targeted. Individuals and organizations or entities can participate in the program by entering pledges to plant trees.

AWP: Billions of plastic bags each year are used in the world and most of them are neither re-used nor recycled. You created the EcoBag in the spirit of curbing this waste trend, while supporting Anne Fontaine Foundation’s reforestation projects. Tell us about the EcoBag. How did it come about?

AF: The EcoBag was designed solely for the benefit of the Foundation, and profits from its sales are donated to fund its reforestation projects. It is partly made of recycled plastic bottles (100% PET) and is recyclable.

AWP: On each Forest Day, the Foundation collaborates with artists whose work is inspired by nature or produced with recycled materials. This year, two French artists have collaborated in order to create a tree that will decorate the Anne Fontaine store windows. Who are the artists?

AF: The two French artists that collaborated with us for Forest Day are Charles Macaire and Patricia Gueyrard. Charles Macaire was originally trained as an engineer. After graduating from the Ecole Supérieure d’Optique, he worked at the CNRS on the fabrication of spatial astronomy mechanisms. After a career-changing meeting with members of the International Origami Research Center (CRIMP), he was introduced to paper-folding and trained by Patricia. Charles Macaire established his own artisanal company, Charlot & Cie, in 2004. Specializing in the fabrication of lamps and random decorative items made with creased paper, Charlot & Cie’s activities are shared between France and Morocco.

Patricia Gueyrard has been folding paper for more than 30 years. Passionate about paper and folding, she is a dynamic member in this unique artistic community. She is both a member of the MFPP (French Movement for Paper-Folders) and a founding member of the CRIMP. Since its creation in 2001, Patricia has participated in many of the CRIMP’s research projects and activities.

AWP: When you started the Anne Fontaine Foundation, what was the most effective thing for you to learn?

AF: The most effective thing I have learned so far is to remain dedicated to the cause I am striving to defend and to surround myself with an equally motivated team. Despite being a small organization, all of us are very passionate about protecting the environment and this is how we make a difference. 

Fashion

AWP: What was your first exposure to fashion? How did your interest in fashion unfold?

AF: I have been fascinated with designing my own clothing since I was a child. From an early age my grandmother taught me how to sew.

AWP: In 1993, you “got into fashion” and launched the very first Anne Fontaine collection of white shirts—entirely for women. You were twenty-two years old. What inspired you to a life and career in this industry? What influenced this vision?

AF: I came to design my own brand of white shirts by accident. I moved to France when I was 18 to study biology and never imagined I would become a fashion designer. My husband’s family owned a shirt factory in the early 1990’s. The decision to start our own brand was mostly to preserve the artisans in France. The concept of all white began one day when I went into my mother-in-law’s attic to look for something. I came across an old trunk where I found only white shirts that my husband’s family had produced for other brands. I had a flash and from that moment I knew we had to create white shirts only! It made so much sense for me as my love for white comes from my homeland of Brazil where white is the color of happiness.

AWP: How did the white shirt become the theme of your early work?

AF: The white shirt is timeless and elegant. While trends continue to evolve the white shirt remains constantly represented.

AWP: Your first store opened in 1994. Why was this the right time to open your store? Did you feel a need to share a particular time and place for women in the style of the day?

AF: During this time there were no brands that focused just on the white shirt and it was clear to me that this was a perfect opportunity to launch my own collection of white shirts.

AWP: You have a method of sculpting your creations directly on the mannequin, placing the fabric without cutting. For other models, it starts with a sketch; a dress, perhaps, reduced to a top. What effect are you striving for with that technique?

AF: The process shows my pattern makers the details and volume that I want to achieve and allows them to translate the design into a paper pattern in a precise way. When I sculpt directly on my body, I sit in front of a mirror. I ask my assistant to take a picture of me to capture the shape when it is pinned to my body.

AWP: Your designs have had a huge impact on women’s fashion. The evolution of your brand can be tracked through the diversity of what you offer: tops, outerwear, knits, handbags, belts, jewelry and now homewear. What do you think it is about your designs that make women connect with them in such a powerful way?

AF: Beyond being a designer I am also a businesswoman, wife and mother. I connect to women because I can relate to women. Fashion is not only a form of expression but also something you live in. I understand what makes a woman feel powerful, sexy and comfortable in her everyday life.

AWP: My first Anne Fontaine white shirts were purchased in 2000, in Paris. Since then, my wardrobe has become filled with white shirts galore, as well as tops, knits, belts and jewelry. There is a feminine sweep to the lines of your clothes that articulate an elongated torso, the extension of the arms, an elegant swan-like neck — all exquisitely proportioned, framing a woman’s features. The clothes are as beautiful on a woman when she is standing still and even more elegant when she moves. What is this allure?

AF: Everything looks great with a beautifully fitted white blouse. It can suit any woman’s style and allow her to make it completely her own.

AWP: What do you think is a woman’s greatest asset? What is the second?

AF: A woman’s greatest asset is her confidence. The second is how she embodies that confidence.

AWP: How do you define style? How do you express your own style?

AF: Style is being fashionable while still maintaining your own identity.

AWP: What is it about women and fashion?

AF: Fashion is the most effective way to express who you are and is an avenue to translate your confidence.

AWP: Name the single book or movie, work of art or music, fashion or cuisine that has inspired you. 

AF: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey has been an excellent tool in building my professional and personal character.

Cuisine

AWP: Tell me about your cooking and eating habits and traditions.

AF: I always bring something homemade. It is always organic and I always eat loads of vegetables from my garden. I also have a farm where I raise sheep and chickens.

AWP: What is your most memorable meal to date?

AF: My most memorable meals are the ones I cook with my daughters. We love to pick the vegetables from the garden and cook a delicious meal as a family. 

Acknowledgements: We are grateful to the following people for helping to make this interview possible: Anne Fontaine, founder of Anne Fontaine and The Anne Fontaine Foundation; Christina Ramirez-Madisson, Marketing Communications Manager Anne Fontaine USA; Hicham Sbaa, English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor at the American Language Center in Marrakech, Morocco, writer and translator for A Woman’s Paris; Bénédicte Mahé, student in cultural management in philanthropy for cultural institutions, writer and translator, and French advisor for A Woman’s Paris; Natalie Ehalt, Lead teacher at Joyce Bilingual Preschool in Minneapolis, MN, and senior editorial manager, writer and advisor to A Woman’s Paris.

You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, Ballet Flats in Paris: And God made Repetto, by Barbara Redmond who shares what she got from a pair of flats purchased in a ballet store in Paris; a feline, natural style from the toes up, a simple pair of shoes that transformed her whole look. Including the vimeos “Pas de Deux Coda,” by Opening Ceremony and “Repetto,” by Repetto, Paris.

Vive La Femme: In defense of cross-cultural appreciation. Kristin Wood finds Francophiles around the world divided about Paul Rudnick’s piece entitled “Vive La France” in the New Yorker magazine. As is often the case with satire, there is a layer of truth to the matter that is rather unsettling. Including comments from readers worldwide.

In search of the perfect Moroccan slipper, by Lisa Rounds who tells of her adventures in the North African neighborhood of Barbès in Paris searching for the perfect slipper in red, of course, for a Cosmo photo shoot. Her story of “living the dream,” working for a publishing company in Paris. 

A Woman’s Paris — Elegance, Culture and Joie de Vivre

We are captivated by women and men, like you, who use their discipline, wit and resourcefulness to make their own way and who excel at what the French call joie de vivre or “the art of living.” We stand in awe of what you fill into your lives. Free spirits who inspire both admiration and confidence.

Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening. — Coco Chanel (1883 – 1971)

Text copyright ©2012 Anne Fontaine. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.
barbara@awomansparis.com

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