Princess Stéphanie of Monaco’s eldest daughter, Grace Kelly’s granddaughter — Pauline Ducruet is often defined by other members of the Monegasque princely family. With her unisex clothing brand Alter Designs, she is paving the way for herself in the fashion world, part of a new wave of designers who are bringing sustainability and gender to the forefront of their work.

Pauline Ducruet launched unisex eco-fashion brand Alter Designs in 2018, after leaving one of New York’s most prestigious universities, degree in Fashion Design under belt. Fast forward two years and her collections have twice walked Paris Fashion Week and appeared in the pages of Vogue and Elle. Now, they have graced the streets of Monaco in the form of two unexpected pop-up shops in the Principality.

Surrounded by a sea of blue, yellow, cream and black (in the form of Alter’s latest collection), we met Pauline Ducruet to discuss the evolution of her brand, unisex clothing and what sustainable fashion really means on the Rock at her second pop-up shop for Alter Designs, in the basement of Monaco’s luxury shopping centre, the Métropole.

Where can you buy Alter in the Principality?

Her first pop-up venture appeared in one of Monaco’s many event spaces, Tunnel Riva, between June 18th and 20th, Ducruet first showcasing her brand to the Principality with 50 or so items from the collection. Now, at Métropole, the store welcomes Monaco’s elite shoppers with minimalistic luxe in the form of tasteful houseplants, mirrored walls and plush white décor. Certainly a far cry from the first industrial, underground venue.

I was a bit scared, you know, coming into the non-binary world, mixing it with eco-responsibility. But it was taken really well!

Pauline Ducruet

The Tunnel Riva store was supposed to take place just before Prince Albert II announced Monaco would be going into lockdown in mid-March of this year. Seemingly, the news that the pop-up would have to be postponed came as a reprieve in what was a hectic time for Alter Designs, having just shown her latest collection at Paris Fashion Week.

The contrast between the two pop-ups is symbolic of her own label — the underground, youth-charged denim and leather, inspired by her time in New York, versus the soft, elegant cotton and satin almost synonymous with Monaco’s high society. “I love the contrast. I tried to keep this contrast in the business itself and each garment too,” she admitted, speaking the day after the store had opened.

How is Monaco receiving the brand?

As a unisex brand, it would be reasonable to assume that, compared to more daring consumers in New York and Paris, she has perhaps been presented with some challenges in presenting her pieces in Monaco. However, after the first pop-up, she was less concerned about the reception. “[Tunnel Riva] was super successful, I was really happy. Obviously, internally I was worried people weren’t going to receive it well,” she confessed. “I was a bit scared, you know, coming into the non-binary world, mixing it with eco-responsibility; for Monaco, it was perhaps a bit much. But it was taken really well, a lot of people came and they actually were curious about it. A big success!”

So far, there have been little but positive reviews for Ducruet. Although nervous before its opening, people across the Principality have come to engage in the values of the brand and have shown interest in the clothes.

The two pillars of the brand stand within sustainability and non-binary (or ‘unisex’) fashion. Despite the former being a well-known subject in Monaco, the latter presents new territory. For this young designer, fashion acts as one of the best opportunities to share her values with her fellow Monegasques.

What does non-binary fashion look like on the Rock?

Founding and curating a unisex fashion brand was something that Pauline knew no one expected her to do. However, despite her royal status, she is like any culturally-engaged 20-something-year-old in the current social climate. “I think, as a young person and part of the young generation, these are values we really have to defend. Doing it through fashion is the way I thought was good. It’s opening these conversations in Monaco, which is great!”

A student of the Parsons School of Design, living in New York is what consolidated her views that designers should propose clothes for a person, regardless of sex. “I’ve always loved wearing dresses as well as suits,” she nodded, herself wearing an ensemble of denim and a long yellow shirt echoing her own yellow-themed designs. “I hate when people tell me that I can’t, you know, ‘that’s the men’s section, sorry!’ It’s about pulling down those barriers and proposing a wardrobe for everybody.”

“In New York, [non-binary gender expression] was completely in the landscape, completely in the conversation. I think bringing the subject here through fashion, through me and through eco-responsibility, gives it a platform,” she smiled, clearly proud yet humble of what great feats she has so far achieved.

“When I mention to people here that the line is unisex, they’re like ‘what, really? Yellow for men?’ Some men just love to wear yellow, what can I say!” she laughed, nodding to the various yellow tunics, shirts and dresses dotting her shop. “I just like giving the people a choice to wear whatever they want. Even the skirts are unisex.”

And what about Alter’s sustainability?

Of course, in true Monegasque fashion, Alter Designs is receiving such buzz thanks to its commitments to sustainability, Pauline channelling the closely held views of her uncle Prince Albert II. By upcycling pre-used denim and leather, as well as focusing on the traceability of cotton and silk, Pauline is part of a new wave of young designers who are taking responsibility for the fashion industry’s actions.

There’s no such thing as we’re good now, and there’s never ‘good enough’.

Pauline Ducruet

Although the brand is not 100% recycled, the royal designer has her eyes set on this in the future. An undeniable challenge for any new brand, she currently is focusing on building her portfolio before venturing into the world of an entirely upcycled luxury fashion label. Unlike many brand designers, she appreciates that there is no such thing as”good enough” when it comes to sustainability.

“We can always do more; there’s no such thing as we’re good now, and there’s never ‘good enough’. But we’re working towards something good,” she said when asked what more can be done for the world of sustainable fashion.

And what of the Monte-Carlo Digital Fashion Week, taking place entirely online in mid-May this year? “Eco-responsibility is really important in Monaco; its a core value. I think we’re working towards being even more eco-responsible […] It was a great way to present the brands and give them a chance to speak — not just showing the clothes but talking about their own values and inspirations. I think its good to open these conversations up.”

How can you develop a fashion brand in the post-lockdown world?

What you find at the Alter pop-up now is what used to be the brand’s Spring-Summer collection. However, Pauline decided to switch to a once-yearly or ‘seasonless’ collection to further improve the carbon footprint of her brand, making fashion history alongside brands like Jacquemus and Gucci. The current line found in Alter will be available until December 31st 2020. “And then it’s going to be the next one in 2021,” she smiled, upcoming designs firmly under lock and key.

But (and without reverting to the subject we are all sick of hearing), what did lockdown mean for Ducruet’s brand? It was certainly a positive time for the designer, allowing her the pause to dedicate her time to developing her craft that many artists and creatives so craved.

“I got to restructure everything and think about ways of being more eco-responsible, and thinking about the future of Alter,” she revealed. “Being given a pause like that and thinking through everything, that was really great […] There was a lot of drawing for the next collection too.”

And her future plans? Should we hope to see a more permanent fixture in Monaco?

“For now, I want to keep it as pop-ups, because when things aren’t here for long, people are more attracted to it,” she laughed. “Right now, it’s an online shop and a few pop-ups. I just love to create little atmospheres.”

Alter Designs’ pop up can be found in the basement of the Métropole Shopping Centre until August 31st.