French Model Clémentine Desseaux Talks Gen-Z Activism & Diversity In Beauty Industry
You might recognize her as the carefree woman who rocked red lipstick on Instagram, went viral after Christian Louboutin shared her post, and became the first plus-size model representing the brand. But now, the French entrepreneur’s impact has reached far beyond the confines of social media. Aside from using her social platform to share her most iconic looks, Clémentine Desseaux has also been busy working on panels, campaigns, and workshops to help educate and empower women through her non-profit, All Womxn Project. Though it’s only been roughly two years since the organization began, its already made great strides in the industry by consistently challenging society’s idea of beauty and encouraging all women to embrace their differences.
From day one, the French beauty and her team have been collaborating with a diverse group of models and partnering with popular brands to launch several campaigns, which promote inclusivity and body positivity. This time, however, the organization has shifted gears with their most recent campaign by focusing on the younger generation. In honor of International Women’s Day, All Womxn Project chose to put the spotlight on minority Gen-Z activists like 11-year-old Khloe Thompson, founder of the non-profit Khloe Kares, and 18-year-old Haile Thomas, the youngest Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach in the United States. These are only two of a group of 10 amazing influencers (which, by the way, includes a toddler as young as 16 months old!).
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Skincare is my make-up. I love the challenge of using skin care only to enhance my features and protect my skin at the same time! Oils are the first thing I experimented with back when I moved to nyc. I found it hard to believe it wouldn’t make my neutral skin oily, but it didn’t because I focused on botanical, all natural oils. Oils are the best highlighter and give you that natural glow, free of artificial shimmer! How do you feel about oils? I am constantly trying new ones like this new @rodinoliolusso but I also have my staples like @odielebeauty or @tromborgcom highlighter cream mixed in my oils for extra shine.
We got a chance to speak with Clémentine about this powerful campaign, as well as diversity in the beauty industry and what we can expect to see from All Womxn Project in the near future.
thewhisp: What made you want to create All Womxn Project? How did it begin?
Clémentine Desseaux: I wanted to see more diversity in the industry and at the time it wasn’t really something trendy or buzzworthy. It was really rare. We just wanted to create beautiful images to show the fashion industry and the media, that it was possible to showcase diversity in a beautiful way. Women gave us such great feedback. They told us how much they wanted to see more, so we started brainstorming and a few months after we decided to turn it into a charity and really work on making this a broader message. So we decided to do campaigns more often. Not only to talk to the media or the fashion industry but to all industries, and really to make women’s empowerment the center of this movement.
Were there any responses from women that you found memorable?
Oh my gosh, there’s so much! Women that we would never speak to or meet, we get messages from young girls in a different country where we’ve never been, we don’t even know where their city is or what they’re doing. But some of them say that we’ve changed their life forever, some of them say that just seeing [our campaigns] made them feel great about themselves when they didn’t before. It’s amazing how we can just touch women regardless of where they are or where they’re from. Like, that’s the best.
All Womxn Project has collaborated with quite a few brands in the past, like Nike and Aerie. Which one stood out for you?
I think the first one was the most special. But all of them were amazing in the sense that, coming from me personally, just casting different types of women every single campaign, depending on our partner and what we’re going for in terms of the mood and theme. That’s always super interesting for me, like going through the casting process and discovering all these amazing new women. Every campaign is super special and different for me because they’re made out of amazing women.
Your most recent campaign features an amazing group of young minority activists who are making a difference in their communities. What made you want to focus on the younger generation this time?
This campaign is very different in the sense that we’re using a lot of Gen Z for this campaign. I was just inspired like, over the past few months, just talking to the young women around me and realizing how feminist they are and how involved in politics they are. Just meeting a few of them, I was just like, there’s something powerful about this generation and for some reason, we’re not really speaking about this. I just thought that they deserve the full campaign. They needed to be given the highlight and the power and the platform for their messages.
How’d you connect with these awesome young activists?
I met a couple of them directly and then just from there I just started looking at who they follow, who they like, who are some of their peers and just asking questions about that. And then for the youngest one, Amaia, I saw her in a GAP ad. I was like “What is this gorgeous baby?” And I contacted her mom and I was like “Would you guys be interested to be featured as one of our activists for this next campaign?” They loved it and I think their story is amazing. I just love the idea of having a bunch of new young activists including a baby that doesn’t even know she’s an activist quite yet.
All Womxn Project’s campaigns are usually done by all women, including the creative and styling team. Why is this so important to you?
We just thought that it made sense in order for us to be called “All Womxn” and to promote all women. I know it’s been very trendy lately and some brands have recently started doing it but that’s something for us that has always been at the forefront of every campaign that we’re doing.
You’ve also mentioned that you don’t ever Photoshop images and that sends a powerful message. Do you feel like there’s been enough progress with other brands when it comes to using more authentic images of models?
I can see a lot of change since before we started AWP. The use of Photoshop is less and less, that’s something that we’ve seen change in legislation in different countries, as well as in America. A lot of brands are trying to go towards, not necessarily zero-Photoshop policy but a very minimal [use of] Photoshop. Some little details and imperfections are left as is and I think this is very important in the sense that women need to see their imperfections as worthy and that nobody can be perfect. I used to not look like myself much in any picture and now I can actually recognize myself and all the imperfections that make me, me.
Do you think that the beauty industry is doing enough to be more inclusive and diverse?
I would say besides Ashley Graham for Revlon, that’s about the only size diversity we get in the beauty industry. It’s something that needs to be worked on, especially as the beauty industry isn’t a body, it’s more a face. I think it’s definitely getting there and it just needs a little time.
It seems like even the plus-size industry isn’t as inclusive as it should be in terms of body shape because the models usually have hourglass figures.
I totally agree. This is something that’s still very much dominating the industry, that unless you’re perfectly hourglass you’re not the perfect version of a curvy woman. That’s also something that needs to be worked on. I think the campaigns that we’re doing and a lot of beautiful movements out there are really promoting different shapes of women. I think this is also something that’s moving forward.
What are some other signs of progress that you’ve seen in the beauty industry?
I feel like this year has been a turning point, especially with Fenty coming out. I felt like the level of representation and diversity rose instantly. Besides that it hadn’t really moved for the last 20 years, so that’s been really impressive.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to girls who want to follow in your footsteps? What can they do to inspire change?
Most of the time I get messages from girls saying that they don’t know what to do because they’re so small. And what I always tell them is that there’s no one too small to make a change. I think it’s very important that girls understand that they have a voice and a platform and that making a change starts with their personal relationship with their own community. That’s how you build a movement, by making a change in your small community and then growing from there. In the past couple of years, we’ve seen people coming out of nowhere, just making a change globally. But it’s not because we didn’t know them before or that they didn’t do the work. There’s a lot of groundwork and community work that is very necessary before we can make a global change.
Do you have any exciting new projects in the works?
Oh, there’s so much exciting things! We actually have a lot coming up in April and in May. In April, we’re going to London and Scotland. We’re gonna launch a UK branch of AWP at the end of April, and we’re also doing our first TED Talk in Scotland around building community. We’re working on a summer camp in June for girls that are underprivileged, that don’t necessarily get to experience that. We’re taking about 50 girls who live upstate and they’ll enjoy the full camp experience, free of charge, so that’s gonna be really fun. We also have a few talks and panels and events planned in different places in America. We’re planning to go to L.A. soon to launch a panel series, and of course, we have our monthly workshop and events at The Hoxton in Williamsburg.