My fascination with how brands/labels/stores position/brand themselves both online and in physical spaces never ceases.  Were I more essay-inclined these days, I'd be going back to school and writing voluntary theses on the subject.  This alas makes for dry reading for a lot of you who are mainly after pwetty, purtty pictures.  So by the end of the post, you shall be swooning at Marais USA's shoes, styling and overall look because a glance at the website and with its minimal presentation of their simple, quality-made and affordable low-heels, flats and sandals…

Marais1

Marais4
Marais5

You might even be further swayed by the girls on the homepage who are perfect Marais USA ambassadors, with their posing-in-the-park (Prospect Park, Brooklyn of course…) antics, their enviable jobs and whimsical bios.  Nay, it's not their shoes you want, it's their damn lives!  

Marais2

Marais2a

Creating a perfectly poised niche for a brand isn't anything new and Marais USA have done that well enough but my ickle niggle is that as I click on tabs like Marais World and check out the video of "A Day With Marais" where the Marais girl suit their Prospect Park surroundings amazingly well, wearing Marais USA shoes exceedingly well, and then see a submissions page where people are asked to submit their favourite outfits to wear their Marais shoes with, I end up thinking "Gosh…. I don't think I'm bloody good enough  to be a Marais girl…".  Where's my Marais World that consists of Prospect Park, cute Lomo camera shots and a wardrobe of finely tuned dishevelled simplicity? 

It's this sort of clever-clogs niche branding, that presents a mental block in my head because as much as I dig the shoes themselves, the very intial thought that comes into my head is "But I'm not a Marais girl…".  That's how simple it gets reduced down to in the subconscious thought process of brand interaction and reaction.  So as "versatile" as the shoes are, I somehow don't get a sense of versatility from the site.  Of course, once I've dealt with the fact I'm not a Marais Girl, all is good, and I'm still ready to hand over my $65.  What can I say?  I'm into over analysing minor niggles that stick out like a pale green bulging vein on my head.  Let's not get too crazy and try and try and delve into the subject of how ACTUAL Marais Girls (as in femmes who live in the 3rd/4th arr. of Paris) figure into this.

Comments (47)

  1. Mica says:

    Hi! Great Blog!
    I have a blog:
    micagoestoparis.blogspot.com
    and its really new.
    I would love to have a comment by you!
    byee

  2. KB says:

    Love the shoes, and the prices are great, but I see what you mean. I guess this is the new way for sites to market themselves, showing what some of their coolest customers wear, to make everyone else feel insecure and want to buy them anyway.

  3. John says:

    As someone who is pretty allergic to most forms of advertising (reaction being to shout at the telly/start spouting abuse at inanimate billboards) I can completely understand where you are coming from. I wish we could see an end to this kind of obnoxious ‘lifestyle advertising’ (I’m sure there is a more academic term for it) but as long as it works then we won’t. From what you say they have a really great product but they are more interested in selling the brand image than the product itself. I think they have shot themselves in the foot! I find myself having the same issue with American Apparel, for example.

  4. Songy says:

    Nice branding for sure. Le Marais used to my fave place to go every weekend. That said what makes a marais girl? That place was so diverse I can’t think of any particular style. Online stores poping up all over the place and it’s getting somewhat tiring. Would you say?

  5. Sophis says:

    Stop giving me more reasons to spend money! It’s because of you I can’t leave Market Publique alone :)
    Seriously though, thank you. I’m already trying to decide which shoes to get. You’re amazing.
    Sophie (peurouge)

  6. I have a pair of these shoes and they make me feel really really uncool somehow i dont think thats the point of them xx

  7. Kay says:

    Really interesting post Susie. It’s very very clever branding, I think a lot of the most successful clothing/accessories brands are selling a character almost rather than just the product. I am definitely going to check out the website though, I am all for any brand that makes a good flat!

  8. luxirare says:

    very well written.

  9. kaye says:

    Really interesting site, thanks for posting about it! I actually love the branding and enjoyed browsing it.
    However, I do find it tiresome that American stores insist on naming themselves in the French language. It is like they lack the creativity to come up with an interesting and thoughtful name, so they just pull some French word out of their arse and are done with it. La Garconne, Jumelle, Pas de Deus…seriously, I am so over it.

  10. Gabriel says:

    thanks for the post.
    i only got to look at the home page of the website. will take a closer look later. my first impressions are:
    - it’s great to see a company like this headed by two young women (24) and they are marketing it by using themselves as models
    - none of these women live close to prospect park – it’s a state of mind just like the way “marais” is

  11. miss sophie says:

    it’s a cute concept at quick glance, but since i’m trying to avoid spending unneccessary $$, i’ll be happy with my vintage ferragamo bow flats, thank you. :)

  12. Eeli says:

    I’m a marketing major so this is really appealing to me :)
    From what I can gather they are trying to sell an image alongside their products which is one of the simplest and most rewardeable ways to become a distinctive brand. Clever advertising and a happy consumer panel are always necessary too :P
    Sorry for the wee ramble. Shall cease now :P
    Thanks for the advice. I actually sifted through your archives and my gosh arent your outfits amazing! lol. And I did stumble on The Bordelle elastic corset. You wore it pretty damn wickedly haha.
    Must go know before I bore you stiff.
    Hope you’re enjoying the Easter break! :)

  13. faddict says:

    This kind of advertising is intriguing, it’s funny how it can sometimes be a bit isolating like you’ve talked about. It’s interesting to think about how it relates to the fashion blog world-both lifestyle adverts and fashion blogs have voyeuristic and aspirational elements. In the end, though, it’s the product that ultimately secures the sale for all of us who shop a lot!

  14. Pish Posh… you’re certainly a Marais girl… though I suspect you might be a little bit above a Marais girl. The shoes are fab and the price point is right.

  15. selina says:

    eek i have to write about this stuff way too much! maybe you are quite happy with your own style and know exactly what you like, so don’t really contemplate aspiring to be these girls. for me it’s not too attractive mainly because the girls seem kind of boring?

  16. B. Lambent says:

    I think you out style and out cool the Marais girls.
    adornationforall.blogspot.com

  17. Sal says:

    I get these feelings too when poring over certain sites and catalogs. A fine line between target market and alienation …

  18. biru says:

    Those shoes look very nice but the models look very alike and yes, I agree, very Parisienne.

  19. corrie says:

    As a 24 y/o girl living in Brooklyn, I kind of find myself resenting these girls. I say under my breath “Who the f*ck do they think they are?”
    I’m sure they’re very lovely, but I get the vibe that someone’s parents funded this whole thing. The creative director lives in Gramercy, one of the most expensive areas in Manhattan and home of the only private park? Errrrr… Not itching too bad to shell out $65 for a pair of their shoes when I could probably get 2 pairs of vintage shoes in a similar style.
    Oh well, the girls are cute, so I’m sure they will succeed.

  20. KD says:

    UWS represent!!!!

  21. mash says:

    happy easter to you :)

  22. dust says:

    Fine writing ’bout branding. I think we’ll be seeing much more of lifestyle advertisement, I hope much better and versatile than this one. Smbd above said their foot, how right. No, you are not Marais girl.
    “wear them”, don’t “be them”!

  23. Adrian.. says:

    susie bubble branding consultant..lol, leave it to the experts. This is a commercial move, to appeal to a mass audience..not sure what you are niggling about?

  24. susie_bubble says:

    Adrian: But is it appealing to a mass audience? Some comments here suggest that what they’re doing can be slightly alienating which was what I was niggling at… obviously once you get past initial niggles, the product is still a good one but I worry about the increasing amount of this niche lifestyle branding…
    I’m no expert btw…. but I’m allowed to rant/rave nonetheless…hence why that category exists… and you can choose to not read it… like I said, skip to the pwetty/purtty pics and be done with it?

  25. Really well said! I knew the site and the shoes are really cute but I probably spent a lot more time looking at the girls, not so unconsciously craving for their lives. Oh well, this always happens to me with IKEA catalogues too (!), you know all those pictures of perfectly cool scandinavian living…so isn’t anything new I suppose!

  26. Terry says:

    The branding that is supposed to make you feel a part of the clique actually alienates you. The shoes are fine but not spectacular so they have to build something around them to make them interesting. The US is a wee bit afraid of personal style. When advertisers broadcast to the masses and make the foregone conclusion that you are their target audience, well, that always irks me and makes me want to rebel…just niggle niggle

  27. dapper kid says:

    How wonderfully fascinating. I quite enjoy the fact that they seem to have create an identity of their ideal consumer around the product, but then I wonder whether that is what they have done. I suppose women are meant to look and want their lifestyle, thereby buying the shoes? But at the same time the move might be kind of isolating, in that many might not be able to relate to the Marais Girl? Either way, the advertising is pretty enough and I really like the shoes!

  28. Aja says:

    You pinned the nail on the head right here, Miss Bubble. I do love the shoes and will probably happily buy a pair (or two). But even when I lived in Brooklyn, I assure you my life was nothing like this. I do enjoy their simple aesthetic design though. It’s nice to see shoes not splattered in crap with plain colours. I had an idea similar to theirs and wonder if I should still push forward with it. I think I will.

  29. Hi Susie! I did an interview with the Marais Girls last week. Thought you might find it interesting:
    http://teenfashionista.blogspot.com/2009/04/marais-girls.html

  30. Style Pill says:

    How cool. I am so glad you posted about this awesome site. I do a lot of posts about affordable outfits and get the looks, and this site is perfect with their adorable shoes!
    Check out stylepill.wordpress.com!
    xo

  31. I like hearing your perspective. And I can totally see your point. The versatility doesn’t jump out, but I’m sure it is there. I bet you could think of hundreds of ways to wear them!
    Also, thank you for my lovely blog comment. You are good.
    x

  32. Me neither. I am so not a Marais girl, so I can relate. Truly.

  33. melissa says:

    Hmm…seems like style over substance. The actual shoes are really boring though I’m not a kitten heel slingback girl myself. I also found the descriptions of the girls trite and trying WAY too hard to make them sound interesting. One girl lived in Nebraska and Taiwan and is called ‘nomadic’. A bit of a stretch? Another girl is amazing having graduated from Brown at JUST 21…uh, most people graduate at 21. I know I did. You could write about a hobo in this style and make them sound cool. Oh, I agree with the previous commenter on the lame French name.

  34. oh I must buy some of these shoes.
    1. because I adore nude patent shoes
    2. because my surname is Marais
    it was meant to be, although I think I am very far from being a Marais girl and agree that their ubercool website approach is intimidating. nevertheless I will still purchase for my reasons above.
    I hope they ship internationally! thanks for the tip susie.
    blog.porshamarais.com

  35. jess says:

    Personally I think they’ve gone overboard a little bit….their bios/video looked fake/forced. But brand marketing is about appealing to the masses and I think the average shopper would be attracted to the girls’ Brooklyn/Frenchy cutsy styles. For me, the shoes are pretty boring and they need to inject some personalities into them. This kind of brand marketing is pretty clever. They just didn’t do it very well.

  36. Jess says:

    I think it’s more about trying to show people how they should be wearing them in their minds, but your right they do sort of shove it down your throat. But damn they are pretty.
    Great blog.

  37. May says:

    I think what Terry said in a previous comment seems to really explain the motivation for such branding. The shoes are quite plain and need dressing up. If you were trying to decide how to spend budgeted shoe money, the whimsical floral-print, bow laden heels (for example) puts up a good fight against practical no-nonsense flats.
    I am from New York, and I find this kind of branding quite obnoxious. I just want a pair of shoes; I’m not interested in buying an identity. As a potential customer, I have to put in effort to grudgingly accept that I do indeed like their shoes.
    Though I do admire the business sense of the two founders. Clearly, this is a company that has a very clear goal: brand and price point.

  38. kaye says:

    I definitely agree with the style over substance comments – I had way more fun browsing the site than I did the shoes! And while I do like their branding, I would never buy a pair of their shoes because they are extremely plain and look to be of poor quality. Most are described as “patent,” which I assume is synthetic. Quite frankly, they look like shoes you can buy at Payless or Target.

  39. Catherine Chen says:

    Hi Susie,
    I really enjoyed reading your thoughtful post about mine and Haley’s company. I love how your post has sparked some serious debate. No matter what your opinion is, it is nice to know that people interested in fashion USE their brains to form their own thoughts and realize that there is so much more “stuff” that comes alongside a product! I think you definitely bring up some interesting points about our marketing and branding that I aim to address in the future.
    We believe in selling a simple product that you make into your own. You wear it how you want and that’s what we wanted to convey. We had no stylists, no make-up artists, no designer clothes. The night before, Haley and I just rummaged through our closets, threw it all in a suitcase, and prayed for good weather! What you see is what you get… 5 real girls wearing real clothes, doing real things (minus the balloons… those aren’t an everyday occurrence:) Needless to say, I think all the women featured on our site are exceptional. Why shouldn’t that be celebrated? These girls rock because they’re super motivated and work f***ing hard! I will say that it is our goal to feature women who are healthy and ambitious. We like girls who are DOING things, not just living in the burg and having a boyfriend in a band (no offense, but you get what I mean). We both read a lot of fashion blogs and what I keep seeing is this image of a super skinny femme fatale, dressed in black, smoking, and sulking in the corner. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful photograph, but that is not what I, myself, find aspirational.
    I can go on and on, but here is my email: cath@maraisusa.com. Feel free to contact me for ongoing debates and discussions. Again, I loved hearing from everyone and thanks again Susie. Let me know when you ever visit NYC, I would love to meet you!
    — Catherine

  40. Jessica says:

    I love this brand. It is one of the few companies I know that celebrates girls like me that don’t have a big pocket book but love to dream and feel pretty. I also truly respect that fact that Catherine and Haley are young woman that have figured out how to be strong and run a company. Everyone uses advertising and marketing . . . and I prefer it coming from a woman designer my age I can relate to than an older man designer.
    I recently met Haley and found her to be a truly genuine person, who has taught herself business skills. This is not a trust fund pet project, this is the new generation of successful young women.
    If we are going to take out anger and bitterness on the fashion world, let’s direct it at huge conglomerates who take our money, fuel anorexia, and don’t seem to truly care about fashion.
    xo.

  41. susie_bubble says:

    Some very polarised comments here and I thank Catherine for stepping up and leaving her two cents too…. of course I’m not taking away their achievements which is that at a young age, they have a successful company, with a sound ethos and a great product to boot… I guess it just comes down to personal feelings and initial reactions…like I said the thoughts I outlined in my post were initial gut reactions that after a few more moments of reasoning dissipate pretty quickly…. thank you everyone though for leaving some provoking words about how MaraisUSA and other brands speak to you…. it is good to be subjective about what brands are doing…otherwise it’d make it awfully easy for ad bods to figure ppl out…

  42. Mhairi says:

    Can anyone tell me if they post to the UK?
    Id really like a few of the shoes that are available from May but coundnt see anything about shipping ?
    Thanks

  43. cassiopeia says:

    :-D equally interested to know if they post to the uk… cute shoes, and the idea of lifestyle branding fascinates me (in a wierd, slightly creepy, but seductive way a la stepford lol)
    xxxc
    http://clothestohealabrokenheart.blogspot.com/

  44. Leanne says:

    Just wanted to update you if you didn’t know but the shipping costs to UK and Australia is $200US!! Shocking! So much for affordable! I was really looking forward to owning a pair :(

  45. ellegentsia says:

    Just found this posting, and also just found the Marais Girls portion of the site. I agree with you: let’s all move to New York and be fabulous. (Read: so poor we have to be innovative to dress ourselves.)

  46. Lganster@duq.edu says:

    Who gives a crap how the shoes are branded. Plenty of companies have a distinct market and niche. This isn’t new. At the end of the day, if you like them, buy them. If you don’t, don’t. It’s the same with blogs or anything else.

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