French heritage brand Marjolaine has been named Designer of the Year by Salon International de la Lingerie. To mark the occasion, we reflect on the company’s 70-year history and ask why it’s so deserving of the prestigious award.
Not one to make a fuss, French lingerie brand Marjolaine has been discreetly making lingerie and nightwear in Villeurbanne, a small suburb in Lyon, for the past 70 years.
A family business dating back three generations, it has a compelling story to tell, but the brand has so far avoided the media spotlight. Until now.
On January 24, Marjolaine was honoured with the title of Designer of the Year by Salon International de la Lingerie and Paris Capitale de la Création.
The brand stood out from a plethora of manufacturers for its “pure passion” for making “finest quality” lingerie and nightwear, trade show organisers said.
And the Marjolaine team couldn’t feel happier – or humbled – to receive such an important award.
“Before this award we were a very discreet brand and this has now given us the opportunity to showcase our work to a much wider audience,” says Marjolaine assistant creative director Clémentine Guerin.
“We have never seen so much interest from journalists wanting to know the story of our brand and our heritage. It is a great honour for us, as we began life as a simple fabric shop and we have now gone on to claim this prestigious award.”
Marjolaine is run by the husband and wife team, Stéphane and Carole Guerin. Carole is the stylist and designer, while Stéphane is tasked with growing the brand both domestically and internationally.
The company started its journey in a small store operated by Carole’s grandfather, Roger Millet Desdoitils, in 1931. But when the Second World War broke out eight years later, business became challenging.
“The store sold wool and linen, but this became extremely difficult and business was very hard,” explains Clémentine, daughter of Stéphane and Carole.
Spotting an opportunity, Roger decided to turn his hand to making undergarments for the local women of Villeurbanne. He began producing camisoles and waist slips so that women could retain their modesty whilst at the doctors’ office, undergoing examinations.
We are now in 1947, and the Marjolaine brand has been born.
Expansion and evolution
From generation to generation, successive heirs have developed the brand and expanded the range of products. After Roger, his daughter Nicole took over the running of the company and encouraged her daughter, Carole, to be a part of this family business.
When Nicole retired in 2007, Carole enlisted the help of her husband to extend the adventure and develop Marjolaine on the international market.
As the company expanded, it left its old 400m2 warehouse for a new 3000m2 facility and grew the workforce to over 30 people. The brand is now present in over 55 countries.
In terms of products, Marjolaine has evolved from making simple camisoles to designing two collections featuring 12 different styles of nightdress, robe or pyjama in 20 different colours.
The range is primarily made of silk, a material that took centre stage at Interfilière, Paris last month, and contrasting lace inserts.
The lace is applied using a Cornely machine and skilled seamstresses guide this piece of equipment to follow intricate patterns. What started as one lace pattern has now grown to three separate patterns offering three different looks.
“It is primarily the fabric that makes you want to make new associations,” says Carole. “I go to shows like Interfiliere, but also in Asia. I also visit my suppliers of Leavers lace, Jean Bracq and Sophie Halette – the suppliers of lace for the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress. We work with rigid lace and our customers like the fact they are offered a multitude of colours and combinations.”
Carole tends to produce homogenous collections to enable retailers to display them effectively in store, says Clémentine.
“At Marjolaine we think of shops as both our customers and our business partners,” she explains, adding that the brand is also renowned for its customer service and reliability.
“Through careful, intelligent planning we always aim to maintain a small stock level to enable us to satisfy customers’ reorders. We give the same attention to detail for both small and large orders, and part of our DNA is being able to satisfy our customers with reorders.”
Marjolaine in the UK
In 1999, Marjolaine was introduced into the UK by Alba Associates, an agent which has seen the brand grow from a handful of boutiques to being stocked in more than 40 stores, including Harrods, Selfridges and Rigby & Peller.
“We are extremely happy with this and are looking at growing the business in a slow and steady manner,” says Alba Associates director Richard Barnes, who hopes Marjolaine’s new award will lead to extra interest in the brand from customers in the UK.
On designing collections for British customers, Clémentine says: “We always look to the UK when designing our collections as this is a very important market for us and we always ask ‘what colours and styles will our UK customers choose?’. The UK has a daring fashion market and this always inspires us to offer the British consumer something completely unique.”