Outside Gemma, the restaurant at the Bowery Hotel in lower Manhattan, Jeanne Damas offered a textbook example of what many might call French girl style.
She wore a camel-colored trench coat over jeans, and her brown hair and bangs looked naturally tousled, as if she had woken up like that. Her visible makeup consisted mainly of red lipstick, which had faded to a more natural-looking shade. At the right moment, a waiter came over to give her a black coffee and a croissant.
It was a Wednesday morning in September and the last day of New York Fashion Week. Ms Damas, 31, had arrived from Paris the day before.
Later that evening, she would open a new store in Manhattan for Rouje, the fashion brand she founded in 2016 and known for feminine basics with a Parisian sensibility. Not long after she started the brand, GQ called Ms. Damas “the coolest, most beautiful French girl in France right now.” French Vogue has described her as ‘the Parisian girl personified’.
Rouje, which started as an e-commerce company, has steadily expanded into brick-and-mortar retail. The New York store, on Broome Street in SoHo, is the first in the United States; seven more have opened in Britain and France, including London, Paris and Bordeaux.
As Rouje has grown, Ms. Damas said, she has made few changes to the aesthetic, which has always been rooted in her own wardrobe. “I’ve never really changed my style since I was a teenager: jeans, an oversized jacket, ankle boots and a wrap dress,” she said.
She first became recognized for her style by blogging about it. (One of her first fans was the French fashion designer Simon Porte Jacquemus, who, after connecting with Ms. Damas online, had her model for his brand.) On Tumblr and later on Instagram, she posted photos of herself on the cobblestones of Paris . streets and in outfits that were often completed with a glass of red wine or a touch of red lipstick. Her love of red lipstick, she said, inspired her to name her brand Rouje.
Although Rouje is informed by Ms. Damas’s personal tastes, it is difficult not to see similarities between her sensibility and that of the singer and actress Jane Birkin, who died in July. Mrs. Birkin was British, but for many she embodied an effortlessly elegant and, above all, French style. With Rouje, Ms. Damas, a native Frenchwoman, has commoditized her version of that style — and positioned herself and her brand to become new standard-bearers of the French girl look.
Ms. Damas was recently cast to play another French-born fashion muse — the jewelry designer Paloma Picasso — in “Kaiser Karl,” an upcoming Disney+ TV series about the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. Jérôme Salle, the series’ director, said Ms. Damas “has a French style, but with a modern elegance.” She was a natural fit, he added, to play a woman whom Mr. Salle, 52, described as a former “it girl” in France.
Delphine Courteille, 48, a hairstylist in Paris who has worked with Ms. Damas, said other clients have cited her as an aesthetic inspiration; especially her hairstyle, which Ms. Courteille described as “very Parisian” and always with “Jane Birkin-style bangs.”
“There is a lot of femininity and lightness that makes women want to be like her,” Ms. Courteille said of Ms. Damas.
Dhani Mau, 34, editor-in-chief of the website Fashionista, says Ms Damas’ digital presence (she has 1.5 million followers on Instagram) has helped bring French girl style, and the references that inspire it, to a wider audience . “In the past, you had to watch French films, find pictures or go to France,” Ms. Mau said. The fact that Ms. Damas often wears Rouje clothes on social media, Ms. Mau added, has helped the brand become associated with the French girls’ look.
Also helpful in furthering that association were photos of French actress Léa Seydoux wearing a red printed Rouje wrap dress on the set of the James Bond film “No Time to Die.” “She had our red dress and we didn’t know it,” Ms. Damas said, adding that after those photos circulated, she started seeing Rouje in “a lot of actresses, especially in France.”
In addition to dresses (from $220), Rouje sells tanks ($60), T-shirts ($70) and jeans ($185), the kind of easy basics Ms. Birkin prefers. Camille Charrière, an influencer in London who is half French, described such items as a hallmark of French girls’ style.
“The French like their basic principles,” said Ms. Charrière, 36, an editor at Elle UK. “The whole point of the French style is that it is something slow that you build up over time.”
Isabelle Chaput, 33, a French fashion photographer and content creator living in Manhattan, said the preference for basics partly stemmed from a resistance to keeping up with trends. “Parisians don’t want to give the impression that they are trying too hard,” she said.
Ms. Damas used the word “simplicity” to describe the appeal of French girl style. “Sometimes,” she said, “it’s boring.”
She said that while Ms. Birkin had an influence on her and on Rouje, “the style is not about copying.” She described her approach not so much as replicating a specific wardrobe, but as creating clothes that evoke a certain lifestyle. “It’s not about the dress itself, it’s about the life you have in the dress,” Ms. Damas said.
Her take on the look is influenced by style outside France, she added. She says some of the slip dresses she created for Rouje were inspired by clothes she saw women wearing when she visited New York years ago.
“It’s funny because me and my creative team in France aren’t really inspired. Then we come here and we’re inspired by everything,” Ms. Damas said.
“Women in New York are bolder with their looks, which I think is liberating,” she said.