Fleur du Mal’s founder and CEO Jennifer Zuccarini is a natural entrepreneur. For starters, entrepreneurship runs in her family, as her father was a visionary who brought the first espresso machine to Canada in 1954. Zuccarini and her two sisters, also entrepreneurs, grew up hearing their father repeat, “Why would you ever want to work for somebody? You should always work for yourself.”
Equipped with a passion for building a brand of her own, as well as an art history and fine arts degree, the Toronto-native pivoted to fashion as the focal point of her career. Zuccarini moved to New York City upon graduating from Concordia University, enrolled in Fashion Design at FIT, and after several fashion gigs, took the big leap by co-founding her first lingerie startup, Kiki de Montparnasse, in 2005.
After a job opportunity as design director came about at Victoria’s Secret in 2008, she flexed her corporate muscle for three years and learned how a multibillion-dollar company operated. But Zuccarini felt the entrepreneurial fire yet again; this time it led her to launch Fleur du Mal in 2012.
With a celebrity following that includes Bella Hadid, Victoria Beckham and Emma Roberts, Fleur du Mal has carved a niche for itself as a cheeky, luxe lingerie and swimwear brand. The brazen fashion e-tailer has also expanded its product assortment, with a ready-to-wear collection as a separate category.
While Fleur du Mal’s tagline of “Inspiring dressing up and undressing” seems salacious, Zuccarini is cognizant of the importance of presenting lingerie as a part of everyday wear, as opposed to something special women wear on weekends or dates.
Zuccarini explains: “When I was creating the brand, I with thinking about how we’re dressing our woman really from the inside, out. It’s also about the spirit and joie de vivre that a woman has. When I was looking at the industry at the time, before launching Fleur du Mal, I felt that most lingerie brands were either very basic or super sexy, and there weren’t a lot out there that spoke to our ‘Fleur woman,’ who loves fashion, wears great pieces, does amazing things, and is powerful.”
As an online retailer, Zuccarini has made experiential pop-ups an important part of Fleur du Mal’s strategy, and has found a way to blend her two passions along the way: fashion and art. The most recent pop-up, which was called “The Peep Show,” featured art by fresh, lesser-known artists, alongside Fleur du Mal pieces. This has since become a permanent retail space in New York City (with more pop-up opportunities coming soon!), giving Fleur du Mal shoppers a chance to experience the brand IRL. All artwork displayed in the gallery is curated by Zuccarini and reflects Fleur du Mal’s essence: powerful, provocative and feminine.
In addition to expanding its retail footprint with activations, Fleur du Mal recently launched extended cup sizing, as well as an “Essentials” lingerie collection of everyday must-haves.
I spoke to Zuccarini about how she pivoted from art to fashion, how women can claim their seat at the table, and how she manages to remain balanced as a founder.
Karin Eldor: You studied art history and fine arts: how did you parlay your passion for art, into a career as a fashion entrepreneur?
Jennifer Zuccarini: There’s definitely a lot of similarities between fine arts and fashion: they both deal with a visual language, the curation of it, and so much of what inspires fashion is a knowledge of the past. And then of course on the design side, because I was taking drawing and painting and all those courses, it parlayed well into moving on to study fashion design.
Eldor: You went from the corporate world at Victoria’s Secret HQ, to launching Fleur du Mal. What led you to take the entrepreneurial leap, at that time?
Zuccarini: After working on my first brand, Kiki de Montparnasse, I realized something that I’ve always known: I’m really an entrepreneur at heart and have been ever since I was a child. I always thought of myself doing my own thing and starting my own brand. I love building brands!
As a founder who is so hands-on in the business, how do you balance it all and avoid founder burnout?
Zuccarini: I’ve learned a lot! [laughs] I definitely was a little burnt-out a couple of years ago, because I was so in the thick of it. I was working every night, every weekend, not really taking the time to recharge. And now there are just certain things I need to do for myself, to be my best self. Part of that is meditating, which I don’t do every day but I try to do often, and exercising. Also, spending time with my family and friends recharges me.
And it’s making that time to self-care: I think if you just keep going and going, yes, maybe you can get through it, but you’re not going to be happy.
Eldor: What are three essential characteristics to being a female entrepreneur?
1- Persistence and grit. It takes so much strength to keep going, especially when things aren’t working out, and that’s true for any entrepreneur, female or not.
2- Being able to present your ideas with confidence. After all, as an entrepreneur, you need to get people to subscribe to your vision, and you have to be able to sell it. To me, being able to show confidence in a situation and having a certain amount of bravado can come a bit more naturally to men. I think women tend to be more cautious and conscientious if we’re unsure.
3- The ability to look at everything as a conversation — even a negotiation. So if someone isn’t agreeing with you, or doesn’t want to invest in your idea or say yes to whatever you’re asking, it’s the ability to not shut down as a result, and pick up the conversation where you left off.
Eldor: How would you suggest women claim their seat at the table?
Zuccarini: I remember when I was 21, someone asked me, “Are you someone who jumps up in class when you have the answer, to share what you think about it?” And I said no, because I was too shy or didn’t want to make a mistake or say the wrong thing. And he said, “You know, that same thing that’s stopping you from raising your hand in class is really what’s stopping you in your life.”
I always thought about that! Yes it’s a very “Lean In” kind of way to look at things, but you have to put yourself out there. And I think if you fail, you fail, but at least you’re in the game, and I think that’s the most important thing for women, or for anyone, but women especially, to know: You might not have the right answer or the perfect answer, but you need to put yourself in the game.