In Paris, it’s nearly impossible to go within a one-mile radius without spotting a Sézane tote bag. The fashion brand, founded by Morgane Sézalory in 2013, is sort of like the French girl’s Madewell: ubiquitous, utilitarian, but undoubtedly trendy. Like French style, its wares are slightly more feminine—think: bows and florals and lady-like brocade sandals in colors like gold and rosy beige. Though Sézane began as an e-commerce enterprise, it has since expanded into brick-and-mortar locations, and each store is designed to feel like your chicest friend’s apartment on the Left Bank (not unlike Sézalory’s own home, recently profiled in Architectural Digest). Perhaps the most memorable part of a Sézane shopping experience is the free tote bag you get to carry your purchases in, which can instantly become as crucial a part of your style rotation as the clothes and accessories that fit inside it.
Fifteen years ago, when Sézalory was first starting the brand, she wanted to find a way to provide each shopper with a memento—a small token that felt unique. Eventually, she decided on a tote bag. A sustainable linen bag could replace the plastic bags used in French grocery stores at the time, while also serving as valuable real estate space for marketing. “I was thinking, okay, Paris is small, so if you have something that is very visual, and all the girls have it…if you don’t know the brand and you see someone wearing something very cool a few times in the same week, at some point you’re going to think: what is that? And then you look and you end up on the website,” Sézalory told ELLE.com.
The idea worked—and a decade and a half later, it’s still working. Sézane fans are unequivocally obsessed with these tote bags. They collect them Facebook groups, on Mercari and French classified ads website Leboncoin, with offers to sell, buy, and trade the free totes. These “Sézane Addicts,” or “Sézanettes,” as they call themselves, are more than 72K strong—and that’s just on Facebook. For limited-edition tote bags, especially those that are part of a special collab like the one the brand recently did with Farm Rio, users will offer cash or a trade to get their bag of choice. “Hello, I’m throwing a bottle to the sea: I fell in love with this tote bag Farm Rio collab but would like to buy it at a reasonable price (15 to 20 euros). If anyone wants to help me?” reads one recent post by a woman named Sandra. (Good luck to Sandra, as that tote, of which Sézane made limited runs, is selling on Vestiaire Collective for more than 135 euros.)
In fact, sites like Vestiaire Collective, Poshmark, The RealReal and Mercari are full of people hawking the free Sézane tote bags they got for upwards of 20, 30, even 100 euros. That Farm Rio bag that Sandra’s on the hunt for was the most expensive one we spotted, but others, like this banana-themed one, were selling for 87 euros, and this one—which I actually have two of and had no idea until now it was valuable!—is “on sale” on The RealReal for 92 Euros.
Kimberley Blanchot, one half of the sister duo behind the French-American PR agency August 28 Studio, is one such avid collector (and, full disclosure, a good friend). On a recent trip to her apartment in Neuilly, she opened a cupboard to reveal several shelves packed with dozens of neatly folded tote bags. Though there were ones from brands her firm reps and others she’d collected in New York, the Sézane pile was the most prolific: this woman, and I am not exaggerating, had 20 Sézane tote bags, and with each one she had a little excuse for keeping it: “This one’s great for the beach; I use this one a lot to carry my computer.”
“I didn’t really set out to collect them, I was just an avid Sézane follower and got one every time I shopped there,” Blanchot said. “ I was living in New York at the time and the brand wasn’t international yet, so there was a bit of a cool factor—I liked that each collection gave life to a new design collab so just naturally started to accumulate them and now here we are.”
Blanchot isn’t alone. “It started when I became a VIP customer, I received a tote bag as a gift, then during certain orders, I also received free tote bags, and little by little my collection grew,” said Tatiana, a 31-year-old pediatric nurse from Lille. “Today I have 25 tote bags. They are so beautiful and all different, and I continue my little tote bag hunt to unearth rare pearls.”
As the bags have grown in popularity, Sézane has begun partnering with others to package and advertise wares together. One recent summer collab featured the French issue of Vanity Fair packaged with a yellow and white striped beach tote; another advertised the gelato brand Amorino.
The fact that she started an ongoing Parisian-wide trend doesn’t seem to faze Sézalory, who says she spots the totes around Paris all the time but doesn’t “internalize it.” She recently had her third child, so her own collection of totes has been repurposed. “The quality of [the bags] is great,” Sézalory said. “I put my diapers in it—my Sézane tote is my baby bag.”
Jessica Roy is the former Digital Director of ELLE.com. Prior to that, she worked as the News Editor of The Cut. She likes baking, running, and Instagrams of your dog.