Discovering new brands that revolve around my love of all things French is always something I love to do. I first learned about the Australian based brand, French Consul during their pop-up at Marche Maman in SOHO. I loved seeing all of the Insta-Stories, which gave us an inside look at the both the Marche and French Consul’s four days in New York City.
Upon Karen’s return to Sydney, I had the chance to catch up with her and today you will get an inside look at French Consul and it’s creator Karen Miles.
When did you first come up with the concept for French Consul?
Watching my Dad die in April 2017 was a real wake up call for me. I promised him that I would see more of the world so in September that year, I quit my job and took some time-out to travel solo. I spent a lot of my time in Paris and Provence looking for linen tablecloths and cushion covers with a classic French ‘grain sack’ stripe. Grain sacks were once widely used by farmers across Europe to identify their grains when they sold them at market – each family had their own color and stripe pattern on their grain sacks. I couldn’t find the products anywhere, or even the fabric or antique versions to make up for my own home.
When I returned to Australia after the 3-week trip I had the post-holiday blues so bad (as you do! Because Paris!) but I was so inspired to find a way to make France, and the calm I’d been searching for, a regular part of my life. Not being able to find the French grain sack products here in Australia, and knowing that so many women worldwide covet the designs, I knew there had to be a gap in the market that I could fill. I launched six months later under the brand name, French Consul, the ‘consulate’ or ambassador of all things French.
What are your products (ie Table Runners and Tea Towels) made from?
The 8-piece homewares collection is made from 100% linen grown in France, woven in one of the last remaining family-run linen mills in Ireland, hand cut & sewn in Ireland and Australia, and designed by me here in Sydney, Australia. Every product comes in 3 colorways – a navy blue, white or grey grain sack stripe. I’m also about to launch a new color! The collection is made up of three cushion sizes, two Totes bags with matching Pochette (zippered purse), and kitchen linens like our Provencal Tea Towel and Fete Table Runner.
Everything you design is manufactured in a family run mill in Ireland and finished by a collective of sewers in Ireland & Australia. How much are you involved in the process from manufacturing to final product?
I’m not sure where I begin and end as I’m involved in every step of production in some way and every element of the business. That’s business ownership! The fun parts for me are creating product ideas and producing and styling our photoshoots, but I would say that’s 10% of the job. The rest of the time I’m focused on wholesaling to stores, managing all the logistics and timing for product production, and accounting, which I’ve had to teach myself (omg!) not my forte!!
Are there items from your shop that you use often in your own home?
My home is very much inspired by French Provincial styling, lots of monochrome and vintage pieces, and neutrals for warmth. I have the grey stripe cushions all through my house, and the white stripe Septembre Tote and matching Pochette are my go to carry-all.
Before starting French consul you were a magazine editor and journalist. What was it like transitioning from one career to another?
You would think they’re such different professions but what I’ve realized is that I’ve swapped paper for fabric, and magazine production schedules for product production. Both roles require a lot of project management and deadlines, authentic storytelling, and creating a quality product and following.
One of your cushions was featured in House & Garden Magazine. What was it like seeing your product in print?
Oh my goodness, the morning I knew the magazine was hitting the newsstands I rushed like a crazy lady through school drop off then it was pedal to the metal to the nearest newsagent to grab a copy as I still didn’t know whether I had made it into the issue. Having done a lot of magazine shoots, I was so aware that you can supply your product for a shoot but you just never know until they hit print whether your product got onto the page. I sat in my car madly flipping through the magazine and then I saw my product featured in a gorgeously styled mudroom and I may have cried! Then I told EVERYBODY!
French Consul was recently part of a pop up Maman in New York. What did you enjoy the most about working with Elisa and her team to prepare for the pop-up at Marche Maman?
Marche Maman in SOHO is a dream space, it’s like French brocante shopping in this gorgeous building and have you seen those front doors! Elisa and her team were so welcoming and supportive, helping me with furniture and props that I clearly couldn’t pack into my suitcase from Australia! Seeing my product all styled and looking so pretty in her store in the heart of SOHO where all the best brands house their flagships and innovative brands create their pop ups, I honestly had to keep pinching myself to help it all feel real.
During your 4 day pop up at Maman, you also had the opportunity to explore New York City. What were some of your favorite spots you visited during your time in the city?
I am so visually inspired by the architecture and winter colors of New York. My most frequented spot is the Parisian-inspired brasserie Balthazar in SOHO, but I also love Buvette and Petit Boucherie in Greenwich Village. I loved walking the streets of Greenwich Village from my hotel an Aussie friend recommended – the art deco Marlton Hotel. There’s really nothing like Eataly or ABC Carpet & Home in Sydney or margherita pizza like I found at Prince Street Pizza – so good!
Your Fete Table Runners and Provencal Tea Towels continue to be available at Marche Maman in NYC. How did you feel when you found out that French Consul products would continue to have a home at Marche Maman?
It was another I’ve-left-my-body moment – there’s just no other store like Marche Maman in NYC and to think that my linen products now sit alongside Elisa’s vintage French finds is just beyond – a dream come true and a total 180 from where my career was going before I through my life up in the air and flew to France.
Currently French Consul is based online with selected items available at Marche Maman in NYC. Do you have plans for a brick and mortar store in future?
French Consul now has a home in over 35 stores across Australia, the UK and the US so I will definitely keep focusing on wholesale for now, but who knows! If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past year since launching French Consul is that you just never know where life will take you when you dare to dream bigger for yourself.
Keep up with Karen and French Consul through the following links…
All photos in this post were provided by Karen Miles of French Consul