Things that go POP
Meet Jackie Shapiro — the mastermind behind the fantastical, and fabulously fashionable lifestyle brand, French Bull. WORDS: Michelle Hespe
For any company, branding is what everything else hinges upon. And as a CEO, founder or director of a business, to become a true success story, you have to personify that brand and literally become a part of what it conveys to the world. In an ideal scenario, the creator is the brand — their very essence is personified in everything that the company produces, promotes, and stands for.
There are many brands in the world, particularly in the realm of fashion and design, which have the branding caper down pat. Think of the Versace family and their continually evolving fashion statements, or Nigella Lawson and her powerfully seductive branding created in the kitchen. Think Oprah. Cake Boss. Stella McCartney. They are all people embodying their brands.
And then there is French Bull. If ever there was a dynamic example of a creator and brand perfectly in tune, here it is, in all of its free-spirited, bold vivacity. Founder and CEO of French Bull, Jackie Shapiro, and her edgy, energy-driven, pattern-popping company are an ever-erupting, joyous explosion of branding in perpetual motion. Catch one glimpse of a funky 70s style melamine plate, an art-filled salad server, or a cool iPhone case created by Shapiro and her colour-coddling, pop-peddling team, and you know straight away that it’s French Bull. The product may as well have its own loud voice with which to shout, the message is so clear.
In her own words, Shapiro was “born to spruce up the place. She never met a blank surface she didn’t like. She sees them as opportunities, as designs waiting to happen. A pluralist muralist, she eyes lazy susans and duvet covers as objects in need of her art. A gleeful graffitist, she hears serving trays and bedroom slippers crying out for a tag. Jackie is a high priestess of prints. A poet of pattern. An obsessive doodler determined to redraw the world, she’s a rebel with a commercial cause.”
Generations of fabulous fashion
Shapiro explains that French Bull’s name takes inspiration from the frisky nature, compact stature, and mighty will of the offbeat, Jolie Laide (meaning beautiful/ugly in French language) French Bull dog. “The French Bull mark illustrates our solid foundation, heady profile and alert bat-like ears that navigate us through any challenge,” she says with a cheeky smile. And at first, it might be easy to assume that the company’s inspiration sprang from Dash, her family’s beloved bulldog, and the creation of a set of funky melamine dining plates designed by Shapiro back in 2002 when she launched French Bull. But the truth is, there’s always been a river of colour and pop culture coursing through Shapiro’s veins, and some of that came from her upbringing. Her mother for instance, in the late 70s and early 80s, was a founding partner of Eva for Robert Janan, a successful fashion label that championed a wrap-dress and easy two-piece dressing philosophy. The dresses were designed and created with arresting patterns printed in Italy at a factory that later, Diane Furstenberg would also share. Shapiro studied fashion at Parsons School of Design that also inspired the likes of Marc Jacobs, Isaac Mizrahi, Narciso Rodriguez and Anna Sui. Having always been surrounded by some of the world’s bravest and most inspiring commercial artists means that it’s no surprise that Shapiro has found her niche and that French Bull is continually, steadily growing as it garners more fans around the world.
“Having come from a family in fashion over three generations, I can’t help but see everything as a past, present, or future fashion trend. I look at everything when designing, including fashion on the runway, the street, and what the cool kids are up to,” Shapiro says. “Our product is influenced by fashion; be it pattern, silhouette, color, a construction detail, or a lifestyle attitude, and in the end, it’s about us coming up with a delicate balance of on-trend and on-brand. Hopefully we get it right season to season, and give back to the world our own custom blend of fashion.”
Colour is core
Beneath French Bull’s many kaleidoscopic offerings, are some retail and marketing fundamentals that Shapiro adheres to, so that her brand always stands out in a saturated homewares and lifestyle market. Firstly, she believes that it’s all about introducing designs that resonate with people emotionally, and immediately. She also believes that it’s essential to maintain a consistent point of view, and innovate through repurposing. And finally, the core of any business dealing with the public: customer service. “We must provide a positive experience,” Shapiro says. “Our customers tell us that French Bull products elicit happy sentiments in them. I hope great memories get created with family, friends, co-workers, kids and pets when our products are part of the experience. My brother in law tells me that his once-a-week lunches with his grandchildren, and our French Bull plates are the highlight of the week for him. This story makes me laugh because he thinks the plates make the food taste better! We believe French Bull is AOK for dining at home everyday with your family, using our plates for big bash entertaining, unforgettable gifting, office parties, and on and on. If it creates good vibes, and we can be part of cool memories – my job is done.”
French Bull champions good vibes, and individualism. Owning and showcasing French Bull products is an extremely visual way of showing off a bright, bold personality. “I hope French Bull products make people feel free to consider us an extension of their personal style,” Shapiro says. And the fact that French Bull uses so many bright colors and wonderful patterns, means that their consumers can pick and choose pieces that reflect their sense of fashion and idea of fun.
”For French Bull, colour is a core tool,” says Shapiro. “We have a distinct palate that draws consumers to our products, stirs positive emotions, and overall has a huge impact on our brand recognition. Our French Bull Mark is Orange, which is a colour believed to enhance a feeling of vitality and happiness. Hence our tag line and mantra - Live Vivid. Colour is important for fashion and homewares because both of these industries are reflections of an individual’s lifestyle choices.”
Knowing exactly who loves your products — especially who would choose them over others in the ever-burgeoning mass of online offerings — is crucial for any retailer. So really understanding French Bull’s relatively niche demographic — and thus their lifestyle choices — and then directly marketing to this demographic has helped to further French Bull’s growth, not just in terms of direct customers, but also in terms of strengthening ties with boutique retailers who have discerning, individual, educated and fashion conscious customers.
“National retailers rely on their own private labels to service a wide swathe of their consumer base,” explains Shapiro. “Then they use brands such as French Bull to service and grow increasingly specific segments of their consumer base. For example, French Bull appeals less broadly but more strongly to our specific demographic. Our customers are likely to live in small or large cities or in affluent suburbs. They are likely to have young children and to have finished college. Brands like French Bull are important tools for retailers that care about this demographic,” says Shapiro. “By communicating with these retailers early in a product’s development, and by leveraging our relationships with manufacturing leaders (e.g. Neoflam in Korea, Lock & Lock in China, Creative Converting in the US) French Bull creates programs with retailers that reach this important consumer while maintaining the high bar for value across the fashion and home categories.”
This story originally appeared in the International Housewares Association's Inspiration Magazine