Sans Gêne — a French phrase that translates as shameless or without embarrassment — is not only founder Caroline McCaul’s motto, but also the moniker for her new brand.
After a celeb-packed soft launch in Los Angeles in June, McCaul brought the gender-fluid brand to Paris for its big debut at an intimate dinner with Bloody Dior, Bloody Osiris, Luka Sabbat, Addison Rae and Jaden Smith. It also celebrated the young brand’s first collaboration, a summer capsule with Bloody Dior.
McCaul wanted to do the official launch during Paris Fashion Week as the city holds a special place for her. It’s where she took refuge after a tumultuous personal period. “When I moved to Paris, I really started to heal,” she told WWD. “At the time, I was shameless. I became an open book and I became a different person. It’s where I grew.” Hence the name Sans Gêne.
It’s McCaul’s first foray into fashion, after studying luxury at business school. She started the brand during the pandemic as a reaction to lifelong struggles with anxiety, bipolar disorder and her sexuality while growing up in a political family in conservative Texas.
She has big dreams and said she’s starting more than just a clothing line. McCaul envisions Sans Gêne as a platform to help people with their mental health and encourage them to be “unapologetically themselves.”
“I’m mainly the business person behind this brand,” said McCaul, adding that she grew up “surrounded by businessmen.” Her grandfather is Clear Channel, now iHeartMedia, cofounder Lowry Mays.
Sans Gêne is family-funded, and that has allowed her to hire a small staff, including an operations team that oversees production and logistics. She’s also brought in a series of creatives to direct the design department, first Victoria Zito and now Lily Barnes, a recent graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design.
“I don’t have a design background, but I acted really closely as a fashion assistant, we were constantly bouncing ideas off of each other. A lot of the elements that you see in the clothes were actually my ideas,” she said of the first drop, which includes soft hoodies, printed button-downs and convertible bombers.
The dynamic has continued with Barnes, whom she sees as a long-term member of the team. “I’ve never worked so well with someone in my life,” McCaul said. “She’s somebody that gives her all.”
Now Sans Gêne has brought in Bloody Dior for the capsule line launched in Paris. He attended the brand’s soft launch party, where the two met.
“We had this, like, organic connection,” McCaul said. “He told me he was an emerging designer and he knew that I was an emerging brand, too.” The two set up a meeting for the next day, bounced ideas off each other and — boom — Sans Gêne x Bloody Dior was born. “It was super raw, authentic. He has a brilliant mind.”
“We connected over the brand meaning,” he told WWD at the launch dinner overlooking the gardens of the Louvre.
“No matter how big we get or how small we are, we all go through it and need to overcome embarrassment, and I feel like the brand Sans Gêne tries to explain to the youth and also to people that you can overcome embarrassment, and I feel that’s what the pieces and the clothes try to express.”
Bloody Dior assisted Virgil Abloh at Off-White and is behind the brand Mood Swings, but this is the first time he’s putting his own name out there as a designer, which is a “big step” and testing the waters for larger projects, he said.
The drop consists of a black-and-white button-down with Bloody Dior’s graphic hot air balloon design, and a Swarovski-encrusted bucket hat meant to bridge the style of his hometown of Harlem, N.Y., and Paris.
The upcoming fall collection will be “more structured, elevated, and high end,” McCaul said.
Fabrics are sourced and produced in Italy, delivered at a price point of $190 for a crewneck and $528 for a bomber, which is accessible to her target demographic.
But more than the clothes, McCaul said she wants to create a mental health support community.
“It’s not just about the garments, it’s about how we can help people. What can we actually do with activations? How can we sit down, build a community, talk to real people, build these connections?” Plans are in the works for in-person events later in the year, which will be promoted through Instagram. In the meantime, the brand is donating to mental health charity Nami.
While the brand is still young and hasn’t moved beyond the launch parties quite yet, McCaul said celebs are not the focus. “I think we need to establish as a brand in order for normal people to want to come and want to participate,” she said, adding: “Sans Gêne is a passion, and it’s a way of getting to my purpose, and help people really connect and just be like, ‘How are you really doing?’”