The joy in living — what the French call joie de vivre — permeates every aspect of Le Frou Frou Couture. The 1-year-old company’s brightly colored signature canvas handbags — festooned with fringe and feathers and lined in gingham and polka dots — vie with sequined caps and boldly patterned scarves and caftans for the visitor’s attention amid repainted and retooled antiques. There are even handbags on shelves in the kitchen, the color of caffe latte, of course.
The company’s logo, business cards and postcards are shocking pink, as are the silky pouches in which your purchases are slipped before being bound up in a black shopping bag with the pink logo and finished with a black-and-white polka dot bow. Even the name Le Frou Frou Couture — which nods to a British Vogue description of the strapless black Elizabeth Emanuel gown that announced then Lady Diana as a future fashion icon — says flirty, feminine, fun. Just like company founder Antonia Raimbault, who greets us in short black shorts and a leopard print blouse accented with a black neckerchief and matching espadrille sandals that complement her raven tresses, black being her favorite color.
But the playfulness belies a well-thought-out business model. Antonia shows us a black-and-white school notebook filled with ideas for the company’s name. She was advised not to go with Le Frou Frou Couture, because people might not be able to pronounce it. (It’s froo froo coo TOUR.) In the end, she resisted the temptation to dumb-down her brand. But just in case she went with a different name, husband Peter shows us the various domain names they purchased.
He is the other half of the story — as much involved with the business as she is, painting the showroom furnishings and sprucing them up with new knobs; suggesting photography (the showroom contains a little makeshift photo studio); pointing with pride to distinctive cosmetic cases featuring cool cats in oversize sunglasses. (Is it any surprise to discover that he was once a successful salesman of women’s shoes?)
But it is in a sense his present day job that helped inspire Le Frou Frou’s Greenwich connection. As a pilot of private jets for the ultra-rich, Peter’s career takes him all over the world, including the Caribbean, particularly St. Barts; Monaco; the Middle East; Russia; and China. It’s how he met Antonia, who was working as a flight attendant for one wealthy Dutch businessman. (Peter is French, while Antonia is Dutch and grew up in the city of Tilburg in the southern Netherlands. Their Franco-Dutch alliance is reflected in the terms of endearment with which they call one another. He refers to her as cherie, French for “dear one.” She calls him schattie, Dutch for “sweetheart.”)
“I was raised with fashion,” Antonia recalls. “My mother made clothes for me….I made clothes for my Barbies and myself.” It would lead Antonia to work with luxury brands across Europe for 20 years. But by 2008 when she met Peter, she says, “I needed a different life.” And yet, she adds, “it was always my dream to start something for myself.”
She began selling her bags in shops in Palm Beach, where the couple has a home. But since so much of Peter’s business involves flying in and out of Westchester County Airport, the couple decided Greenwich would be a good locale for a second home and their showroom. It reminds them of Knokke Le Zoute.
“It’s the Saint Tropez of Belgium,” Antonia says of a place that is typical of the convivial couple’s taste for locales that are off the beaten path. Another favorite spot is Cat Island in the Bahamas, known for the untouched beauty of its pink sandy beaches and undulating hills, which make it a perfect spot for outdoor sports.
Says Peter: “We don’t like to be where everybody is.”
For more, visit lefroufroucouture.com.