"Paris Chic, Cali Cool.” That’s the tagline behind the eco-friendly clothing brand Amour Vert . Usually, the people who refer to California as “Cali" are non-natives. The term implies a certain unfamiliarity with the golden state and a desire to be more ~CaLiFoRnIaN~. Yet, the slogan is fitting. Founded out of a need for clothing that doesn't sacrifice style for sustainability, Amour Vert’s garments are created by a French designer and made within a 20 mile radius.
Until now, the Palo Alto-based brand was only available in department stores and small boutiques but Amour Vert opens its first retail store today. Nestled in the heart of Hayes Valley, at 437 Hayes, the boutique neighbors the french confectioner Chantal Guillon Macarons and clothing store Steven Alan.
Across the street is Alternative Apparel, a company with a similar commitment to sustainable fashion. But owner Linda Balti maintains that Amour Vert is very different from its neighbor. In an equally sustainable way, Alternative Apparel outsources its garments to socially-responsible factories in Peru, Vietnam, Indonesia, China and other countries around the world. Amour Vert keeps everything local, from its design studio in the Dogpatch, to the exceptional garment factories in the Bay Area, to its beautiful living wall in the Hayes Valley store.
French-German couple Balti and Christoph Frehsee conceptualized Amour Vert after reading a Newsweek article a couple years ago that named the fashion industry as the second polluter in the world.
“I was in the middle of writing a paper for my master’s,” Frehsee said at the store's opening reception last night. (He studied environmental resources at Stanford.) Balti began researching sustainable alternatives but found that they were either unflattering (think hippie hemp dresses) or expensive, such as John Patrick and Stella McCartney.
The Parisian designer wanted simple and elegant options to fill her wardrobe at an affordable cost, she says. At the opening reception, Balti wore an Amour Vert sleeveless green palm leaf printed jumpsuit and crisp white hightop sneakers, the epitome of French elegance. With ruffled straps and a cinched waist, the Crystal Jumpsuit is a highlight of the summer collection. This easy and feminine silhouette made of washable silk is indicative of the brand's casual luxury. Using the finest materials available in the Bay, each garment is handmade from bamboo, silk, organic cotton, recycled polyester, linen, or wood pulp.
Amour Vert’s "Plant a T(r)ee" collection is probably its most impressive. Continuing their dedication to a cleaner environment, Balti and Frehsee have created a small line of garments made from wood pulp, where with each T-shirt purchase (ranging from $75-$135), American Forests will plant a tree in the United States. “It’s our way of directly giving back to the environment what we take from it,” said Balti. So far, they’ve planted 15,000 trees.
In the store, vibrant green and coral pieces with palm tree prints line the walls. Simple, neutral basics are also available. The "Plant a T(r)ee” is mostly comprised of marinières—the quintessentially French navy and white striped boating shirts. With muses such as Charlotte Gainsbourg and Clémence Poésy, the brand maintains a prominently French style. But the Cali vibe is not lost. A lace crop top hangs in the corner embracing the West Coast flair.
The focal point of the store however is a heart-shaped living wall — a nod to Amour Vert's French name, which translates to “green love." Designed by SF native, model, and philanthropist Lily Kwong, the installation is composed of small potted plants (for sale for $20) that create a big green heart in the back of the store. The local support continues with two “Made in California” chairs produced by Russell Pritchard, owner of the interior design store Zonal down the street, and board member of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association.
“Everyone has been very welcoming,” Frehsee said. At last night’s reception, Kwong made an appearance, and delicious snacks by Chantal Guillon Macarons and the Melt food truck were on hand for hungry partygoers. There was also Amour Vert’s signature photo booth, where a tree will be planted for every photo taken.
The decision to open a store in Hayes Valley was very natural, Balti said. After several pop-ups in the area, the couple decided to open a permanent location in the neighborhood. The store is a lab project to them, says Frehsee — the couple got their beginnings in science, they met at a defense trade show in Abu Dhabi.
“The store is our opportunity to interact with our customers on a personal level and hear what they love most about Amour Vert,” Frehsee said. “We're looking forward to having that direct dialogue with them."