My Left Bank: How Sophie Mechaly’s Parisian Childhood Shaped the Paul & Joe Brand
My Left Bank: How Sophie Mechaly's Parisian Childhood Shaped the Paul & Joe Brand - A Bohemian Upbringing in Saint-Germain-des-Prés
Sophie Mechaly's free-spirited sensibility can be traced back to her artistic upbringing in the bohemian Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood of Paris. As the daughter of painter Zika Ascher and actress Sasha Gordine, creativity and nonconformity were woven into the fabric of her daily life from an early age.
Saint-Germain-des-Prés was the epicenter of intellectual and avant-garde culture in post-war Paris. Its winding cobblestone streets were filled with jazz clubs, cafés, and galleries that attracted famous artists, writers and musicians like Picasso, Hemingway, and Juliette Gréco. Mechaly grew up surrounded by this vibrant artistic community that valued beauty, originality and self-expression above all else.
Mechaly recalls her childhood as "very bohemian" and credits Saint-Germain-des-Prés as being hugely influential. "It was a very artistic neighborhood with painters, actors, and writers," she told Vogue. "For me, it was magical to grow up there."
This free-spirited upbringing encouraged Mechaly to think outside the box and pursue her creative passions without inhibition. She was given the freedom to explore her interests and develop a distinctive visual aesthetic from a young age. Her nonconformist parents supported her individuality.
The avant-garde spirit of Saint-Germain-des-Prés shaped Mechaly's approach to fashion as art. Just like the radical thinkers and artists who gathered there, she would later rebel against convention and establish her own set of rules. Her brand Paul & Joe channels the neighborhood's retro femininity and romantic whimsy that she was surrounded by growing up.
Mechaly's lifelong affinity for vintage fashion can also be attributed to the thrift stores and flea markets of bohemian Saint-Germain-des-Prés where she first discovered her love of style as a child. This early exposure to one-of-a-kind pieces and eclectic looks continues to inform her design aesthetic today.
What else is in this post?
- My Left Bank: How Sophie Mechaly's Parisian Childhood Shaped the Paul & Joe Brand - A Bohemian Upbringing in Saint-Germain-des-Prés
- My Left Bank: How Sophie Mechaly's Parisian Childhood Shaped the Paul & Joe Brand - Discovering Fashion at the Flea Markets
- My Left Bank: How Sophie Mechaly's Parisian Childhood Shaped the Paul & Joe Brand - Art School Dreams Realized at Studio Berçot
- My Left Bank: How Sophie Mechaly's Parisian Childhood Shaped the Paul & Joe Brand - Launching Her Eponymous Brand in 1995
- My Left Bank: How Sophie Mechaly's Parisian Childhood Shaped the Paul & Joe Brand - Channeling Retro Femininity with A Touch of Whimsy
- My Left Bank: How Sophie Mechaly's Parisian Childhood Shaped the Paul & Joe Brand - Expanding into Beauty with Her First Fragrance
My Left Bank: How Sophie Mechaly's Parisian Childhood Shaped the Paul & Joe Brand - Discovering Fashion at the Flea Markets
As a young girl wandering the flea markets of Paris, Sophie Mechaly first discovered her passion for fashion. These treasure troves overflowing with one-of-a-kind vintage pieces and accessories served as her introduction to imaginative styling and ignited a lifelong love for the art of assembling the perfect outfit.
The flea markets of Saint-Germain-des-Prés were a hub for artists, musicians, and nonconformists to congregate and trade goods. For the experimental Mechaly, they became a creative playground where she could piece together looks from the piles of clothing and accessories without rules or budgets holding her back. She delighted in giving new life to discarded garments and was fascinated by the stories that old fabrics held.
In the flea markets, Mechaly found inspiration not in the glossy pages of magazines, but in the shared experience of discovering beauty in forgotten objects. Fellow market-goers took pride in their discerning eye for hidden gems and their ability to transform cast-offs into prized possessions with a bit of mending or a clever pairing. Creativity was valued above all else.
Mechaly has reminisced, "I became passionate about second-hand markets and vintage clothes. I would customize old clothes, changing a dress into a skirt." This early introduction to upcycling and reconstructing fashion made a significant impression. Experimenting with the possibilities of a garment without limits encouraged Mechaly's resourcefulness and ingenuity as a designer.
The eclectic looks Mechaly assembled from flea market finds defied fashion norms and allowed self-expression without judgement. There was no right or wrong way to combine pieces - only endless creative potential waiting to be unlocked. Mechaly carried this spirit of boundless originality from her formative flea market days to the aesthetic of her own brand.
Paul & Joe's collections often play with retro inspirations but in unexpected ways. The line maintains the adventurousness and curiosity Mechaly first discovered as a girl exploring the stalls and barrels of Saint-Germain-des-Prés markets. She still views fashion as an experimental craft where pieces can be reshaped, patterns reimagined, and styles fused together in new and exciting ways.
My Left Bank: How Sophie Mechaly's Parisian Childhood Shaped the Paul & Joe Brand - Art School Dreams Realized at Studio Berçot
After discovering her passion for fashion as a child in the flea markets of Paris, Sophie Mechaly set her sights on attending the prestigious fashion design school Studio Berçot. For the aspiring young designer, being accepted to this exclusive art academy represented achieving her ultimate dream.
Founded in 1930 by Marie-Louise Fargue-Berçot, Studio Berçot quickly became renowned for its rigorous training techniques and for producing exceptional talents like Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, and Issey Miyake. Over the decades, admission to the school became highly competitive, with only about 100 students selected each year.
As a teenager, Mechaly spent months meticulously preparing her application to Studio Berçot. She put immense care into sketching original designs to showcase in her portfolio, wanting to prove her dedication to honing her raw talent. When the acceptance letter finally arrived, it marked a pivotal milestone in Mechaly's path to becoming a professional designer.
During her 3 years at Studio Berçot in the late 1970s, Mechaly thrived under the tutelage of instructors like the renowned Professor Marie Rucki. She learned invaluable skills like draping, pattern making, and garment construction while also being encouraged to refine her creative vision. The studio's hands-on approach and rigorous technical training provided Mechaly with the foundation necessary for translating her ideas into wearable pieces.
Fellow students remember Mechaly standing out for her playful femininity and penchant for romance. While other designers gravitated toward avant-garde minimalism, Mechaly pursued looks with decorative trims, delicate prints and whimsical details. Her soft and girlish aesthetic was unconventional at the time but true to her vision.
Studio Berçot fostered an environment where Mechaly could experiment freely and develop confidence in her design perspective. Surrounded by other passionate young artists, she found inspiration in reinterpreting vintage styles and challenging conventional taste. Mechaly has said her time at the school was “magic” and the most formative experience for finding her creative voice.
After graduating, Mechaly continued polishing her skills working under fashion legends like Dorothée Bis for Louis Féraud and Ted Lapidus. But the lessons in technique and originality she learned at Studio Berçot gave Mechaly the foundation for ultimately launching her own successful brand. When Paul & Joe debuted in 1995, Mechaly's distinct aesthetic vision honed during her art school days was evident.
My Left Bank: How Sophie Mechaly's Parisian Childhood Shaped the Paul & Joe Brand - Launching Her Eponymous Brand in 1995
After honing her skills at Paris fashion institutions like Studio Berçot, Sophie Mechaly was ready to introduce her feminine aesthetic to the world by launching her own brand. 1995 marked a pivotal moment when Mechaly established the label Paul & Joe, named partially after her two sons. While minimalism dominated fashion in the 90s, Mechaly forged her own path by staying true to her vision of romantic, retro-inspired designs.
Mechaly aimed to channel captivating femininity into Paul & Joe’s very first collection. She incorporated the vintage styles and decorative details she adored, like volumes of ruffles, delicate florals and lace trims. Her love for rural French fashion and the playful garments she enjoyed wearing as a child also influenced the line’s nostalgic aesthetic. Mechaly strove to evoke the lightheartedness of youth, saying she designed for the "girl in every woman."
While Mechaly’s soft, whimsical creations stood out among pared-back 90s styles, her clothes struck a chord with women who felt fashion had become too serious. She won over devotees who were drawn to the line’s sweet, ultra-feminine look with a subtle rebellious edge. Mechaly offered romantic blouses and skirts for the unconventional woman who still wanted to express her playful side through style.
Though Mechaly was initially unsure how her designs would be received, Paul & Joe rapidly attracted a loyal following of customers who fell for its vintage girlishness and impeccable tailoring. Within two years, the brand expanded from just a handful of stockists to over 100 stores. Mechaly’s unique perspective clicked with the sentiment of the times while maintaining an element of dreamy timelessness.
My Left Bank: How Sophie Mechaly's Parisian Childhood Shaped the Paul & Joe Brand - Channeling Retro Femininity with A Touch of Whimsy
Sophie Mechaly has always had an affinity for vintage styles and feminine details, which she artfully channels into her Paul & Joe collections. Mechaly translates retro inspirations into modern pieces that evoke a sense of nostalgia and romance. However, she adds her own touch of playful whimsy to keep the line feeling fresh and innovative.
Mechaly often reimagines feminine styles from past eras like the 1940s, 50s and 60s, playing with their pretty silhouettes and decorative accents. Her creations feature elements like voluminous tea-length skirts, dainty collars with pearl embellishments, and ladylike gloves. Mechaly also has a penchant for floral and gingham prints that nod to rural French fashions of years past.
While Mechaly mines retro references, she always transforms them into something new and quirky. Her collections blend vintage-inspired designs with contemporary detailing and irreverent styling. For example, Mechaly often adds a contrasting grosgrain waistband to a dirndl skirt or pairs a frilly blouse with casual denim. These unexpected combinations make the retro aesthetic feel fresh.
Mechaly also imbues her girlish pieces with a subtle bohemian spirit. She allows romantic ruffles and lace trims to take on a slightly undone, whimsical vibe when styled in an eclectic way. Her shows often feature models traipsing barefoot to further capture that free-spirited sensibility.
Customers gravitate towards Paul & Joe because it channels ultra-feminine style in a way that feels imaginative and effortlessly cool. The line strikes the perfect balance between nostalgic and innovative. As one customer put it, “Paul & Joe speaks to my inner child but also my modern tastes.”
Another fan explained, “Sophie takes me back to the retro styles I love but with an off-beat twist that makes every piece special.” There is something transportive about pulling on a Paul & Joe tea dress printed with wildflowers - it evokes another time while still looking chic and contemporary.
My Left Bank: How Sophie Mechaly's Parisian Childhood Shaped the Paul & Joe Brand - Expanding into Beauty with Her First Fragrance
After establishing Paul & Joe as a beloved fashion label known for its feminine, retro-inspired clothing, Sophie Mechaly was ready to expand the brand's reach into the beauty world. In 2001, Mechaly took a momentous step by launching Paul & Joe's first fragrance. Moving into beauty allowed Mechaly to further explore femininity and romance through scent, while also introducing the Paul & Joe aesthetic to a wider audience.
Mechaly aimed to bottle the spirit of the Paul & Joe woman with this inaugural fragrance. She wanted to encapsulate the brand's ultra-feminine DNA into a transportive, nostalgic scent. Mechaly worked closely with master perfumer Francis Kurkdjian to create a composition that opened with energizing citrus notes of orange and grapefruit. At the heart were tender floral tones of jasmine, rose and lily of the valley that evoked the delicate femininity of Paul & Joe's fashion. Finally, sensual base notes of musk and cedarwood added warmth and sophistication. The scent perfectly captured Paul & Joe's retro girlishness with a contemporary twist.
The fragrance was an immediate success among Paul & Joe's loyal fans who were thrilled to see the brand expand into beauty. One customer remarked, "This perfume makes me feel so feminine and pretty - it's the perfect accessory for any Paul & Joe outfit!" Another explained, "Sophie really bottled the vintage charm and whimsy of the brand - just a spritz takes me back to a romantic past era." The familiar aesthetic in a new sensory form resonated strongly.
For many women, this first fragrance served as their introduction to Paul & Joe. The brand quickly built up a following of beauty fans enamored with the nostalgic yet modern scent who then discovered the clothes. One new customer shared, "I fell for the perfume's beautiful blend of floral and fruit notes. Now I'm obsessed with channeling that girlish aesthetic through Paul & Joe's retro-fabulous clothing line too!"