- Pauline Ducruet, 26, is the founder of the gender-neutral fashion line, Alter Designs.
- Born and raised in Monaco, Ducruet is a granddaughter of Grace Kelly.
- Like entrepreneurs without royal lineage, she went to college before working internships that led to her launching a business.
- In an interview with Business Insider, she describes why gender-neutral fashion is the future of the industry, why sustainability is so important, and the pressure that comes with being from her family.
- "My work has to be irreproachable," she says.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Pauline Ducruet, 26, isn't so different from most young entrepreneurs these days.
After college, she bounced around a bunch of jobs after a series of internships and got to the point where she was ready to launch her own business, and she spent two years getting it on its feet.
Then she was met with the sudden, forceful winds of the pandemic.
Most entrepreneurs don't have quite her family background, though. Born and raised in Monaco, Ducruet is a granddaughter of Grace Kelly through her mother, Princess Stéphanie of Monaco. A member of the Monegasque Royal Family, her uncle is reigning monarch Prince Albert II of Monaco, and she is 16th in line to the throne.
Ducruet's business, founded in 2019, is Alter Designs, a gender-neutral fashion brand she says she self-funded. She's obviously grateful to have her family background, but she also said it's added to the pressure of running her own business.
"My work has to be irreproachable," she said.
The brand is gender-neutral, she told Business Insider, because she wanted her clothes to be for everyone. Personally, she said she loves unisex clothing and likes to wear men and women's clothes equally. It also embraced sustainability years before the pandemic challenged most fashion lines' bottom line.
And she told Business Insider that she got her start just like any other entrepreneur.
Internships and climbing the ranks
After holding internships at Vogue and Louis Vuitton, Ducreut worked as a stylist's apprentice at the Istituto Marangoni in Paris, and graduated from the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York in 2017, with a degree in fashion.
From the start, Alter only used natural fibers such as pesticide-free silk and cotton in its clothing. The brand especially employs a lot of upcycling, meaning she reuses old fashion products so she doesn't have to produce much herself. She buys dead stalks of leather and denim and reuses them, so much of her inventory was never going to go to waste this year — everything was always going to be reused.
Alter sells products such as $292 denim skirts and $759 satin draped tunics. Her first collection was presented in Paris in 2019.
Right now, Alter Designs is direct-to-consumer and eCommerce only, but the brand does do pop-up shops — an important part of her strategy in terms of connecting and growing her consumer base. Ducruet declined to disclose the finances for her business, citing the pandemic. "Doing it all by myself, for now, it's a really hard rhythm to keep up," she said. "I wanted to slow down a little bit."
The brand would have been celebrating the one-year anniversary of its first collection this past June, but the pandemic didn't just interrupt that — it forced the whole company to move.
Less than a year after opening her business, the pandemic almost ended it for good
Ducruet is usually based in New York, but she left the US in February to return to Monaco, just a few weeks before the EU shut its borders for non-essential travel due to the pandemic.
Once she landed back in Monaco, Ducruet realized it might be years before she would be able to successfully bring her business back to the US, so she decided to move the entire production of her fashion line to France, which posed certain challenges. "Monaco is such a tiny country," she said. "We don't have factories here."
This meant she had to, once again, find suppliers and factories that could house her collections. All when factories were already shutting down worldwide and when the fashion and retail industries were taking huge hits from the pandemic.
In February, Boston Consulting Group and Bernstein estimated that the luxury sector could lose nearly $45 billion in sales in 2020.
"It was basically starting from scratch and it was challenging," Ducruet said. "Especially as a young brand, you put all your effort into the people that do your pattern-making and sewing and everything."
The result? She adjusted the amount of clothing she produced and decided to sit out of Paris Fashion Week as she figured out the next steps for her brand. "I've decided that I'm only going to do one collection a year. There's not going to be seasons now. It's just going to be a collection per year."
This will help the brand become even more sustainable, as it will cut down on excessive waste and on any extra inventory, especially as she continues adjusting her operations to keep her brand afloat during the pandemic.
How to deal with a spotlight from a famous family? Emphasizing brand values
Ducruet acknowledged that she has clearly benefited from the fact that her mother is a princess, and she is a member of a royal family.
"People were following the family for years and years and years," she said. "I have the spotlight on the brand, so that was a great thing, obviously, but I think it's also hard because then you put the spotlight on the bad things as well."
Other notable members of the Monegasque royal family include the Casiraghi siblings, one of whom married billionaire heiress Tatiana Santo Domingo of the Santo Domingo Family — she is reportedly now the richest citizen in Monaco, with a net worth of $2 billion. There's also Ducruet's brother Louis, who was just tapped to become an advisor for international projects at the UK football club Nottingham Forest.
Monaco overall is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and it has a poverty rate of zero. About 32% of the population is made of up millionaires. It has even been nicknamed "Billionaires Playground" — her uncle Prince Albert II has a reported net worth of $1 billion, double the estimated net worth of Queen Elizabeth II.
The brand has been putting much of its time into developing "inclusive" marketing campaigns, Ducruet says.
For example, the brand recently did a campaign called "Beyond Genders" which saw Alter Designs reach out to the LGBTQ+ community and get their insights on gender fluidity, as well as comments on how they feel they are being represented in the world of fashion.
"I like to give content about the real people that are representing Alter," she said. "It's a brand that's here for the people, and to put light on the personality of everyone that is wearing it."