Don’t call Umlaut a ‘French Girl’ brand.
It might be French, yes, but its edgy, sculptural pieces and graphic colours give it a hearty distance from the traditional red-lip-white-shirt conception of the national style ethos. “It would be weird if all the girls in Paris were wearing the same printed dress with little flowers in their little straw baskets,” laughs Eloïse Bombeau, one of Umlaut’s co-founders, ahead of the brand’s official launch on RIISE (its exclusive Australian stockist). “We wanted something a bit more real.”
Reality met Bombeau’s dreams in a wonderful way: in 2020, along with her childhood friends Zelie Israel and Emma Panchot, Bombeau decided to take the leap into fashion design. Together, the trio, who went to fashion school together, founded the sustainability-minded label Umlaut. “We were very fond of fashion from the beginning,” says Israel, whose mother, a fashion designer, was part of sowing the seeds of their lifelong love, which began when they were children. “But we also wanted to do something with meaning.”
Umlaut found its namesake in the German accent that, when placed above a vowel, has the power to lengthen or shorten or distort it. Similarly, Bombeau and Israel—Panchot has since left the company to pursue her photography career—explain, as they talk to me from Paris and Biarritz, respectively, wanted to reflect the diacritic’s “ ability to change something. Like we want to change the fashion industry.”
Over its two-year journey, Umlaut has become known for its directional, visually striking pieces—as well as its commitment to a sustainable ethos. Its '90s-inspired dresses and bustiers are unlike many others in the saturated social media fashion space: they’re bold, even sometimes severe, but still distinctly feminine. They don’t pander to trends; they have a point of view.
If you’ve been near a stylish French woman’s Instagram in recent months, you may have caught sight of an Umlaut original: a bustier with lambskin panelling paired with a complementary hued bodice, perhaps, or a colour-blocking bra, designed to either be worn alone or styled over a garment, inspired by the Amaya dress, the brand’s most popular piece so far. The Amaya’s mid-length design, which features a leather panelled bustier flowing out into a slit hem, tied with contrasting leather straps, was inspired by the Villa Mangan, an art deco building in Biarritz where Israel’s family lives, and where the girls would go on holiday as children. There’s an elegance to it, juxtaposed by a distinctly modern edge, courtesy of the leather spliced with crepe.
But Umlaut’s aesthetic is only one point of difference: each of the brand’s garments is made in ultra-small, exclusive runs, and created using found and upcycled fabrics.
While the founders were considering manufacturing in India—Bombeau’s family has long had a connection to the country—they ultimately decided to keep production local. Currently, all Umlaut’s manufacturing is done in a studio just outside of Paris. “For a lot of reasons, it’s more sustainable and responsible. We’re not a brand making thousands of prototypes… and choosing one,” says Bombeau.
It’s intimately made by a group of people we know, and this way, we can be there to check on it.