Jeanne Damas on ‘Becoming Karl Lagerfeld’ & Modern Influencer Culture

She’s a model, a muse, a friend of some of the biggest designers of her time, a businesswoman, and a designer. No, I’m not talking about Paloma Picasso, but Jeanne Damas, French “It” girl and founder and creative director of Rouje. It is fitting, however, that Damas portrays the daughter of Pablo Picasso in Disney+’s new, Daniel Brühl-led mini series, Becoming Karl Lagerfeld, which traces the rise of the German designer in 1970s Paris. Watching the series’s six episodes—in which Damas’s Paloma plays a small role—one can’t help but see the resemblance between the actress and the woman she’s portraying. And it’s not just the flowing dresses and signature red lip the women share, but the similar positions in which they found themselves while living in their respective Parises.

“I don’t think it was an accident that I was chosen for this part,” Damas tells W. “I work in the fashion world, I was a muse for some designers and I’m close with them. I created my own brand like Paloma. So I see some similarities.” She pauses for a minute before adding, “Of course, my father is not Picasso.” Below, Damas discusses her return to acting after a seven-year hiatus, her distaste for children’s fashion, and her thoughts on modern influencer culture.

Damas as Paloma Picasso in Becoming Karl Lagerfeld.

Courtesy of Disney+

People know you for so many things, but acting isn’t necessarily one of them. Have you always wanted to be an actor?

Yes, I took a theater class for three years after high school while I was modeling. It was really formative. It was just at night, a few times a week. I was lonely otherwise, because all my friends were at college, so I used to go to the cinema three or four times a week. It was my escape.

I was in two features, one with Guillaume Canet called Rock’n Roll, and another film with Charles Guerin called La Sincérité. When I started Rouje, I stopped acting because I had a full-time job. Then, seven years later, Disney called me about playing Paloma and I couldn’t say no.

Prior to getting the role, how familiar were you with Paloma Picasso and this era of Paris?

I didn’t really know about Paloma, so I had to learn everything. My bible for the series was A Beautiful Fall, which discusses Paris in the ’70s and the beginning of prêt à porter. You learn about the relationships between Yves Saint Laurent and Karl, and Paloma and the crew around them. What is interesting about the series is that you get to see more of Karl’s humanity. You see the man, all his failures, and the steps he took to become the Karl we now know.

Daniel Brühl and Jeanne Damas as Karl Lagerfeld and Paloma Picasso in Becoming Karl Lagerfeld.

Courtesy of Disney+

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Much of the show focuses on the rivalry between Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent. Paloma managed to stay neutral to both parties, but what side are you on?

Me, I’m more Saint Laurent. I own a lot of Yves Saint Laurent’s pieces. When I had my 30th birthday party in Marrakech, the theme was Yves Saint Laurent in the ’70s. So, I have to choose him. Sorry, Karl.

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You’re very much associated with the term “French Girl Style.” Do you ever feel boxed in by that designation?

I think “French Girl Style” is a marketing term or a slogan for journalists. But it has never been about marketing for me, it’s just my natural life and style. Still, I know it’s good for my business because people love the “French Girl Style.” Though I don’t know why there is such an obsession. Maybe it has something to do with the simplicity and effortlessness associated with it. Like Jane Birkin. She just wore jeans and white T-shirts and everybody says she’s a style icon. It’s about an allure, an attitude. It’s hard to explain.

You’ve said New York City has been an especially inspiring place for you. Can you speak more to that?

It’s funny, because everybody is obsessed with French girls and French style, but everybody I know in Paris—like the real fashion students who love fashion—says, “Oh my God, people are boring in Paris. Everybody just wears jeans and black.” When you go to New York, though, people are amazingly stylish and creative. So, I get surprised and really inspired when I go to New York. I remember the first time I visited and I went to Urban Outfitters. Now, I think it’s horrible. But at the time, I was like, “Oh wow! What is this, these vintage vibes?”

You recently became a mom. Has that changed the way you dress or the way you design?

Not really. It might have changed my consideration for sneakers, because I never used to wear them. When I wanted to be comfortable, I wore [ballet flats]. Now, though, I have a little boy, so I run more. I also wear more stretchy materials, like leggings. Bigger bags, too. I used to be obsessed with mini-bags—when I started Rouje, I said to my team, “I want only mini-bags, because it’s my obsession.” But now that I have a child, I understand why you need a big bag. And now, one of our bestsellers for the past two years has been a big bag. But I’ll wear white around my son, I don’t care.

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Do you dress up your son? Does he let you?

I actually don’t dress him up. People are really disappointed, but I don’t get buying expensive clothes for children who grow up every month. For the first six months, he was just in his pajamas because he was sleeping all the time, so I was like, “Why should I dress him?” Maybe he’ll be mad when he grows up and sees photos. We’ll see.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on influencer culture. You could be considered an influencer, but I think you were one generation ahead of the influencers we now know.

I am happy you see the difference, because some people think everybody who has a lot of followers on social media is an influencer. These days, being an influencer is a job, people dream of being influencers. When I was starting, though, it was not a job, it was just my life. I was showing off the people around me and my inspirations. It wasn’t just clothes and photos, there was a real universe. To create a brand or business, you need more than followers. You need a message and strong stories. You need to bring something new.

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