Come, on! You’ve never done that?’ cries Garance Doré as she leans back on a pristine peach-pink leather banquette, the focal point of her bright LA kitchen.
She’s trying to tell me that she was much more of a blagger than a blogger, back in the day. ‘I snuck into so many shows,’ she says, in her distinctive French accent. ‘I was like a little mouse.’
It’s hard to imagine how one of the most powerful influencers in the world, the woman who helped define street style and went on to become a front-row fixture, could slip into a room unnoticed – or needing to, for that matter.
‘Oh, I didn’t belong at all,’ she recalls. ‘I was wearing things from Zara. I didn’t have the right clothes. But it was fun when no one knew me. When you start having status and everyone knows who you are? That’s when things change.’
The Life Of A Famous Fashion Influencer
Doré was working as an illustrator in Paris when she launched her eponymous blog in 2006, where she shared her illustrations and posted images of stylish young women who caught her eye on the streets of Paris, adding captions with her take on a trend or a story behind an outfit.
People immediately related to her candid, warm voice and soon she was being courted to do advertising campaigns for Moschino and illustrations for brands including Louis Vuitton and Kate Spade New York.
But her following really snowballed when she joined forces with fellow blogger and street-style photographer, The Sartorialist‘s Scott Schuman, who she met at Paris Fashion Week in 2007. The power bloggers soon became fashion’s most followed ‘It’ couple. They brought street style into the mainstream – Schuman working in New York, and Doré in Paris before she moved to the US to join him – and were celebrities in their own right: the more they captured the best street style, the more their followers and brands became fascinated with the people behind the camera.
In New York, Doré and Schuman led a starry existence. If street stylers were the new supermodels, Garance Doré was Kate Moss. Doors opened to her as she established herself as one of the most important women in fashion – she was featured on ‘women of the decade’ lists, alongside Angelina Jolie and Lady Gaga. It was, as she wrote in a blog post: ‘A world where, almost everywhere I went, familiar faces were there to say hello… where the red velvet ropes opened to me like magic.’
This was her life for almost a decade. Then, just like that, she gave it all up, walking away from the glamour of the fashion circuit. Because, behind the scenes, things were not as glossy as they appeared; her most accomplished years were fraught with insecurity and anxiety-induced panic attacks.
And nothing is more of a giveaway than the way her face lights up recalling those ‘scrappy’ days of sneaking into shows. They were simpler times, before success and status threatened to destroy her, before she realised she was only pretending to feel as polished as she looked.
Where Is She Now?
The ‘fight for survival’ rat race of New York that she escaped in 2015 after nine years couldn’t be further from the oasis of calm that Doré, now 44, has cultivated on the laid-back Westside of Los Angeles. It’s midweek when she welcomes me into the modern home she shares with her rescue dog, Lulu.
‘When I was 27, I had a choice – am I going to become a teacher or am I going to be an artist? I thought, If I’m a teacher, I’ll know where I am in 20 years; if I’m an artist, the sky’s the limit. I’ll probably never have money, but I’ll be free. So I’ll take that trade-off, and one day, I’ll get a break and I’ll buy a house… It’s not exactly what happened,’ she muses. ‘Because I made more money than I thought I’d ever make.’
Having grown up on the sleepy French Mediterranean island of Corsica – where her parents owned a seaside restaurant – it’s no wonder Doré feels such an affinity with the LA coast, nor that she considers her involvement in fashion an accident rather than a vocation. New York in 2008 was certainly an exciting, heady time – bad for bankers, brilliant for bloggers – but it seems to have chosen Doré, rather than the other way around.
‘People were curious about who I was and what I was doing, and respectful of the new ground I was breaking with bringing fashion online,’ she says of moving to NYC in her mid-30s, after starting her blog.
‘In Paris, people were [critical] that what I was doing was not chic, whereas my goal was to make it chic. It was a time of new things. Alexander Wang and other designers started popping up; everyone wanted to go to New York Fashion Week.’
Behind The Velvet Curtain
If Doré and Schuman were soaring as individuals, together they were invincible. Like the Jay-Z and Beyoncé of the fashion world, they had everything to play for. The Guardian described them as ‘The best thing to happen to style since Grace Coddington.’ Karl Lagerfeld was a fan. And, in 2012, they cemented their status as a pioneering power couple when they were awarded the CFDA Eugenia Sheppard Media Award for their services to blogging.
Behind the scenes, however, Doré was descending into a period of anxiety and depression that would cause her to unravel over the next five to six years. ‘It was normal for me to cry, to let go of steam,’ she says. ‘I remember talking to Scott – we were still together [they separated in 2014] – he is a very strong man and he was like, “We’re at the top.”
I wanted to believe that and to be like him. I wanted to be strong and have a sense of, “This is my life and this is my career and I’m going to make it work.” It’s that thing of: “You’ve made it in fashion! You’ve created this, and you want to let it go? Where will you go? What will you do?” When you come from nowhere, you think, I’m not going to complain.’
Because thousands of people would kill to be in her position? ‘Yes! But it doesn’t mean that we need to stay stuck in something that makes us miserable. I felt like I was being very pretentious – “Look at all the new clothes I have, fashion is fabulous” – that kind of thing, and I should just, you know, shut up. What happens with success is you get to a certain place and there’s nowhere to go but up. Even if it means the death of your soul. I didn’t need these people to validate me and to be revalidated every season. I truly couldn’t care less and I was starting to do everything for show.’
So, she dressed the part, hoping that would make her feel the part. ‘My favourite style is jeans and a T-shirt; and when I started becoming someone important in fashion, this wasn’t cutting it,’ she says, of squeezing into sky-high heels for a more put-together look than she was used to.
‘I felt like I needed to wear all these things – which I did for a while – until I realised it was just not me; until my body told me it was enough, and I started having panic attacks.’
What began as a bad feeling in her chest then returned every time she had to attend a fashion show until, one day, she was simply unable to leave her apartment. ‘There was a moment when I broke down before a Chloé show and decided to cancel,’ she says, quietly. ‘But there had been so many moments like that… I would just push myself and keep going.’
In hindsight, Doré says the cracks were there at the beginning. ‘There’s a hierarchy of who’s sitting where and nobody can talk about it, because everyone is frustrated,’ she sighs. ‘You never want to be sitting where you’re sitting, basically. Except when you are sitting exactly where you want to be – and then you have a big ego rush that gets crushed at the next show. So it’s a lot of ego, a lot of superficiality of who’s wearing what, and a lot of pretending to be cool.’
With the advent of Instagram two years later, in 2010, and a new generation of influencers, ‘things started to get really weird,’ recalls Doré. Not least, because the term ‘influencers’ hadn’t existed until then. Before brand endorsement and sponsored posts, blogs were more like photo journals than marketing tools.
Doré, Scott and Canadian photographer Tommy Ton, whose street-style shots were published everywhere from The New York Times to Vogue Runway, were friends rather than Insta-rivals, who ‘tried to be respectful of our readers’, she adds.
‘This new generation came and it was all about sitting front row and dressing in clothes from the brand. Then it started being competitive. The first generation didn’t compete so much, because we needed to help each other and share what we learnt; we were creating a new language. There’s a lot of competition now there are so many more of them.’
I ask what she thinks of today’s influencers. ‘I don’t know. I stopped being interested. I don’t have nostalgia at all,’ she shrugs. ‘When I created what I created, it was because I was bored of magazines. We went against the system, we were breaking down the system. But then what you’re doing becomes the system. So now we can say the same thing about influencers, that they’re not authentic – the same thing we were reproaching magazines for before.’
But it wasn’t until Doré first moved to LA at the age of 40 that she realised she was suffering from something more severe than anxiety. By this point, she had amicably separated from Schuman and had met someone unrelated to the fashion world – musician Chris Norton – to whom she got engaged in 2016.
Their courtship played out on Instagram in a series of gushing pronouncements of their undying love for one another. With shared values and a love of the outdoors, the couple adopted a dog and attempted to start a family. But the anxiety didn’t shift; it only got worse. It was only then that she realised she’d hit rock bottom and knew she had to seek help.
‘When I went to see my psychiatrist, he said, “Your house is crumbled, so we need to build a new one; that’s what we’re going to do.” You know those old houses where vines grow on the walls and you don’t realise? That’s how I felt. That’s depression. So, I built a new house.’
With a combination of antidepressants and therapy, Doré emerged from the fog, but not before realising she needed to recover on her own. Her relationship with Norton ended in 2018 because, she says, they simply weren’t meant for each other.
There’s still fashion on Doré’s blog, but it has evolved into Atelier Doré, an online lifestyle platform where she oversees an editorial team as creative director. As well as contributions on style, beauty, careers and travel, Doré posts personal diary entries about everything from mental health to fertility. ‘I found a voice years ago and I’ve realised I need and love to be heard,’ she says.
Recently, she went on a silent retreat for six days, which felt like a ‘nightmare’ at the time, but emerged as something more profound. You weren’t supposed to look at other people or make eye contact; Doré says she couldn’t stop. ‘I want people to know that I’m here,’ she says. ‘Not in a giant ego way, but in a sense of connecting.’
Doré is philosophical but open-minded about the future. ‘Life’s goal isn’t to acquire something specific, it’s to learn about ourselves. People forget that, because we’re taught to pile up a bunch of sh*t. Kids are great, houses are great, but it’s not the end goal.’
As we clear away the ceramic coffee cups and last crumbs of tarte tatin, Doré tells me she’s throwing a party soon to celebrate a year of being single. It’s a milestone for someone who has been in back-to-back relationships since she was 13.
‘That deserves a party,’ she says, joking she’ll invite all the guys she’s ever dated. She’s still on friendly terms with Schuman. ‘It’s alright. It comes and goes like everything. You’re like, “Argh,” and then you’re like, “Oh, I want to talk with him.”’
And then, ‘Argh!’ Right?! ‘I’m dating and I’m flirting,’ she confirms. ‘You know how old people don’t give a sh*t any more? You get to 40 and there’s supposed to be a peak in your life, and you’re supposed to be somewhere in your career and you get there – and you’re like, “F*ck it. I don’t want to do what I’m supposed to do any more. I’ve done it and it didn’t make me happy.” Right now I’m just having fun, it’s how it’s supposed to be.’
This article was originally published in the ELLE UK December issue.
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox. Sign Up