The blogosphere has bred its own small galaxy of innate fashion stars, but none shine as brightly as 40-year-old Garance Dore. Growing up in Corsica, her passion for style took her to Paris, where she worked as both an illustrator and photographer before launching her now famous ‘streetstyle’ blog ‘garancedore.com’ in 2006. Revered for her personal candor and effortlessly chic approach to dressing, Dore has become the poster girl for fabulous French style, and her insightful musings on the subject, along with her photos, illustrations, and video interviews, have won her blog legions of devout followers around the world. Last year, she and former boyfriend, American photographer Scott Schuman of “The Sartorialist” fame, won the CFDA media award. Now, Dore’s new book, Love X Life X Style, not only recounts the sadness of their breakup, but offers a warm and wonderfully personal look at the essence of great style, chock full of sage advice, true confessions, and inspiring imagery. I caught up with Garance Dore in Toronto recently to talk about fashion as a tool for communication, the importance of blogging, and how accepting her own vulnerability actually liberated her.
JEANNE: Why a book at a time when a lot of people are saying books are perhaps passé?
GARANCE: I’ve been offered to do a book for a long time. In the beginning I was doing my blog and was so taken by it, but also I didn’t really know what I was talking about. What was my message? I had no idea. I think I’m also a late bloomer. I take things slow even if I don’t want to take them slow. So the first time I was offered to do a book I said yes cause I was so excited. It was this amazing opportunity. But then when I started doing it I realized the book wasn’t very good. That was like 8 or 9 years ago, when I really started doing my blog. So I called my editor and said I was sorry. I really cried a lot but I knew I wouldn’t be able to do the book, and told my editor that I’d give the money back. And I promised myself that I wouldn’t do a book if I didn’t have a book idea. It all has to come from the inside. This idea came about two years ago Suddenly I knew what I wanted to talk about. The book is about a journey to style and what it is to be an elegant person, from the outside to the inside, which is much deeper than just clothes and things like that.
J: There’s certainly a lot of stuff out there these days—both in terms of information, material options and approaches to dressing. Yet you’re saying that people have to go beyond the mere trappings and get down to something a little more genuine and authentic. So at the end of the day, does it even really matter what we’re wearing?
G: Well I think at the end of the day, it’s a personal matter. Does it matter to you? Why does it matter to you? What do you want to say? If it’s not important to you, there is no reason to get dressed up. I think it’s all about trying to find a place in our world where we’re happy with the way we are. And I think the way we dress is who we are. That’s how we express ourselves. Some say fashion is superficial. But it’s different kind of superficiality. It’s beautiful to be able to express yourself by what we show on the exterior, through the way you dress. It’s beautiful to be able to communicate and I think communication is super important and not at all. But clothes need to be at your service and not the other way around
J: You started your blog in 2006—at a time when it wasn’t such a popular notion. Were you surprised at the way it resonated with people, at the way it started to grow?
G: Oh so much! But it’s like when you’re in the middle of a revolution, you don’t really realize what’s happening. You just like doing it everyday and then you look back and you’re like. “Wow! The world has changed!” I mean the world has actually changed with the Internet. Fashion has totally revolutionized itself. It’s crazy. And I’ve been part of that movement. I think I helped shape things. I didn’t decide I was going to go change fashion, but I think that’s always how these things happen. It was a kind of weird meeting of the stars where I was a frustrated illustrator that was a fashion outsider, and at the same time the blogging started to happen. And it kind of met there. Fashion needed a breathe of fresh air. I was very lucky because I just arrived at a great moment. When I was grew up, suddenly all the systems of everything were challenged and I was able to be at the forefront of that.
J: Well it’s astounding how you have not only informed but really inspired a whole new generation now to become bloggers. Every young girl I meet who loves fashion seems to have a blog! How important do you think that is?
G: I think everybody should have a blog. I think everybody should have an outlet to express themselves. It doesn’t have to be a blog. It could be an Instagram or Tumblr account, or a Pinterest board. It’s just such an easy, interesting way to discover yourself. I think our online persona is really a reflection of our self and of who we are. It’s not exactly who we are but it can really help build and discover ourselves. And anything I think that can help discover ourselves is a great thing in life.
J: It’s also turning people into their own brands. And some kids are looking at these blogs as a real business venture…
G: Absolutely. This is the good and bad of it. I think that’s something that’s way more tricky. What I think is the most difficult thing today is the quantification of the number of followers and likes. When I went to high school, I remember how tough it was to gain popularity. And now it’s even bigger, even more important. We all conform to that. And if you subtract yourself from that you become a nobody. I just think this is wrong, and I think this is going to change. And now I’m looking at things like Snapchat, which doesn’t quantify in the same way. I think the number of followers thing is kind of crazy. And kids do crazy things and I don’t think that’s a great way to grow up.
J: It’s is a slippery slope, but it is really has become a kind of currency. Anyway, it will be interesting to see what this next wave is, in terms of values. But growing up, style was always important to you. Would you say this is the life you fantasized about living?
G: Well, when I was growing up, I could never imagine the Internet. The only things I could have imagined were jobs I actually had seen around me or on TV. And fashion seemed very, very far away from me and I dreamt of going to New York. But I would never have dreamt of even living there. So there are many things that my brain couldn’t imagine…
J: But what about the whole notion of fame and being a celebrity? You started out as an illustrator and photographer—very much behind the scenes. Then you write a blog and you start to share your heart and your mind a little bit but now you’re doing videos on your blog!
G: My first reaction is always to not go on camera, not take a photo of me, like not take a selfie. That’s how I grew up. But when you start understanding the power of putting your message out there…. Well, like yesterday I was doing a book signing in Montreal, and I had a few girls come up to me and they were crying and telling me how inspiring I was. It’s not like you start believing that you’re amazing, but you understand that I would have loved to have someone that approachable when I was young. And it starts feeling like, ‘Okay. I’m actually doing something that’s important… that matters for some people!’ So that’s one of the things that’s guiding me. It’s not like I’m Kim Kardashian. I don’t want it to get too huge—that’s really not the goal. But I discovered that having a voice and being able to help people and influence other people in a good way is really powerful.
J: Such a French sensibility to your sense of style, but you’ve chosen now to make New York your home and live in America. What appeals to you about that?
G: I don’t know if New York will always be my home, but I love America. There is a sense of possibility in America that I really missed when I was in France, where things felt impossible all the time, ‘Ah non, ça c’est impossible madame!” There’s a sense of real positivity in America and that’s something you also have here in Canada. I think people have this kindness and this sense of looking at the things on the bright side. I was always like that in my life. And suddenly I came to America, and everybody was very smiley and trying to do better…. so it seemed pretty obvious to me.
J: But it sounds like you just really always believed in yourself obviously first and foremost…
G: Yeah, but believe me, I have moments where I don’t believe in myself and I think I’m too this or too that…. I’m not like that full on American “believe in yourself against everything”… I have big moments of doubt and I deal with them like everyone.
J: But that’s what endears people to you. When you admit your vulnerabilities, I think that’s what humanizes us.
G: That’s exactly what I was trying to say. The day that I was able to accept my vulnerability was a very freeing day. And then everything kind of flowed from that. That’s been my tone since day one of the blog. And people were very surprised by the humour.
J: How much time do you spend thinking about where it’s all going, where you want to go?
G: I’ve always spent a lot of time but now I spend even more time because I realize how life goes fast and I count the years and I’m thinking, ‘This is crazy!” I just turned forty! Where do I want to be when I’m fifty? New York is such a hustling place. Do I really want to be there?’ So then comes the question of what’s my idea of a happy life? Is it being on top of the world, being Oprah Winfrey or something? I love her but maybe that’s not for me. So I have to think about all this a lot or else I get caught up on other people’s dreams. This is the era of the power woman, right? And it’s great if people want to be a power woman. But there are many other ways to be happy. I want to be careful with my life and of those people around me that I love. It’s not all about having a trillion followers. So I’m trying to not be caught in that. And that takes even more strength when you live in New York because New York is a city where people come to realize their dreams. So it’s a city that’s full of that energy of achievement, and pushing, and all that And you have to stop sometimes and think, ‘Whoa! What am I doing? I’m working like a crazy person! I’m trying to meet sixteen people a day! Why do I need that? Where am I going?”
J: Well, when you find out the answers, I want to know them. We’ll look for your next book to find out more.