Sans Gêne – a French phrase that translates to shameless or shameless – is not only founder Caroline McCaul’s motto, but also the nickname of her new brand.
After a celebrity-filled soft launch in Los Angeles in June, McCaul brought the 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 make the official launch during Paris Fashion Week because the city holds a special place for him. It was there that 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. That’s where I grew up. Hence the name Sans Gêne.
This is McCaul’s first foray into fashion, having studied luxury at business school. She launched the brand during the pandemic as a reaction to lifelong struggles with anxiety, bipolar disorder and her sexuality while growing up in a conservative Texas political family.
She has big dreams and says she is launching more than just a clothing line. McCaul envisions Unabashed as a platform to help people with their mental health and encourage them to be “unapologetically themselves.”
“I’m primarily the business person behind this brand,” McCaul said, adding that she grew up “surrounded by business people.” His grandfather is Clear Channel, now iHeartMedia, co-founder Lowry Mays.
Sans Gêne is a family business, which has allowed it to hire a small team, including an operations team that oversees production and logistics. She’s also tapped a series of creatives to lead the design department, first Victoria Zito and now Lily Barnes, a recent Rhode Island School of Design graduate.
“I don’t have a design background, but I acted very closely as a fashion assistant, we were constantly brainstorming ideas about each other. A lot of the elements you see in the clothes were actually my ideas,” she said of the first drop, which includes soft hoodies, printed buttons and convertible bomber jackets.
The momentum continued with Barnes, whom she considers a longtime member of the team. “I’ve never worked so well with anyone in my life,” McCaul said. “He’s someone who gives everything.”
Now, Sans Gêne has called on Bloody Dior for the capsule line launched in Paris. He attended the brand’s soft launch party, where the two met.
“We had that kind of organic connection,” McCaul said. “He told me he was an emerging designer and he knew I was an emerging brand too.” The two met for the next day, exchanged ideas and — boom — Sans Gêne x Bloody Dior was born. “It was super raw, authentic. He has a brilliant mind.
“We connected on the meaning of the brand,” he told WWD at the launch dinner overlooking the gardens of the Louvre.
“No matter how big or how small we get, we all go through it and have to overcome embarrassment, and I feel like the Sans Gêne brand is trying to explain to young people and also to people that we can overcome embarrassment, and I feel that’s what the pieces and the clothes are trying to express.
Bloody Dior helped Virgil Abloh at Off-White and is behind the Mood Swings brand, but this is the first time he’s put his own name on as a designer, which is a “big step” and tests the waters for bigger projects, he said.
The drop consists of a black and white button with Bloody Dior’s graphic hot air balloon design, and a Swarovski-encrusted bucket hat meant to tie together the style of his hometown of Harlem, NY, and Paris.
The upcoming fall collection will be “more structured, elevated and upscale,” McCaul said.
Fabrics are sourced and produced in Italy, delivered at a price of $190 for a crew neck and $528 for a bomber, which is accessible to its target demographic.
But more than the clothes, McCaul said she wants to create a community of mental health support.
“It’s not just about clothes, it’s about how we can help people. What can we actually do with activations? How do we sit down, build community, talk to real people, make those connections? Plans are underway for in-person events later in the year, which will be promoted via Instagram. In the meantime, the brand is donating to mental health charity Nami.
While the brand is still young and not yet past launch parties, McCaul said celebrities aren’t the focus. “I think we need to establish a brand so that normal people want to come and participate,” she said, adding, “Sans Gêne is a passion, and it’s a way to achieve my goal and to help people. really connect and just say, ‘How are you really?’ “