Photography by Helene Sandberg
Art Direction and Interview by Ursula Lake
Make gets to know Sandy Chagnaud the founder of Happy Haus, a relaxed, timelessly chic and 100% ecological fashion brand, launched in 2016.
Sandy moved to Paris from Frankfurt when she was 23 to study fashion at university. She met her husband there, sealing her fate to stay in France and started working for super creative and artistic. Jean Charles de Castelbajac for five years, working up from an assistant and ending up as the head designer for his main line. She says that this experience, combined with the influence of her ‘very French’ husband helped her to grow in her own personal style. She followed this up by working for a very commercial brand which gave her a very different kind of experience, the polar opposite of her work with Jean Charles de Castelbajac, as she was often asked to copy (very literally) the work of popular designers.
Sandy had always wanted to have her own brand but previously hadn’t had the confidence, but while on maternity leave, and spurred on by her husband, the idea for Happy Haus started to formulate in her mind. She says that her husband encouraged her to stop looking on social media and thinking about what other designers are doing and create styles which were unique to her and her individual needs. She says it took about a year to find the freedom to ignore external influences and find her own signature.
Right from the start, it was essential to Sandy that she used ecological fabrics, though this was not easy, to begin with as a lot of the environmentally sound fabric suppliers available to her in Paris were very basic and not, to quote Sandy, desperately chic. The work that went into making sure that the fabrics were sustainable ecologically sound was extensive and time-consuming and has resulted in Sandy concentrating on two fabrics, denim and poplin. Denim is an important fabric for Happy Haus to work with as it is seasonless and wears well, fading in a good way, making sure that the garment will stand the test of time, essential to a sustainable label.
Her supplier is certified by Greenpeace, where consideration is made to the amount of water in production and the social conditions for the workers throughout the working process. The denim fabric is then ‘washed’ by lasers, a very new technology, which Sandy says, despite not yet being perfect, is at the heart of developments into making fashion more environmentally sound. Sandy also uses poplin for lighter weight trans-seasonal pieces, which is made and woven in France and dyed to GOTS (the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibres, including ecological and social criteria, backed up by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain) certification.
In Sandy’s first season she showed a capsule collection of just four pieces in two fabrics and three colours and the brand offering has grown a little with time. She describes the collection as being a blend of French style and German practicality, ‘I think that if I was living in Germany the collection would look very different. It’s definitely a mixture of my husband’s and my style and, though we are quite different as people we always agree on the designs’.
Sandy says the initial way she designed the collection was to not think about any particular inspiration but just to focus on the questions: Do I want to wear it? Will I feel good when I wear it? She had a lot of designs but was not entirely sure they would work. A turning point was looking at the designs of the American designer Bonnie Cashin (a pioneer of the American ‘sportswear’ trend of the 1950’s) Sandy cites the influence of Bonnie’s work as giving her permission to be simple and to look at the designs and not overwork them, to say, ‘No stop! It’s perfect as it is’.
Sandy says that now she often starts the creative process by looking at architecture or interior design or looking at vintage clothing pieces, but it’s always a collaborative process between my husband and her. ‘We often only do one drawing for design because we have really considered the concept behind the garment before we put pen to paper. This considered, analytical approach has meant that we make fewer expensive errors, we find that mistakes come when you don’t have enough time’
The collection is designed to be without season and is available throughout the year with additions made through capsule collections and special collaborations with particular stores that do not follow the traditional methodology of other fashion labels by having many collections a year. ‘That way of working for us would mean that we would lose our identity. We always want to come back to the original idea of the first collection: Do I want to wear it? Will I feel good in it? I believe that you don’t have to keep changing your styles if the designs are good. We have had buyers who have bought the same dress for their stores, three years in a row’.
Sandy says, ‘I think it’s a very interesting time for fashion, as we start to take more responsibility for the clothes that we buy. My hope is that younger people who want to buy things simply for the thrill of the purchase will be more individual and buy vintage rather than going to Zara, and certainly, I see that this is happening in Paris. It’s something I try to instil in my daughters as they grow up but sometimes it is hard and even I have to make the occasional exception, as they just want to be like other girls and shop in H&M. Also. the fashion buyers have a responsibility to buy in a more sustainable way. I deal with the buyer personally and have had many interactions where they ask me not to tell them the ethical story behind my clothes, they say, Please don’t explain it to me, it doesn’t matter to me. Really, it should matter to them a great deal! I am thinking and hoping that this will start to change soon, and I have seen positive signs of change through the reaction of the press to my brand’.
For Sandy the answer is fairly simple; ‘Plan your purchases and buy less but of higher quality. Try to buy locally avoiding ‘superbrands’ who manufacture on a huge (often unethical) scale, and therefore naturally be buying more sustainably’.