After a decade in Paris, studying at the rigorous, prestigious Studio Berçot, and working for French fashion institutions like Sonia Rykiel, Anthony Vaccarello-led Saint Laurent, and Lacoste, American-born, Paris-based designer Morgan Ungar decided it was time to take the leap and start her own label. The result, Ungar Paris, reveals a design DNA that’s as much about sustainable and substantive design, as it is about the preservation of the untold, cross-continental stories of past artisans.
Ungar Paris will debut this September and can be found exclusively on the label’s soon-to-be-launched website. Prices from her one-of-a-kind collection will range from $300-$800.
For more information about Ungar Paris’ official launch, follow the label on Instagram.
Check out our exchange below, along with looks modeled by Nami Jackson and photographed by Mathieu Martin de La Croix.
SNOBETTE: Tell me more about yourself, who is Morgan Ungar?
MORGAN UNGAR: “I am from Los Angeles, born and raised, I grew up in LA. Then I went to university in San Francisco at University of San Francisco, where I studied media studies, but mainly experimental cinema and pop music. After San Francisco, I moved back to Los Angeles, where I started working for a set designer. I started making clothes for props, and I kind of started realizing that was something that I liked to do. After living in L.A., I moved to Paris, which was something that I wanted to do for a long time. I have lived in Paris now for almost ten years.”
SNOBETTE: How is it being the proverbial American in Paris?
MORGAN UNGAR : “It’s good, it’s not ‘Emily In Paris.’ I have a bit of a different situation.”
SNOBETTE: After Moving to Paris, did you immerse yourself into the culture of French fashion?
MORGAN UNGAR: “I’m going to be totally honest with you, I don’t consider myself as someone in fashion culture. I love my job, I love what I do, but I really don’t consider myself to be part of the fashion culture or industry. I don’t really feel like I am representative of the fashion world as we see it. It’s kind of the reason why I never saw myself working in fashion ever before. I never thought I would work in fashion. But when I understood more what the job was, to be a designer, I realized that the job of being a designer was the perfect job for me.”
SNOBETTE: You shared about working at Saint Laurent, this big established French institution, and then moved to a smaller label. Why the move?
MORGAN UNGAR: “That’s a good question. I wanted to see what it would be like to work freelance, and have more flexible hours, while doing what I loved doing. It was when I went freelance, I found this small brand that wanted me to help them create the brand. It was an opportunity to work on something extremely creative.”
SNOBETTE: So, to fast forward, you move on, you’re freelancing in Paris, you’re now at a fabulous job at Lacoste. Why then make the move to starting your own collection?
MORGAN UNGAR: “I became pregnant, the pandemic happened, and I chose to start Ungar Paris. I had already started my line previously when I was at Lacoste. I wanted to originally do both at the same time, but when the pandemic hit, and I had my daughter, I realized that doing both was not coherent with my lifestyle. So, I decided to really focus on my project. It seemed like the right time, the right opportunity, to put all of my energy into my own project and see where it could take me.”
SNOBETTE: What is the vision for Ungar Paris? Do you want it to be this big company or are you envisioning it to be one of those really chic, small brands in France that has a cult following?
MORGAN UNGAR: “Anything can happen, I guess. It will evolve the way it evolves. The only thing I hope for the brand is that it speaks to a particular audience. I don’t really need the brand to be something enormous, that’s not what I’m looking for. I am definitely an independent designer, with a cult-following, but at the same time, I hope to reach out to a broad spectrum, a broad audience. What I’m doing is not really limited to an age range, or a certain style.
“Basically, from the beginning, I wanted this brand to be focused on sustainable practices; and I really wanted to give people an opportunity to dress in a unique way, while respecting sustainability, and being able to leave the world of fast fashion. So, we really focus on sustainable practices, which to us really means respecting the environment, and the people who are involved in the process from start to finish. It starts with me doing the all the design, to the people who sew our clothes, to the people who are helping to make the labels, every person who is involved at every stop is being cared for in some way, that we are conscious of each person in the process.”
SNOBETTE: You’re making everything in France?
MORGAN UNGAR: “Everything is happening in France. I design everything in Paris. All our pieces are designed and cut by me. They are then sewn in our Parisian workshop in the 12th arrondissement, in the Bastille. In the workshop, we have three workers. It’s as sustainable as sustainable gets. It takes 10 minutes to get there by foot, there is no carbon footprint [when it comes to the design process.] I wanted to be able to make unique clothes, and reuse fabrics that already exist, in a way that is simple, not complicated, and not wasteful.”
SNOBETTE: What is the “Chanel suit” of Ungar Paris?
MORGAN UNGAR: “The coat cut in quilts. All one-of-a-kind pieces.”
SNOBETTE: I have a kind of controversial question: Is Ungar Paris a French brand by an American or an American brand that happens to be based in France?
MORGAN UNGAR: “I haven’t really thought about that. I would say it’s a French brand made by an American. I say that because my studies are in French. When I’m working, I’m thinking in French, and all of the process is happening in Paris. It’s being built in Paris, its being designed in Paris. So, I feel that the brand is French, and its being made by an American.
“Something that was very important to me, was that I would be making clothes that were truly representative of who I was, that these pieces would be personal. Not mundane design that came from nowhere. I wanted to take someone else’s story, in these quilts, and transform them into a new story, while adding my own. In doing that, I really wanted to make Franco-American pieces. The outside of the coats are made out of quilts that come from the Mid-West in America, but the inside is all lined with recycled French silk. So, the pieces are American on outside, but French on the inside…and that’s something that is very personal for me. That was a very conscious decision that I made.”
SNOBETTE: Is it safe to say that your collections are, in a way, autobiographical?
MORGAN UNGAR: “Not necessarily, because there’s also so much of someone else’s story in it. Buying these quilts, I’m basically purchasing someone’s story. Some of these quilts were made in the 1900’s, quilts from the 1930’s, 1918, and there’s so many stories in each one of these quilts, and they’re not mine. But I want to keep them alive somehow, and not see them get thrown away or burned somewhere…I wouldn’t really say its autobiographical, because [that is] kind of limiting, it’s a mix of things that transforms into something of its own.”
SNOBETTE : I should have asked this question earlier, what are the visual references or muses that you use to inform your design?
MORGAN UNGAR: “You know, I don’t have a lot of famous muses. The people that inspire me the most are the people around me, or the people who have come in and out of my life, or the people that I have seen while traveling, or the people that I see in public. I’m mainly inspired by just people in general.
“My mom’s been a huge inspiration to me. My mom’s best friend is a folk artist. I grew up in her house, which was like a folk-art museum. Another friend of my mom’s is a painter, and I was really inspired by her too. Even stranger, a lot of the time, strangers (laughs) are [who] I’m most inspired by.”
SNOBETTE: Let’s finish with this fun question. As an American in Paris, what is the penultimate Parisian experience? Is it going to the Eiffel Tower or is it a particular museum?
MORGAN UNGAR: “Oh, no no no. None of that! For me, the ultimate experience in Paris, if you want to have a real Parisian experience, then you have to go to a really good local café, and you have to just sit there for a long time, and watch people go by. Drink a lot of red wine, get a cheese plate, and become friends with the waiters. Sit on a terrace, on a summer night and just watch all the people go by and talk to the people around you.”