Sharon Stephenson talks to fashion blogger Garance Doré about her life in style.
The only thing more intimidating than interviewing Garance Doré is choosing what to wear to interview Garance Doré.
Doré is, after all, the woman the New York Times called the "guardian of all style", while Elle magazine crowned her "one of the more recognised women in the world, someone who helped define street style".
A fashion-forward friend who knows things — like how to correctly pronounce Bottega Veneta and whether trench coats are in for AW21 — exhales when I tell her what I'm doing. "Choosing an outfit to interview Garance Doré is a bit like cooking dinner for Gordon Ramsay or giving Lewis Hamilton a lift home," she snorts.
In January, Doré moved from LA to Wellington (the reason for that later). She's speaking at Auckland Writers Festival on May 14 about being not only one of the most recognised women in the world of fashion but also someone who makes its rules.
Hence my dilemma about whether to wear the vintage Chloe top I bagged at a London car boot sale for $100. Or if she'll notice that my Stella McCartney handbag was bought in a Dubai alleyway (to be fair, it's a pretty good facsimile).
It turns out I've worried needlessly, because in the end Dore decides she wants to do our interview by Skype.
At 3.30pm on a sunny Monday, I'm at my home in Kapiti and Doré is in her decidedly more impressive Eastbourne residence, where it looks as though an interiors magazine has detonated: vases of flowers, sofas with the right amount of squish, jazz playing in the background. Doré looks as gorgeous as her pictures suggest, with the effortlessly thrown-together style that the French do so well — fitted black trousers and a white jumper that, even through a slightly pixelated screen, I can tell is good quality.
In a soft, lyrical voice, her French accent flattened by years in the US, the woman who befriended designers Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano, who hung out with Kate Moss and Kanye West at various fashion weeks, tells me how she ended up so far from the world's fashion capitals.
"It's because of Graham McTavish," she says. Her beau, a Scottish actor and writer who moved to Wellington initially to work on the Hobbit trilogy, has two young children here, which is why he's often in New Zealand. Doré met McTavish in LA and spent last year's national lockdown with him in Eastbourne.
Once the borders opened, she flew home, collected her beloved dog Lulu and took her to Corsica, where Doré's mother is currently looking after the 4-year-old whippet-mix.
"I miss Lulu so much. I'm incredibly jealous of you," she says, gushing over photos of my new puppy.
Doré has been back in New Zealand since January and says it reminds her of the small French island on which she was born.
"On an island, there's that sense of being separated from the rest of the world. An island is smaller and more in tune with nature. When you grow up on an island, your carry that sense with you always."
Doré's is one of those fabled tales: a girl from nowhere (her words) whose fashion blog became one of the most popular in France and whose seven-year relationship with acclaimed New York street-style photographer Scott Schuman (of The Satorialist fame) earned a front-row seat at all the major fashion shows. And eventually gigs photographing for everyone from Dries Van Noten to Louis Vuitton, writing a column in Vogue Paris and in 2015, her first book, Love Style Life, a New York Times bestseller that was translated into so many languages Dore loses count.
It's a stark contrast to Doré's humble beginnings in Corsica, where her Italian father and Algerian/Moroccan mother ran a seafood restaurant. She would rise at 4am to make croissants, a side-hustle that funded her tertiary studies.
"My parents had pulled themselves out of poverty, so they weren't pleased that I chose to be an illustrator."
Especially when she was, she admits, "terrible at it. I failed as an illustrator for two years and nearly went broke." Salvation came in the form of blogging, which was just starting to become a thing.
"I learned how to code and built my own website. I started blogging, posting fashion illustrations and commenting about fashion. Back then I didn't even know fashion weeks existed but my blog became so popular I started getting invited to them."
It's why she began photographing street fashion. Not to become a photographer but to learn about fashion and how Parisians put together outfits.
She met Schuman at Paris Fashion Week 2007 and shortly afterwards headed to New York to be with him, moving into a high-octane world of celebrities, first-class travel and more photography work than she could handle with brands such as Dior, Saks and Tiffany & Co.
The relationship ended in 2014 and shortly afterwards, Doré walked away from it all.
"I was burned-out and suffering from anxiety, stress and depression. I used to dream of this world when I bought fashion magazines as a teenager but, being in it, I realised how insecure and stressful it is. The glittery side of it was never my thing — so much money was spent on the best hotels and fashion shoots. It really was like The Devil Wears Prada."
After moving to LA, Doré fell into the influencer lifestyle, being paid good money to spruik everything from fashion to interiors. It wasn't her.
"Don't get me wrong, I loved getting gifts but I prefer to be behind the camera, not in front of it and I started losing my soul, taking photos of myself. After a year, I had to walk away, which was a bold move but I don't miss it at all."
Instead, she Marie Kondo-ed her life, getting rid of 95 per cent of her bulging wardrobe.
In July last year, hunkering down in Eastbourne with McTavish, she also switched up her professional life, shedding 15 staff to focus on a subscription-only newsletter, which she curates and writes herself.
"It's a more personal, artistic endeavour. I needed to create a place of peace and sharing."
Also in the works is a book of essays about her years in fashion.
Our conversation drifts to New Zealand fashion. Doré says she was pleasantly surprised on a trip to Waiheke to see so many pretty dresses.
"It was very cool to see women making an effort and dressing up. Wearing a pair of heels feels foreign to me now, so to see the Kiwi style was lovely."
If you were planning to see Doré at the Auckland Writers Festival and were worrying about what to wear, worry no more, because in the way these things sometimes happen, a few days after our interview she had to head back to Europe for an urgent family issue. Instead, she'll be live-streaming from across the ocean.
"It's a shame because I really wanted to be there but I promise I'll still have lots of juicy tales to tell."
Garance Doré will be live streaming at Auckland Writers Festival on Friday, May 14 at the Aotea Centre. Garance Doré: A Question of Style.