A French connection: Visit to Baltimore vintage store inspires Parisian clothing line

Five years ago, Quentin Bouche of Paris and his friend Nicky Dimbenza went on a road trip on the East Coast of the United States. Among the many stops they made, their day spent in Baltimore would prove the most significant: It inspired a new fashion line.

After visiting the Mount Vernon vintage store The Zone, they became enamored of a pair of jean overalls they found.

“We thought it was cool. We bought it, and we continued our road trip,” said Bouche, 26.

Bouche said they soon returned to Paris and went on with their lives, but in 2015, he and Dimbenza thought more about the overalls, noticing that while many clothing lines had overalls — or in French, salopettes — in their collections, the fabric and design weren’t of good quality and most were made for women.

They had a revelation: What if they created the perfect overalls?

They began toiling with different designs, fabrics, zips and buttons in hopes of creating a winning style that could be worn anywhere.

“We wanted to make it [shaped]. … We wanted people to wear it to the office, parties and wherever to feel good in, well-dressed and not like ‘I’m going to the countryside,’ ” said Bouche, who co-founded the brand in early 2016.

He and Dimbenza created a two-in-one overalls prototype whose bib could be removed with a quick zip, allowing the bottom half to be worn separately.

The name, Bouche said, came easily — Baltimore-Paris — an homage to both the city in which they found the overalls and to their hometown, in which the first showroom would be hosted.

Donna Jenkins, 62, who opened The Zone 36 years ago, said she was flattered that Baltimore-Paris was inspired by her store.

“I love to be infectious. … That’s a great compliment. I just try to get the best of the best of what I find, that is interesting, unique and stands out,” said Jenkins, who still carries an array of overalls in the store and on its Etsy site.

“You put them on and that’s it,” said Jenkins. “You can change up your T-shirts — wear a shirt with a bow tie — you can do a lot with it. ... It’s simplicity and durability, and it almost walks away from corporate America.”

And the essence of the clothing startup is indeed a step away from corporate America. Housed in a co-working space and showroom in Paris with about 15 other local brands, Baltimore-Paris is managed solely by Bouche, with one other employee and his partner, Marion Clement, who focuses on styling and design. (Bouche said Dimbenza left the companyin January.)

Bouche, who has been working in the startup industry in Paris for the past three years, says he didn’t have fashion experience before he started Baltimore-Paris, so it was a challenge. It meant traveling back and forth to factories in Porto, Portugal, where many French brands were producing their clothing, and hiring a freelance stylist to assist the brand. It also meant finding the money to create the unique designs for Baltimore-Paris that would separate it from other brands creating overalls.

“We’re entrepreneurs. It’s not easy every day. We don’t pay ourselves yet, so it’s quite difficult. You need a lot of investment to start,” said Bouche, who hosted an online campaign on the European crowdfunding website Ulule last June to raise money for the brand. Their objective was more than 100 sales. They sold 115.

“It was good insight for the future of the brand,” he said. “But being famous as a brand, it needs a lot of time and there’s a lot of competition, and that’s why we chose to do the brand as overalls as a mono-product. For us, it was important to do something very different and something that people can’t do. … We’re not another brand of T-shirts.”

The collection now makes seven styles of overalls for women, including overalls with detachable pants, skirts and shorts in different colors and fabrics, and two for men, both pants versions.

Each model is named after a neighborhood in the world where the founders had visited or lived and noticed a distinct vibe and a vibrant energy that had developed within the past decade, Bouche said, including Williamsburg in Brooklyn, N.Y., Shoreditch in London, Sodermalm in Stockholm, Sweden, and Kreuzberg in Berlin. Bouche said those cities reminded him of what he saw in Baltimore.

“It was like a symbol for us. … We really appreciated the atmosphere in” Baltimore, said Bouche, adding that the line also makes T-shirts and tote bags.

Sally DiMarco, ‎director of education at the Maryland Fashion Institute, said overalls, which were originally used by farmers and laborers, first emerged on the fashion scene in the mid-to-late 1970s as a convenient, slimming and comfortable whole look, often for a more youthful crowd.

“I never bought into that fad because I didn't like the idea that you have to have the whole garment come off. It’s not practical,” she said, but she predicts that a brand like Baltimore-Paris will likely be cost-effective and convenient, especially with its convertible feature.

“That’s a great selling point ... because you can mix and match, and you can make different outfits,” she said, adding that it’s a strategic way of line development, in which designers “start with one good foundation piece, and change it around and come up with other pieces.”

“It’s a great feature that you don’t see in other” lines, she said.

John Troxel, 24, of Chicago said he bought two pairs of Baltimore-Paris men’s overalls in black velvet and denim wash in January after seeing their Instagram page.

“I loved the idea of overalls, just something on the market that’s substantial,” said Troxel, who had checked out companies like ASOS and Urban Outfitters for overalls, but often found that they were costly and didn’t have the right fit. He was also intrigued that the line had both men’s and women’s overalls in stock.

Troxel said the overalls fit well, and serve as a statement outfit that’s easy to throw on.

“I definitely think it’s great for someone ... who is looking for a good alternative to a very trendy men’s romper … or maybe someone who is looking for an elevated alternative, one-piece,” he said. “I wear them all the time.”

Rachel Almond, 27, of Los Angeles was introduced to the brand in May after Bouche, whom she met years ago in Scotland, sent her a sample of dark-washed denim overalls with a skirt called Byres Road, which was named after a street in Glasgow, Scotland.

“I love it. I’m not the most fashion-minded person ... but it makes me feel fashionable,” said Almond. “It reminds me of when I was younger. We’d wear overalls, and it was kind of a childish thing, but [Baltimore-Paris] makes it very grown-up, fun to wear.

“The fact that I can get more outfits out of it is also a plus as well. It’s very comfortable. I feel like you can dress it up and down. … I haven’t seen anything like it, and it’s also fun to say something is from France.”

Since the launch, Baltimore-Paris, which delivers internationally, is now sold in various reseller shops, mostly in Paris, on various marketplace websites like La Redoute and L’Exception, and Bouche said there are plans to sell the line in Galeries Lafayette, a major French department store chain.

Bouche said the company is looking for more investments and to expand to other cities, including Tokyo, which has a showroom interested in reselling their clothing. He also wants to do pop-ups, international trade shows and brand collaborations and to gain more investors, especially in Baltimore.

“I would love to do a pop-up store in Baltimore,” said Bouche.

“We just want to do a brand that is inspired by the world in general — cool places that are moving with the people,” he said. “Of course, you feel the French touch, because that’s us in Paris, but at the same time, we want to show that we’re open to the world.”

bbritto@baltsun.com

twitter.com/brittanybritto

If you go

Visit Baltimore-Paris’ showroom in Paris for a touch of hometown inspiration and trendy overalls. Atelier Meraki, 14/16 rue Neuve Popincourt, 75011 Paris. baltimore-paris.fr/en/.

bbritto@baltsun.com

twitter.com/brittanybritto

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