The Dandy as Visual Subject: A Look at We Are Dandy (2017) with Photographer Rose Callahan

There are coffee table books, and then there are good coffee table books. We Are Dandy (2017), written by Nathaniel Adams with photography by Rose Callahan, is an excellent one. The book features an interesting lifestyle focused approach exploring the wardrobes and lives of Dandies from around the world, following on the success of their first book, I Am Dandy (2013).

I had the pleasure of meeting Rose Callahan at the Dapper Day Expo in Anaheim, CA, this spring, and found the book absolutely enticing. Both Rose and her husband, Kelly Bray, were engaging and were fun to talk to about the book, as well as some of the characters within it. We ended up talking a bit about some of the Japanese Dandies, with their unique syncretic aesthetic that blend classic Americana with traditional Japanese clothing, some of which was reminiscent of Meiji period style. And–of course–Western style bars in Japan.

Looking through both of the books, it was clear to me that Rose had created a marvelous work that captures the ethos of the subjects, conveying what it means to be a dandy in the modern day, and showcasing the personalities and lifestyles of many of the subjects. As such, we agreed to arrange for an interview to discuss the book further, since it seemed it would be of interest for many Styleforum classic menswear aficionados, dandy or not.

By Rose Callahan and Nathaniel Adams from “We Are Dandy” copyright Gestalten 2018

The Dandy books came out of a series of works that Rose created, starting in 2008. This began as a personal project, the portraits being subjects that came to her through kismet-more or less. Having shot only a few portraits with Dandies in the first couple of years, the project was slow at first, and finally took off in 2010, when she collaborated with the Fine and Dandy Shop, working with a fair number of their customers. The Dandy Portrait blog was a result of a suggestion from Matt and Enrique of Fine and Dandy Shop.

From the blog, Rose came into contact with Nathaniel Adams, a writer who had been researching Dandies as a contemporary movement in addition to historical research. Gestalten commissioned a book from the works, and following the success of I Am Dandy, which focused on Dandies in New York, Toronto, they commissioned a second book, in which they could explore Dandies worldwide.

Rose remarks: “We had a little more money, with less time to create it,” so they sought through connections contact with various subjects, who would put them in contact with other potential subjects, and in turn arranged meet-ups with various subjects. While their goal was to create a book that captured the Dandy’s personality and lifestyle by capturing photos in environments dear to them, in some cases because of the limited time, they had to arrange to have subjects meet them in spaces that they would already be at (Henrik Hjerl, “The Butler”, is one such example, meeting up with them during Pitti Uomo).

On a whirlwind tour through Europe–Italy, Germany, Belgium, England, France–with stints down to South Africa and Japan, and the occasional Dandy in North America (New York, Los Angeles, Toronto), Rose captured many subjects, not all of which managed to make it into the book’s 50+ Dandies on account of constraints.

Photo of Gian Maurizio Fercioni by Rose Callahan and Nathaniel Adams from “We Are Dandy” copyright Gestalten 2018

In contrast to the first book, Rose remarks: “In the transition from the first book to the second book, we asked ourselves [Natty and I]–okay, what are we going for [stylewise], and we decided to not really focus on businesses or people involved in the fashion industry, but more to go after people who had really strong personalities, stories, and style.” As such, legendary menswear individuals like Edward Sexton, Lino Ieluzzi, Yasuto Kamoshita appear in We Are Dandy, alongside others that are relatively unknown but fascinating none-the-less. But in the case of each of these subjects, they each had interesting styles and were more rounded as individuals. “Because we made decisions to visit people at their homes as much as possible, there are a lot more homes and environments involved in the second book. The characters that were interesting were not those necessarily involved in just selling stuff, or for lack of a better of a better word, #menswear.” Their goal in creating the book was to include those people who embodied the spirit of their style, or were “the people who do things whether someone is looking or not.”

Early on in the book, writer Nathaniel Adams writes and categorizes four styles of Dandy as possible frameworks in which to understand them and their behavior. Rose, looking back in retrospect, believes that what made for a really engaging subject was that they “crossed boundaries,” or that they were not easily defined in one category or another. They were “bons vivants,” with hidden stories and lively personalities. One example of this is Gian Maurizio Fercioni, a Milanese Dandy who, walking down the street might appear to be an elegant Italian gentleman, but he is the father of tattoos in Italy, creating the first tattoo shop, and is covered with tattoos under his clothes.

Photo of Takanori Nakamura by Rose Callahan and Nathaniel Adams from “We Are Dandy” copyright Gestalten 2018

As such, the point of this project was to focus on individuals and their unique style, revealing the hidden behind their lifestyles, personalities and aesthetic. Some of the individuals, especially those in Japan, showcased their style as a sort of hybridity between Eastern and Western aesthetics, simultaneously drawing on ideas of iki or sprezzatura or chic. Takanori Nakamura, a Tokyo based dandy and journalist, has a wardrobe of both traditional Japanese haori, double-breasted suits lined in prints of paintings by Ito Jakuchu, breaking boundaries with aesthetic choices (such as using colors divergent from tradition) that are both Western and Eastern. In his life, he practices kendo, loves the way of the tea (chadō), but also is a trained sommelier and aficionado of cigars. These portraits of the lives of these dandies, especially mixing the various cultural elements, is what really makes this book shine.

Another example of those breaking boundaries were the subjects located in South Africa. They oftentimes mixed their cultural heritage and memories of their past with more contemporary and western clothing. While other dandies in Europe or Tokyo would sometimes dress in vintage clothes, the crossing of the boundaries of time and cultural memory was represented in their lives and personal pasts. They wanted to capture their looks in spaces that were representative of the communities in which they grew up–areas that were quite literally, unadorned buildings with dirt floors.

Rose remarks: “The guys in South Africa, to me, from how I experienced it, they felt it was very important to be a part of a group, to feel that they were all together, a rather African sensibility, this sense of community identity. They wanted to be together as a crew, saying they wanted to do this because we can show other young people that they can do it too.” In her thoughts, this inclusiveness, and desire to share their experiences in sartorialism, is quite different than the Europeans, who were more concerned with themselves as individuals.

“To me, this was amazing, because people in London and New York, they don’t talk about it [being dandies]. They are not inclined to help the next generation [of men]. I was impressed because being young men themselves, they felt a desire to help out the next generation. They thought that if they can rise up then they can help others to rise as well.”

One of the Johannesburg dandies, Loux, said, “you can sleep in a shack, you can sleep under a bridge–but you can still look smart.”

By Rose Callahan and Nathaniel Adams from “We Are Dandy” copyright Gestalten 2018

Many people think that being a dandy or being stylish requires a lot of money, but that isn’t the case as Rose discovers visiting the African dandies. Rose remarks that “everyone looks like they have to be rich to do this, but I don’t believe that, because there are so many ways to have style–without money. It either takes money or the time and the desire. For those without the economic means, this is a matter of collecting clothing over the years–it is a matter of time and energy–digging through flea markets and thrift stores and places like that. With the guys in South Africa, they show this and hit the point home.”

I decided to ask Rose if she had any advice for those aspiring Dandies out there, or for those #menswear personalities that have their social media personalities. Her best advice to create visually engaging content is to “be yourself”:

Be an interesting person. Live an interesting life. Whatever or whoever you are, be that one hundred percent. It is really important even if you might be experimenting with style. Some of the dandies in the book are in their 60s and 70s, and they still look amazing. There is a lifetime for refining your style, finding what is interesting, being curious visually. Your style can evolve over time with your personality.

“You have to keep on, always think about what is interesting to you, what is enjoyable to you, and move towards that because then your personality comes out. It is our personality that is unique. Be yourself despite all the other voices out there, be true to yourself. It is often hard for young people because they often feel weird about it.”

You can see some of Rose’s latest works showcased in the Dandy Lion Project, a traveling curated exhibition that focuses on Black Dandies created by Shantrelle P. Lewis. The exhibit has helped to demonstrate the sartorial decisions of Black men around the world prior to colonialism, formulating new understandings of narratives of Black masculinity through historical and contemporary portraiture of Black sartorialism.

Additionally, you can see on social media such as Instagram more of the sartorial and dandy styles of African dandies through #afrodandy, created by some of the South African dandies featured in We Are Dandy.


From Gestalten

ABOUT THE BOOK

Around the world, dandies embrace style while respecting their local cultural traditions. Dandyism transcends fashion —it is a committed way of life. An international survey of the global dandy community from the creators of I am Dandy.

From America to Africa to Asia, dandyism is a way of life. It is fashion in the best sense, self-esteem through style. And, in every country, it takes a unique form as dandies draw on the local context and fashion culture to shape their looks. We are Dandy throws open the doors of the wardrobe and explores the dandy as a global phenomenon.

With texts as witty as the subjects are stylish, the book pokes between the folds to let us know these exceptional individuals. For them, their dandy fashion is more than a trend or a phase, it is who they are, the outer expression of their inner selves. Photographs and profiles paired with clever histories reveal what it takes to look your best around the world. We are Dandy unfolds with a foreword by the illustrious Dita Von Teese, that conveys the authenticity of these aesthetes, their passions, and their bravely curated philosophies.

Nathaniel “Natty” Adams has been involved with the historical and contemporary Dandy phenomenon for many years —it even informs his own wardrobe. A research grant aided the studied journalist in traveling around the world and into the eclectic homes of various Dandies.

New York is more than the current home of filmmaker and photographer, Rose Callahan; the city is also the site and start of her involvement with the Dandy. In 2008, she created the blog The Dandy Portraits, where she documents the many facets of the modern gentleman. Shortly afterwards, she met Natty Adams and the idea for I am Dandy was born.


We Are Dandy is available on the Gestalten website as well as on Amazon.

An Interview with the designer who turned John Travolta into a mob boss for the film “Gotti”

Matteo Perin is an Italian designer and stylist; he’s been working with John Travolta for over 4 years, curating his red carpet looks, and he recently worked with the actor to bring to life the wardrobe of mobster John Gotti in the movie Gotti, which premiered at the Cannes Movie Festival last week.

We had a chat, translated here from Italian, with Matteo to understand his work in designing the movie costumes.

Styleforum: Matteo, tell us about John Gotti’s style; what did you find out during your research for the movie costumes?

Matteo Perin: I tried to gather as much material about John Gotti as possible from the archives: photographs, video clips, newspapers, etc. Like most people, his style evolved throughout the years; he started off a little “unrefined” in terms of taste and the fit of his clothes was not perfect (for instance, his jackets looked to be a touch big). Later on, his style evolved to be more tasteful and peculiar in relation to his persona, as his wealth and position allowed him to approach better quality garments and understand their fit. Think of your first taste of Burger King when you were a kid; it probably tasted delicious to your unrefined palate, but today, as an adult who has tried different types of food, you realize how limited your views were.

However, it was immediately clear to me that John Gotti was a man of style who was ahead of time in terms of trends and taste in clothes. His style looks rather modern even today: he used to wear shorter jackets than what was the norm in the 80s, and he had a flair for turtlenecks worn under jackets, something that is not unusual to see today.

gotti movie suits costumes designer travolta

SF: Is there anything peculiar about John Gotti’s style?

MP: Definitely his attitude: he looked impeccable without trying too hard, if that makes sense. He was the cool dude that didn’t have to do much to look cool, because he wore everything with nonchalance and confidence. In Italian, we call it sprezzatura. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the term.

SF: Most of our readers are familiar with the term.

MP: He didn’t have to think too much about his outfits, and if he did, you wouldn’t notice. He looked at ease in his clothes and pulled off every flair, every extravagant accessory. His ability to look effortless even in clothes that stood out for the time is probably the most evident trait when talking about his style.

SF: Speaking of accessories, we noticed quite a few extravagant ones in the movie; for instance, some of Gotti’s ties feature rather unique patterns.

MP: Gotti had Southern Italian roots, where wealth and social position were reflected in one’s choice of accessories. Gotti’s Italian roots show in his choice of ostentatious accessories, such as unusual ties and big and flashy rings. Additionally, his style is reflective of a flamboyant personality.

SF: Did you create the pattern for his ties in the film?

MP: We were lucky enough to have access to some of Gotti’s personal accessories, as the family loaned them to us for the movie; the ties, as well as the big ring, were among them.

john gotti style ties suits designer matteo perin

SF: What about the suits? Who is the tailor that created them for John Travolta?

MP: I have been using a tailor from Veneto, my birth region, for many years. He created all the suits for the movie Gotti.

SF: Tell us about the fabrics: are they Italian as well?

MP: For the movie Gotti I chose exclusively Italian fabrics. However, for the suits I design for John outside of the set, I pick fabrics from the best mills in the world, depending on what we need. Many English fabrics are exceptional.

SF: Did John Travolta pull off Gotti’s style?

MP: He absolutely did. John did an excellent job impersonating Gotti, and I think the clothes helped him tap into his character. He wanted me to work on the film costumes because he needed the clothes to be on point in order to complete the portrait of the mobster: John Gotti is known as the Dapper Don, and his style plays a crucial part in depicting his personality.

SF: What does John Travolta’s style look like outside of the set?

MP: John came to me because he wanted to work with a designer and not just a stylist; a stylist is limited in the choice of clothing, because he or she usually works with what designers and PR firms pass to them. John wanted to develop a personal, well-curated style that was his own and no-one else’s. We discuss each outfit and take inspiration from different things, even though we don’t do much planning about what he’s going to wear where. For instance, last week in Cannes, he wore the suit that we originally created for Gotti’s American premiere in NYC, on June 14th. It was a last minute decision, and like I said, we don’t really have a schedule for what he wears on social occasions. 

john travolta red carpet cannes gotti

Actor John Travolta poses for photographers during a photo call for the film ‘Gotti’ at the 71st international film festival, Cannes, southern France.
Photo: AP

SF: One last question about the costumes: what’s your personal favorite look from the movie Gotti?

MP: Ah, that’s a tough one. You know, I can’t really pick one. Can I tell you my two favorite outfits?

SF: Sure.

MP: One has certainly gotta be the grey double-breasted pinstripe suit; John wears it in the scene in court, and the resemblance with the original suit worn by Gotti is striking. I chose a slightly different pinstripe for John Travolta’s suit, since I found it more flattering on him, but if you look at the two pictures next to each other, it is really impressive how similar the two look.

john travolta gotti movie

SF: And the second look?

MP: It’s from the scene when Gotti is acquitted in court; he’s wearing a pair of dark brown pants, a grey turtleneck, and a blue jacket from the 70s. I just love the combination of colors – in fact, I really love blue and brown paired together, I think it’s a very aesthetically pleasing combination.

SF: What’s next on your and John Travolta’s schedule?

MP: I’m headed to LA next, then NYC to attend the premiere (on June 14th) and then we have a few events related to another movie that’s coming out soon, for which I also curated the costumes.

SF: Then we might speak again soon. Thank you and in bocca al lupo (break a leg) for the premiere!

MP: Grazie, ciao!


Gotti will be in theaters in the United States on June 15th. 

Matteo Perin’s official website: https://www.matteoperin.com/

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A Talk with Ian Segal of Nine Lives Clothing

If you haven’t heard of Tokyo-based brand Nine Lives clothing, you’ve been missing out. Their line of high quality denim, cutsews, and heavy outerwear is produced in Japan, and combines the quality and material know-how of a heritage brand with the razor-sharp edge of Japan’s v-kei and mod scene; all of it seen through 9L’s particular, ‘piratical’ lens. If you’ve been looking for a new rider’s jacket, a sashiko-embellished varsity-jacket-turned-chesterfield, or beautifully realized jacquard-weave flannel shirts, you’ve come to the right place.

I spoke to Ian Segal, who’s approximately one half – the American half – of the operation, and asked him about the brand, about his clothing, and about how he went from being a poetry editor in New York to making rock ‘n roll clothes on the other side of the world. 


Jasper Lipton:  How did you end up in Japan in the first place, after working as – correct me if I’m wrong – a poetry editor for the New Yorker? Which is also awesome.

Ian Segal: It was fun. Yeah, I always say I was a Lehman Shock baby. I graduated into the maelstrom there, and I took a consulting job in LA to get home – my dad was sick, so I wanted to be close to home. When the market looked like it was turning, I headed back East, as that was still where it seemed I had to be to build a career. I was making electric guitars – shittily, I might add – in my girlfriend’s basement in central New Jersey while I was applying for jobs, and in the same week I ended up interviewing at the distressed debt desk at Merril Lynch and the assistant poetry editor position at the magazine. While I was in the Merril interview – and mind you these buildings were directly adjacent to each other; Condé Nast was in what’s now the H&M building. So the same week, I go in for these diametrically opposed job interviews, and the Volcker rule was announced while I was doing the Merril Lynch interview, which more or less iced the job opening.

I mean, I was happy to have Obama win the Presidency, but he was sort of surreally speaking through the television while I’m in the middle of the interview, and everyone was sitting there a little dumbstruck as to what we were all still doing having the conversation. So I ended up at the new Yorker, and that was really fun – did it for about a year and a half and met basically all the people I wanted to meet, in terms of meeting all my heroes. It was an honor to do it. But I was young – I was 25, maybe, and I’d have these experiences where I’d go to parties and people would be like “Oh, you’re the New Yorker guy,” and I was like “No, I’m Ian.” Have you done any New York living?

JL: I’ve been around a little bit, yeah.


ian segal nine lives clothing styleforum nine lives brand

Kotaro and Ian of Nine Lives

IS: The thing about New York, in contrast to LA – and this is an LA partisan thing to say – is that New York is a renter’s city, and LA is a homesteader’s city. There’s this idea in New York that there are all these great jobs, all this great opportunity, but there’s always a line of 100 people to jump into that position behind you. You’re still a cog – you’re maybe a beautiful cog, and it’s an honor and a privilege to be a cog in that industry, but nevertheless you’re a cog. Whereas to me, LA still has a little bit of the – you can go and build your own fuckin’ life.

So anyway, after about a year and a half at the New Yorker I realized that everybody was either only there for a year and a half or two, or they were lifers. And it’s one thing to be a lifer there if you’re coming in as a journalist and you’re 35, and you’re like, “This is it, pinnacle of journalism, I’m gonna do this,” but the idea that you’re gonna be a lifer as a poetry editor is sort of an oxymoron to begin with, and I just was like…I just needed to do my own shit.

So very randomly I was given a job doing real estate, like, asset management and finance stuff in Tokyo – that was 2011 – so then I came over here, and I was doing that for a little while. It wasn’t a very good gig, but I didn’t really have enough money to get home, and I didn’t really want to come home with my tail between my legs just totally flamed out on something. So I was just in a holding pattern.

I went out to dinner with an acquaintance of mine, who I’d met through Josh Warner, of Good Art Hollywood; he was a Japanese designer and we went for drinks, and he was asking what he could do to do a little better in the States, and in the West. We were a little tipsy, and I was like, “Here’s an idea for a brand, here’s what you have to do,” because I thought he was a good designer and that the product he was making was really nice, it was just – very Japanese. Very Tokyo mod. And you know, I’m a half-Irish, half-Jewish kid from LA, so sarcasm’s my first language, and Japan’s a very earnest country that doesn’t really understand sarcasm, so he was just like “Great! Let’s do it!” and I said “Great!” and the next day I had pretty much forgotten about it, and he was like “Oh, I’ve opened an account and we have production meetings next week.”

[Laughs]

IS: Yeah, so I just said ‘Fuck it.’

JL: Nice.

IS: Yeah, and that’s it. That was 2015. And this guy, he was doing his own brand called ‘Cruce,’ and it was very – well, it was connected to the visual kei world, right? So I met this guy originally through Josh, but it was actually through Die, from Dir en Grey, that I actually ended up following him, so Die was a sort of a casual acquaintance of mine, and Die wore a lot of this guy’s brand. I saw him posting about it on some – I don’t know – but I was like ‘Oh, I’ll go take a look.’

JL: That’s kinda wild. Were you, like, a clothing guy beforehand? I feel like landing in Tokyo, and then your first interaction with the clothing business is some guy’s visual kei brand, that might be kind of overwhelming.

IS: Yeah. So, my cousin, when I was younger, owned a clothing company. And so when I was in middle school, without really knowing it, there was a lot of osmotic exposure to clothing, because we’d just go and hang out, and I just ended up spending hours walking the racks. I mean, I didn’t pay heed at the time – I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t anything that lasted – but what did last was that my cousin became very good friends with Josh Warner of Good Art, and so it was through my cousin that I ended up becoming very close with Josh, and it was through Josh that I met Kotaro. So that’s the whole daisy chain.


JL: So, Good Art seems much more in line with what Nine Lives is, currently.

IS: Yeah, I mean, that’s certainly got to be a part of it; it’s gotta be partially the air we breathe, and partially because I’ve known Josh since I was, what, fourteen or something. He’s family now. One thing I’ll say is that Nine Lives as a name was actually partially inspired by Good Art – I love Good Art as a name because of its vacuity.

JL: Right.

IS: And I mean I tell this to Josh, I love it because it’s so empty. It’s almost a meaningless shell that you have to backfill – this is the product and this is what it is – and that informed picking ‘Nine Lives,’ because Nine Lives is kind of a generic name. I’m sure that there are a thousand brands and, y’know, projects in the universe – not to mention, apparently, a terrible movie a couple of years ago –

JL: Yeah, that comes up a lot on Google.

IS: Nine Lives, it’s a cliché. And it was picked slightly for that reason – I liked the idea of picking something that, y’know, it’s not that it sounds bad, it’s fine; it has on a literal level a sense of the varied life and various energies that are being brought to the project, but in a sort of literal sense is trite, and is not that memorable, and people have to focus on product and have to actually see what it is for that name to take on life and take on meaning.

That’s actually a terrible business decision. I don’t know that any marketing MBA would tell you that was the right move. But that’s probably where I share DNA with Josh; a little bit of the punk rock, fuck you, I’m not gonna do it by your rules.

ian segal nine lives clothing styleforum nine lives brand

JL: ‘Zen as fuck,’ I think your website says, which also seems like an oxymoron. There’s also something a little bit of Baudelaire, of the flaneur, especially when you link it to clothing – but then it’s, like, a cat thing, and you guys are into coyotes. So where do the coyotes come from?

IS: So that’s one of the funny things. Yeah, I like animals – I mean, cats are fine. But Kotaro and I are very much dog people, and we basically started the whole project and were eventually, like, “Ehhh, I don’t know, we’re not the ‘cat guys,’ we gotta push against that.” So I thought, okay, what’s a really weird, cracked thing? And I said, “Coyotes have nine lives.” And that’s – we had a dog living with us that wandered in off the street when I was eleven, and was with us until he died twelve years later, and the legend was that he was half coyote. He certainly looked it. He was a feral, noble, prince of a mutt.

It sort of dovetails, because I have one line of poetry that’s sort of deliberately a purple prose line, and it says ‘Glinting mongrel in a dying land,’ and we ran with that line, and have adopted the coyote. You’ll see it a little more – this winter, we’re doing a little more Americana, whereas last spring was this pop horror, Lovecraftian Jurassic Park response to the Trump. This collection is a little bit more going into shadow country, and doing some more mod Americana.

I don’t love putting our brand name on stuff, and that sort of speaks to the ‘Zen as fuck’ line; y’know, even when stuff is more pugilistic and strong, I still hope that there’s a certain degree of minimalism, and it’s obviously not that branded – and we’re not really making money by selling a brand. So there’s an essentialism to it, and because of that I always feel funny making a t-shirt that actually says ‘Nine Lives.’ We did it that first time, because we just kind of didn’t know what we were doing, and now we’ve finally managed to be making a full collection where we’re excited about everything – from the crazy outerwear down to the t-shirts – we feel like we’ve hit our stride. In that context, well, okay, we still want to do some printed t-shirts, we want to do a remake of a 70’s nylon Kawasaki long-sleeve jersey. And it can’t say “Kawasaki,” so we won’t put that on there, but I don’t want it to say Nine Lives, so we’re gonna use ‘mongrel.’ So that’s what we’re using in place of the brand name when we want to do text.

Continues on Page 2

An Interview with Déborah Neuberg of De Bonne Facture

I’ve been a fan of Déborah Neuberg’s De Bonne Facture since the first time I saw it at Pitti Uomo. I’ve been lucky enough to see her collections (or éditions) numerous times since, and she’s not only a talented designer but a thoughtful, intelligent person.

I reached out to ask if she’d be willing to talk about “The brand, fashion, and style in general,” which I admit is an impressively vague request. What followed was a discussion not just of De Bonne Facture, but of style, gender, and the importance of discovering your own style.


Jasper Lipton: Let’s start from the ground up, and talk about the name of your brand. Not just what it means literally, but what it means to you, and what it means to your ethos and who you are as a company.

Déborah Neuberg: I had a really hard time finding a name. I didn’t want it to be a brand, at the beginning – I still don’t really want it to be a brand, in the sense of a traditional brand. As in, the word brand comes from the brand you’d put on cattle. It’s the mark you put on something to identify it, which is quite the contrary of what I’m trying to do with De Bonne Facture – which is to not have any visible signs of what it is, such as a logo. That is also the way a lot of consumer goods are marketed to the public: ‘We sell milk, but we want our milk to be identified, so we’ll put whatever – Jasper milk – on it.”interview Deborah Neuberg De Bonne Facture Styleforum

JL: I’m sure there’s a market for that.

DN: It’s huge, dude. You should tap into that. No, I’m just saying that the idea of a brand that visibly identifies a product – if that’s all that a brand is, I’m not a brand. I wanted to make well-made and brandless – as in this sense of a brand – products, and I wanted to communicate that it’s well made.

I had a friend who had a really old-fashioned way of speaking French, and he would say expressions like “Ah, this is de bonne facture,” but say it tongue in cheek, because de bonne facture means ‘Of good make.’ I was sitting with my cousin and my ex-boyfriend, and talking to a writer friend, and I kept saying “I just want it to be de bonne facture,” thinking of this old friend who always said that, and the writer said, “Well, why don’t you call it that?”

It’s not a very pretty name, I mean, I didn’t think it was pretty at all, or evocative – it was just kind of funny. You know, that’s what it is – you get what you get. It’s de bonne facture. It has to be good because it’s well made.

JL: Does that tie in to the reason you choose to disclose all your manufacturers? Most brands want to do the opposite.

DN: Yeah. If they’re working with subcontractors – which is hugely the case in the textile industry – they totally keep that a secret, and they will never say that so-and-so made their scarves. When I was working with Hermès, we would work with beautiful ateliers and subcontractors and we would just say “Made in Italy,” “Made in Nepal,” “Made in India.”

I always thought it was kind of a shame because we were working with those manufacturers because they specifically had the know-how and craftsmanship that came from their history and location. They all have really interesting backgrounds, and I was excited as a product manager to be working with those people. I thought it was a loss of information that it wasn’t mentioned, and I didn’t see why it was better not to disclose them. I don’t get it.

Maybe it’s the story I’m telling myself, but the fact that you’re not acknowledging the people you’re working with totally enables you to shed responsibility if you’re making another manufacturing choice. It’s just product. It’s not about where it’s made, it’s not about your subcontractors, it’s not about your supply chain, your economic entity is about the brand you’re going to put on your garment.

interview deborah neuberg de bonne facture styleforum

 

DN (cont): I feel it’s pretty dangerous, and there’s been a lot of stuff about what happens in the textile industry with all this opacity. You’ll make another [manufacturing] choice and it’ll be “Oh, it’s cheaper to go there and I don’t have to tell my consumer, I can just write on a tiny label that it’s made in somewhere else.”

I don’t believe in that way of creating brands and immaterial value, while dishonoring the material steps that go into the product. It’s not anchored in reality, or in the industry. I really wanted to honor the industry and the craftsmanship – wherever it is.

Making it part of our label is a way to be responsible, or a guideline you can’t really go away from. Because once you decide to do it, you’re like OK, this what I’m doing, I need to be proud of what I’m doing.

JL: Was the decision to be so heavily invested in the manufacturing and textile industries made at the same time as you conceived of your label, or did that come later?

DN: No, it was part of what was driving me to create the label. Initially, I didn’t even want to create a collection. I had this fantasy that by going to all of these local manufacturers with specific talents I would be able to put together a very essential men’s wardrobe – a white poplin shirt, or flannel trousers, or knitted ties, or a Breton sweater – I was just imagining that by going to these ateliers they would all have their own factory brand, and that it would be very well tailored to whatever I thought was cool.

It wasn’t the case at all. They just didn’t have that. At the beginning I saw it more like a federation of makers that I would put together. It was much more coming from the craft, and the regions, and the makers. My naive idea was that I would find what I was looking for already there.

interview deborah neuberg de bonne facture styleforum

I had a huge impostor syndrome about being a designer, because that’s not what I studied, and the system in France is very rigid. When I went to people with my project they’d say “You went to business school, you’re not a designer.” And I was like…yeah, yeah, I’m not a designer. So they’d say “You need to find a designer.” I was uncomfortable with it, but I was like yeah, you’re right, I don’t know what I want.

That syndrome is widespread in women – to lose confidence very easily when you’re trying to do your own venture and everyone seems like they know better than you. So I was really confused – I knew what I wanted, but it was like ‘either you’re going to be a platform for factory products, or some kind of brand but then you won’t be a designer.’ That was the feedback I got when I was looking for advice.

In the end I was like, fuck everyone, I don’t care who you are, I don’t care about you, I know what I want, I want to do this project in the way I wanted. But it took me a long time to own my idea, because everyone was telling me, no one does that. They didn’t get it.

JL: Let’s talk about that moment of knowing what, exactly, you wanted. The poplin shirt, or the flannel trouser. How did you go from the idea of a collection of makers to the idea of a collection?

DN: It was just being so frustrated. What actually made me own it was having that idea but not really being able to take the space to put it out there, because I was too dependent on other people’s opinions, or I was afraid to disappoint or be judged by people in the fashion industry because I was working at Hermès before – which is like, the epitome of luxury and taste and creation – and I thought, “Oh my god, what if the art director at Hermès saw I was starting something and thought it was so horrible?” I would make psychological barriers for myself.

She actually started following my brand [on Instagram] – I say brand because it’s like, whatever – about two years ago. I don’t even know if she knows it’s me, but it wasn’t a big deal. At the time, that was a huge deal! Am I going to be approved of? Fear of being approved of was a big barrier.

I think that what made me actually take that step was that first of all, I spent money – because I trusted people who told me I needed a designer – working with a designer. It was a catastrophe. I explained the concept – very simple, understated garments; French modern classics made by all of these factories that we’re going to be co-branding with.

The guy told me he needed magazines to get inspired, so we went to this fashion magazine shop and I bought 100 Euros worth of magazines for him. And I was really trusting this whole thing, because so many people told me I couldn’t be a designer! So I thought he would have the answer to whatever I was looking for.

Then he started cutting out these various, random inspirations that had nothing to do with my original concept – and just came up with this collection. He said “OK, it’s going to be inspired by this really beautiful series I saw about cosmonaut suits, and I think that’s really inspiring and interesting so we could take these details from that.” And I was like, ok, is this a joke?

JL: You mean you don’t reach for your cosmonaut suit every morning?

DN: Yeah, it’s a modern classic! It was so absurd, but he was so serious about it. This guy was creating a collection from thin air, it had nothing to do with whatever. He thought being a designer was just doing whatever is commonly thought of as being creative. As in out there, eccentric, which was for me totally disconnected – it was just producing, kind of like a hamster rolling in one of those hamster things. Yeah! Let’s make product! Let’s have ideas! Oh, a cosmonaut! Let’s make something like that!

I was so scared and anxious, because I really thought he was going to help me – because I had been told that he was so talented. And so at one point I was actually paying this guy – not a lot, but I was paying him…I realized I’d gone through one year of trying to set up my idea, and paying people, and it just became unbearable to be wasting time and money on something that was clearly not what I wanted.

At that time, I was also paying to go to the ‘incubator’ of my business school. It was not in tune at all with my ideas. It was super start-up culture – raise a lot of money, very technology oriented, very innovation oriented, maybe 1 in 15 of those companies will make it and the others will die and that’s the game. It was like Hunger Games.

I didn’t think that’s what creating a company was about. I was super old school about it, and wanted to be working with all these factories that are still linked to regional culture, and work with them to make garments. The response was, “What is the innovation in your business?” And I said, “Uh, co-branding and re-enchanting that culture of craftsmanship that is being lost, making a collection that honors that craftsmanship, that is durable and lasts a long time and is sustainable – and that’s what’s innovative, because the industry is very driven by fashion.”

And they were like “No, there’s nothing. That’s not an innovation. There’s nothing interesting about your project.”

In French, there’s a saying: conseilleur n’est pas payeur – the person who gives you advice is not the person who pays. It’s easy to give advice. So, shut up, I heard your advice, very interesting, thank you, bye.

I was too frustrated with having wasted all that. And then I decided to go to all the factories, do all the documentaries myself with a photographer, and decided to work with a pattern maker. I had a little experience with the technical files. I had shopped for these vintage pieces, gone to Première Vision [the French fabric fair], and looking in the hundreds of booths for these fabrics eventually I found my way. I said okay, I’m going to make one pair of flannel trousers, and this one poplin shirt I’m imagining, and I’m going to make the Breton sweaters with this really cool factory that I found. I told myself I was just going to make a few garments and see where it took me.

interview Deborah Neuberg De Bonne Facture Styleforum

JL: The last time I saw you, you said that someone had asked you when you were going to make a women’s line. And you said “I am making a women’s line.” So, why menswear? Is it menswear?

DN: The first answer is that I’ve always liked craftsmanship. I’ve always liked concrete product. In 2010 or 2011, all of the interesting brands or companies that were highlighting tailoring and craftsmanship were menswear companies. All of the women’s companies were more style-oriented, or fashion-oriented in my perception at the time.

That’s a reason, but it’s also because I always thought it was really cool to dress in menswear. Classic menswear always really appealed to me. I always liked to steal my brother’s clothes, or my father’s clothes. When I look deeper into it, the men’s wardrobe – the way traditional genders are constructed – what is associated with the men’s wardrobe is more powerful in mainstream culture than what is associated with the women’s wardrobe. At least, that’s the way I perceived it.

I didn’t want to be associated with doing women’s clothes in the way the fashion industry does them – “Oh, that dress is so wonderful! Why don’t we just talk about dresses, and being pretty for parties!” – I didn’t want to be associated with that part of what being a woman can be. It’s not my style.

It was helpful for me to appropriate the codes of masculine garments to express myself, in the way that was the most empowering. It might not be empowering, in the end. I don’t know if it is. I felt it was something that gave me more confidence. It seemed like there was more freedom and power associated with being a guy, and I think it would be hard to argue against that, although it could be said that being imprisoned in those binary genders is keeping men from expressing a part of their personalities.

JL: Would you ever design a dress? Or is that antithetical to your entire conception of clothing?

DN: Hmm. Today, I have no desire to design a dress. None. That might evolve. I don’t know. I follow a lot of non-binary, trans, and gender-fluid people. Sometimes they’re biologically male and dress super feminine – traditionally feminine – or be one day like this and the next like that, and I think it’s interesting how we’re trapped in these worlds.

We think we choose our style, but it’s also very much determined for us by what we think it should be. Style says a lot about who we are – what age we are, what social class we’re from – sometimes it’s not even conscious. Sometimes we think we’re doing a great job, and something escapes that’s a tell of who we are.  I’m interested in the way that people – bravely – break that trap, or that binary, of ‘men should dress this way, and women are like this, and so they should dress this way.’

De Bonne Facture is a lot about me being a woman, and designing this men’s wardrobe and wearing it myself and wanting women to appropriate it and play with it, precisely because it’s associated with masculinity. It can be kind of like a charm, a talisman – I can be who I want.

JL: It seems very quiet, though. What do you make of a brand like Rick Owens or Rad Hourani?

DN: I think it’s great. Obviously, what I’m making is way more conservative, but it’s also because I was socialized as a woman that I find this magical, powerful quality and designing men’s clothes, you know? As a man like Rick Owens or Marc Jacobs, designing dresses or skirts and wearing it themselves or putting them on their male models, I think there’s something that must feel so transgressive and so empowering and make them feel like they’re breaking barriers. Femininity is so devalued.

JL: It’s much more of a taboo for a man to go outside in a dress than for a woman to go outside in a suit.

DN: Exactly. The whole of the structure relies on the inferiorization of women, and the fact that if you take on those codes that are attributed to women – style of dress, speak, voice – you’re going to be effeminate, and that’s the worst that can happen to traditional masculinity. Rick Owens, Marc Jacobs, all of these trans activists that I’m following, they’re very brave and courageous – they’re reclaiming their own power in feeling themselves in this kind of dress.

Very personally, I find those clothes disempowering. I want to maybe have the choice to wear a dress and heels – very rarely, like never – but I want to not be harassed. One time recently I was wearing something moderately feminine and I followed in the streets for 15 minutes by this guy, and he asked for my number and told me he’d been following me.

100% of women have been harassed in a public space in their lives, and when I’m dressed in De Bonne Facture I feel more protected. Which is fake! I just read about an exhibition on “What Were You Wearing When You Were Raped?” and it was everything from dresses to baseball tees to trousers – it can be anything. It has nothing to do with clothing – but symbolically, in my head it does.

JL: “She was dressed like she was asking for it.”

DN: Yeah, exactly.

JL: In addition to the ‘fakeness’ of that feeling, is there a ‘hiding-ness’ to it?

DN: Oh, yeah. Women’s bodies are so sexualized. It’s so problematic – what you are covering and what you’re not. Hiding has to do with what we were brought up to find “sexy.” There’s this cultural battle where people are always trying to see your body.

JL: There are so many men who think this same way, just on a different tack. You know, who think that men should look as though they don’t care. You get up in the morning and you look in your closet and you think “OK, I could wear that, but I don’t really want anyone to notice it or talk to me about it. I just want to look like nothing.”

DN: Neutral.

JL: Completely neutral. For example, last week I met a stranger who told me that he – he was telling me about how expensive his jeans were – was so into clothing that he was ‘verging on f****ry.’ There’s always been this idea of clothing as armor, in these different ways.

DN: Wow. Yes, but I also think there are women’s lines – like Olivier Rousteing at Balmain – his woman is very much a conqueror, an Amazon, wearing very sexy dresses with an armor-like quality to them. I think this idea of what can be armor is very personal. I’m expressing mine in my way, that is very connected to my story. It’s what I’m comfortable in and what I aspire to make.

But if I were to wear an Olivier Rousteing dress in the street…I don’t want that experience. I admire women who do it, I admire activists who fight against all of those stereotypes. What this guy told you is that an interest in fashion makes you feminine, which makes you inferior.

[Laughs]

He’s a victim of the system too. High heels were invented for men, in the court of France – men were like peacocks.

 

JL: So that was never a question for you – menswear vs. womenswear.

DN: No, it was very natural. If I was every dressing up for a carnival or a party, I loved to dress up as a man.

JL: What does that mean? At this point, as a grown woman with successful business, do you get up in the morning and say “Today, I’m dressing like a man?”

DN: No, I meant as a teenager for Halloween and things. Instead of being a nurse, or a prostitute, or these social archetypes. I would dress as a man and paint on a mustache and wear flannel trousers. Right now, I’m dressed in De Bonne Facture trousers and a Paris tourist t-shirt. I bought it from a guy on the street and I really enjoy it.

JL: What was it about these essential pieces that you decided to make for De Bonne Facture that made them ‘French’ to you?

DN: That’s a really difficult question, because I think that what is commonly associated with France is a very narrow-minded vision.

There’s something about being born and brought up in Paris that makes you value clothes that are understated, simple, effortless, but still studied. When I was in Shanghai, people didn’t dress that way. It was much less understated. I think [French] brings to mind something quiet, refined, and subtle, and it’s what I associate with Frenchness.

But it can be so many things – when I was Beijing, I found the same understated quality in some of the people I encountered. Old people walking in the park with very simple camel or black coats that I would never see in Shanghai. And I would think ‘Whoa, these people remind me of Parisians!’ so it’s not only French, but there’s an element of Parisian style in that aesthetic that’s French.

Kind of like Boston, also. When I was living in new York I went to Boston and everyone was in navy and white and it was so quiet and serene.

JL: Boston is still kind of a bastion of East Coast prep style, and it’s interesting to hear your admiration for it as someone whose life outlook is so far from conservative.

DN: I see in certain types of aesthetic conservatism a minimalism, or quiet – stillness, maybe – which can be bad, too, but I find beauty in it. I also love the idea of dressing conservatively and being very anti-conformist, in personality or culturally. I’m interested in that imbalance between exterior minimalism and interior fantasy. I like serenity. Using the navies and whites and camels is so appeasing aesthetically.

In Boston, everything was white – it was covered in snow – and all these silhouettes in camel and navy were out walking. I had this very calm experience of it.

JL: I think that classic is very different from quiet – does that idea of an interior fantasy help bring to life an idea that might otherwise be dull?

 

DN: Maybe. I like the idea of having this very still picture of the white, WASP-y persona – or the French equivalent, such as my style is born out of – but have it appropriated by me, and Asian people, and African people, and the diversity of the American people. It’s like, anyone can walk in your shoes, dude. I can wear your costume. It’s kind of like vogueing. You have a costume of power, and I’m going to wear it.

There’s something subversive about putting out that aesthetic, but having it worn by a diversity of models and people. That’s where I want to go moving forward. It’s kind of why I finally asked my [Japanese] friend Jumpei to model the brand, instead of a white guy who would seem ‘French.’

JL: Is there a healthy way to develop a style, then? I think you could point to 23 out of 24 little boys in America, and they probably all learned to dress from their fathers. How do you balance the desire to imitate with the desire to branch out without knowing what you’re doing?

DN: I started this project called Patina – it’s on the website, but not linked to the products -that’s about pieces and garments that you own and have acquired patina with use; have acquired your character, and telling stories about how clothes are linked to identity or memory. They can be frivolous, but they can also be part of who you are. You’re wearing your dad’s shirt, and you’re connecting to your memory and your history.

JL: You’re not scared of talking about other brands.

DN: It’s very stifling to think that your brand is some kind of tyrannical system.There are certain guidelines in my brand that I will respect, to warranty some kind of cohesiveness, but I’m not afraid to talk about other companies. Being a brand doesn’t have to be about “Oh, you’re not wearing the latest Dries trousers! This is last season!” It’s so fucking stupid, and so disconnected from reality. And very anxiety-inducing. People can get very petty, and in the end it’s really very sad, because it becomes about making people buy stuff out of fear. It’s not building confidence in people. I don’t like making decisions out of fear.

I think this happens in style as well – you’re afraid of being judged, or you’re afraid of what will happen to you. But fashion – not wearing the latest – is not a matter of life and death. I don’t really like that aspect of fashion. I’d rather see experimenting with costumes, and who you can be, and various aspects of identity and gender.

As a designer, I will never say “Yes, this is style. This is how people should dress. Follow me, I’m a guru.” I hate that. People should feel comfortable. Today I was dressed 100% in De Bonne Facture, but under my sweater I had on this souvenir t-shirt, and it made me feel more comfortable and more myself.

Building a healthy style has to do with educating yourself with what style can be for you; understanding the politics of style can be interesting too. Style is very political – it connects to class, gender, race, culture, age – if you’re a poor, black, inner-city kid, vogueing as a rich white prep student, it says something. You can experiment with so many parts of you through dressing up, but it does take experimentation. Being fearless, and confident, and not caring about judgement. I would say that’s what a healthy sense of style is.

JL: You have real economic concerns weighing on you a lot of the time. How do you balance this love of weird things, or your love of vintage things, with the need to keep creating new product?

DN: It’s complicated. When I was starting this project I was measuring my desire to get on with it with my desire to ponder the necessity of another label. Do we need new products? I try to be conscious about the ecological impact of the clothing industry. The fashion industry is so polluting, in all ways – from cultivation of cotton that causes desertification, to pesticides used on the crops, to all of the chemicals used in fabric creation or dyeing, the manufacturing, the usage, the water usage, the fact that you’re renewing your wardrobe all the time…I believe that there is a way that we can connect with clothing that is cultural, that is not some unhealthy, neurotic way of over-consuming stuff. I do believe there is a cultural need for a clothing scene. It’s kind of like an arts scene, or a food scene. It’s a cultural object. That is ‘fashion,’ in the good sense. Clothes are cultural artifacts.

My love for old things makes me conscious of the need to make things that are nice when they are old. I’m studying ways to make our clothes more ecologically-friendly, but I’m trying to balance that with durability and other concerns about development. In the meantime, we have to make collections to make a living, so that our suppliers can also make a living. It’s a long process – there’s a rhythm you have to respect.

I think my love of old things also has to do with how appalled I am with how quickly we consume things. So I’m trying to find a way to make things that is respectful to all the people who make our clothes, and to the person who is buying and wearing them, and the earth, and honoring the craft that needs to be kept alive to manufacture things.

JL: You mentioned that you find the idea of sharing your ateliers romantic. Over the last few years, there has been a focus in menswear on the nitty-gritty, on the details. How do you keep romance alive in what you do?

DN: What comes to mind is streetstyle. I find a lot of romance in watching people in life. Sometimes when I’m walking I see someone with an interesting detail, or observe the way they’re carrying themselves. Whatever is expressed I find romantic or interesting – watching people making style real. I mean, I do also find runways and presentations romantic, but I find people romantic in their diversity. Recently we were choosing fabrics, and one reminded me of an old professor – and I know you have met someone in your life who exuded that geography professor aesthetic or character. Anything can be an inspiration, and that’s where I see the romance.

JL: Once, I texted you a photo of LeBron James wearing one of your sweaters, and you got a kick out of that. What are your thoughts on celebrity style?

DN: I was so mad. I made this really nasty Instagram post and everyone told me to delete it. I got tagged in this random celebrity Instagram post, and realized LeBron James was wearing our turtleneck. I was in the office, and I said “LeBron James is super famous, right?” And it gave me an up, like an endorphin, so I posted about it on Facebook, and it was probably my most-liked post ever.

And then I started getting super bitter about it. “Oh, you need an NBA player to think my stuff is nice?” Everyone on the internet was commenting about how beautiful and wonderful my work was, and I thought, is this what you need to see that I’m doing great work? So I made this post on my personal account about celebrity culture, and how dispiriting it felt that people only thought that what I was doing was good when this NBA star wore it. I was so pissed. And then my friends talked me down and told me to delete it, which I did.

There are people interested in our fabric, in our manufacturing, in what we make – and there are others who are like “Oh yeah, you got LeBron!” Yeah, cool, you like my brand. Thanks. I was happy, and then I hated it when I realized it was the only reason people were interested.

Photos: Sports Illustrated


JL: If you could strip your collection down to its four most essential pieces, which would they be?

D: Definitely the jockey jacket – the bomber – and I like the flannel carrot trousers. I wouldn’t wear those together, though. I would wear the trousers with my souvenir t-shirt, I would wear the bomber with some really run-down jeans and trainers. The oxford shirt – the button down, with the American placket, now it’s in Japanese brush oxford, which is an oxford fabric but flannel-ized, so it’s kind of confusing because it looks like a normal shirt but when you get closer it has this vintage-y, wabi-sabi aspect. And I’m thinking of the bathrobe, that I really like – that you inspired….

[Laughs]

I’m kidding –

JL: I hope you know that’s on record now, and I’m claiming credit for it.

DN: Probably the piqué sweater, the crewneck with the enlarged polo knit.

JL: I think I’ve only ever seen you wearing one thing, which is a striped essential shirt and navy trousers.

DN: Yep.

JL: Is there such thing as authenticity in fashion? Is there anything wrong with never settling?

DN: No! Maybe there are four essential pieces of De Bonne Facture, but I would never wear them together. I think authenticity is being in tune with yourself, with whatever choices you’re making. Being authentic is being honest and sincere, finding your voice through experimentation. It’s not an equation. There’s no solution to style. That’s a good way to sell magazines, to have people be fearful instead of carrying on with their lives.

I think a lot of the media surrounding style perpetuates the fear of not being up-to-date, that’s feeding into the nasty part of the fashion system. Do you remember when we were making fun of the minimalism trend ?

JL: In Paris last year, yeah

DN: Yeah. “Be a minimalist, buy my magazine, I’m gonna teach you how to be minimalist, and the way to be minimalist is to throw out everything you own and buy a minimalist wardrobe.” It’s cool to be evolving. There’s this culture of the rules of style in menswear –

JL: You don’t say.

DN: Yeah, and it kind of drives me crazy.

JL: One criticism I’ve read – on websites that will not be named – is that De Bonne Facture looks like just another minimal French brand.

DN: Yeah, like APC or whatever.

JL: How do you prevent that? How do you –

DN: I really don’t care. I don’t give a fuuuuck. I care about what my customers think about it – if their coat is not well cut, if the fabric isn’t warm enough, then I care. But I’m trying to speak with my voice. I’m not trying to be out there so that I’m making the point that I’m different, like everything I make is orange because I’m so original and it’s unlike any other French brand you’ve ever seen.

Buyers at big department stores have told us “Oh, we’ve already got the minimal French whatever, we don’t want you.” I think “Well, you have a brand that’s made in Portugal, and uses plastic buttons, and the fabric they use costs 2EUR a meter, and oh, this other brand’s shirts are made in Bangladesh for 8$ and they’re selling them for 160EUR.”

They’re selling to customers that don’t care about those details, and don’t care about our ethos that I admit is kind of invisible. It’s subtle. It’s all the choices we’ve made. It has soul. We hope to sell our clothes to people who care about that.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Lookbook photos via De Bonne Facture.

Photos of Déborah by Eric Hanson for Styleforum.

 

Anu Elizabeth on Menswear for Women

You may recognize Anu Elizabeth from Styleforum’s regular Pitti coverage; as one of the tradeshow’s well-dressed female attendees she makes her way into a lot of pictures. She’s often found in tailored clothing, which prompted Arianna to reach out for a discussion about what inspires her stylistic decisions, and how she thinks about menswear on women.

Arianna Reggio: Anu, you told me that you’re a “jeans kind of girl” most of the time. However, we’ve seen you at Pitti in tailored clothes wearing men’s accessories. Where does that come from?
Anu Elizabeth: I have always disliked uncomfortable and ill-fitting clothing. I haven’t been able to find blazers or sports coats that fit me – for a reasonable price, at least. I only got into wearing jackets and blazers after I got together with my fiancé Jussi Häkkinen (@jussihakkinen on Instagram), who started making those pieces for me. The suits he has made for me are mostly made according to my wishes. I’ve chosen the fabrics and what style I would like in general. Jussi creates the pattern and makes the smaller stylistic decisions according to the house style of their company, E-F-V Gentlemenswear, as my suits are also concept studies and prototypes for their future ladies line. This suits me just fine, as I love their classic yet slightly rugged style.
I’d also like to emphasize that I don’t consider suits to be menswear per se, just a type of clothing that can be womenswear just as well. Accessories, like neck ties and pochettes, are considered mainly as menswear, yes, and sold in menswear stores, but I’d like to see that to change in the future, too. They can complement the outfit, adding interesting details to it. They make the wearer look more dressed, and show an effort. Of course the same dressed-up effect could be attained with “ladies” accessories, too, but I personally find men’s accessories more interesting and versatile. I like, for example, to wear pochettes as scarves, too.


Arianna: What’s your style on a daily basis?
AE: For the office I generally wear jeans or chinos with collared shirts and knits. I like heavy boots and military parkas for the winter and field jacket with loafers or sneakers in the summer. I don’t see customers face to face in my job, so relaxed, smart and comfortable is the way to go. I mainly use Uniqlo and army surplus stores for my everyday clothes.
Arianna: Do you dress in tailored clothing on occasions outside of Pitti Uomo?
AE: I do, on weekends and holidays and other special occasions, although I do wear dresses and heels for parties as well.
Arianna: Your fiancé works in fashion; what differences do you see between men’s approach to clothes – specifically tailoring – and women’s?
AE: Not that big a difference, in the end. In the menswear circles, classic tailored clothes and bespoke are the thing now. Outside that group, however, men and women are pretty equally into disposable fashion and, of course, some could not care less about what they are wearing, as long as it’s comfortable – this group seems to increase with age. I don’t see much difference between sexes here.
It does seem, though, that in women’s fashion comfort and classic style seldom meet, at least at the commonly available and affordable vendors. There are far fewer bespoke makers for women’s suits and shoes than there are for men. I know maybe two women who use bespoke and dozens of men, but my view on this is probably a bit distorted because we know so many menswear people.


Arianna: Do you see differences in terms of quality between menswear and women’s clothing?
AE: Outside of bespoke circles, especially in the lower price range, there might be some difference, favoring men. Maybe it is due to the faster rotation on women’s fashion. I really can’t say. I try to avoid buying disposable fashion items.
Arianna: What has been the response of you wearing men’s tailored clothing?
AE: Surprisingly positive, although I still do not consider it as men’s clothing – but I know what you mean. I have felt very comfortable and well-dressed in a suit or similar styles everywhere I’ve been. No one has ever commented anything negative or told me that I’m dressed like man. Rather, I feel I have just been viewed as “well-dressed” when Im out in a suit. Compared to the more traditional way of being a well-dressed woman, the power and comfort of the well made suit is something different. It makes one feel very confident.
Arianna: Lastly, if you were a man, what do you think your style would be?
AE: Pretty similar to what it is now, I think. Jeans and parkas for everyday wear, suits for weekends and occasions. I might have a lot more shoes than I do now, because there would be more well made, comfortable and stylish shoes available in my size – assuming my feet would be somewhat bigger than they are now. I do like the way high heels look, but I’ve never liked the way they feel.

Women in Menswear: Dalila Palumbo

Dalila Palumbo is a young Italian designer with a very peculiar style. We spotted her during our last visit at Pitti Uomo, and we couldn’t stop taking pictures of her menswear-inspired outfits.
We asked Dalila to talk about her relationship with menswear and the sartorial world, which inspire her both on a personal level and for her work with her brand Isabel Pabo.


Styleforum: Dalila, we’ve seen you at Pitti Uomo with many personalities of the menswear world; what does Pitti represent to you, as a young designer?

Dalila Palumbo: In the past few years, Pitti Uomo in Florence, besides being a spotlight for important brands and for the menswear fashion system as a whole, has been a place for people of the fashion industry to connect. Young designers, like myself, and artists from all over the world get together to share their ideas and experience, while promoting their own idea of fashion (either for males or females) through what is known as “streetstyle”. Two years ago I decided to join this experience, and I timidly made an appearance at Pitti wearing a menswear creation from my brand Isabel Pabo. I received a lot of compliments from photographers, bloggers, and fashion insiders, and I made new friends as well as work connections. After this first experience at Pitti – which I call “not-just-Uomo”- the trade show has become an important part of my job in preparation for both AW and SS collections, as an inexhaustible source of inspiration.

SF: What do you think of where menswear stands today – and in particular of the re-birth of sartorial and artisanal brands – compared to the evolution of women’s fashion?

DP: Despite being restricted by cultural standards and market demands for many years, menswear seems to be finally blossoming into something new, especially thanks to the re-discovery of sartorial and artisanal techniques blended with innovative projects and styles. Something similar is happening in women’s fashion, although on a much smaller scale due to the greater visibility that women’s clothes have received throughout the years. We owe this change to young designers who have been trying to offer unique options that would suit everyone.


SF: One of the biggest differences between menswear and womenswear is the attention paid to the cut and fit of the clothes – something that on a sartorial level is almost as important as the style of the garments. The concept of “su misura” is basically non-existent in womenswear. What is the reason why women apparently don’t care about this aspect?

DP: The realization of a sartorial garment for men requires following specific rules and a rigid pattern that can be easily manipulated and altered in the creation of a garment for women – as the style is more variegated. I agree that “su misura” is a relatively unknown concept in “everyday” fashion for women. However, if we talk about an important piece linked to a specific occasion, things are different. From my experience, women choose to have a unique piece for special occasions, since there is no other way to reach a certain degree of perfection and personalization when on a ready-to-wear piece. “It’s not the body that needs to adapt to the shape of the dress, but rather the dress must model itself around the body, and create an aesthetically pleasant result to delight those who can appreciate true elegance.” This has been my idea of Fashion, and it seems like many have been adapting it lately.


SF: How would you describe your personal style, and how much is it influenced by menswear?

DP: I’d call my style “new underground”, as it blends ancient arts and artisanal aspects with modern techniques – creating a peculiar and defined style. It’s hard to create fashion for women with this approach, but I keep studying and dedicating my time to this project, trying to bring the infamous precision of cut and fit that we find in sartorial menswear to products destined for women. That’s what I hope to accomplish one day.

SF: What are the brands and tailors that you appreciate the most, for both quality and style of their products?

DP: As for big names and haute couture, the answer is predictable: Valentino, Giorgio Armani, Dolce&Gabbana, and many others. However, my education has allowed me to appreciate the work of tailors in Italy and abroad. I would have to mention all the tailors of the Accademia Nazionale dei Sartori – its president Ilario Piscioneri, Franco Puppato, Sebastiano di Rienzo, Mario Napolitano, Mario Pastore, Daniel Robu… they truly are the feather in the cap of the sartorial tradition.


SF: Your work with Isabel Pabo allows you to travel the world; where have you seen the most elegant men?

DP: In Italy, for sure. Italian creativity and fashion are famous all over the world for a reason, just like the brand “Made in Italy”. However, I’ve met many elegant men during my travels, and I’ve got the chance to appreciate different kinds of styles influenced by cultures that are not as known as the Italian.


SF: The tailleur (the suit for women) is a garment that’s associated for the most part with an office environment, or with formal ceremonies at best. In the United States, it is a symbol of women empowerment in politics, recently exemplified when Hillary Clinton made it a trademark of her presidential campaign in 2016. In your pictures, you wear pantsuits and jackets in vibrant colors, infusing new life in a garment that seems to be popular mostly among mature women in a business environment. Is this a pondered choice you intend to pursue with your brand?

DP: I actually think my idea of fashion is best expressed with a tailleur – whether it is a jacket-pant or jacket-skirt combination. I find it can be adapted to many occasions as it allows for a broad choice of fabrics and colors. You can craft a style for any occasion with a tailleur: free time, business, evening, special occasion, all the while maintaining the elegant sobriety of a “modern woman.”

SF: Lastly, if you were a man, what do you think your style would be?

DP: I really wouldn’t know, although as a woman I’m naturally attracted to men that are elegant and have good manners – which one can be even wearing a pair of jeans. Anyway, I’m way too involved in the matter to provide an objective answer!

women in menswear dalila palumbo

Follow Dalila on Facebook and Instagram.

A Talk with Allan Baudoin of Baudoin and Lange

Allan Baudoin is a London-based bespoke shoemaker. He is also one half of the team behind Baudoin and Lange, the ready-to-wear offshoot of his bespoke atelier which focuses on production of the “Sagan” loafer. Baudoin and Lange is led by Allan Baudoin and Bo van Langeveld. In this article, Allan answered our questions about what led him to shoemaking as a young man, what he loves about it, and about his work at large – both as a bespoke shoemaker and with the Baudoin and Lange brand.

This article has been edited for length and clarity.


allan baudoin interview stylefourm baudoin lange styleforum interview

Styleforum: On the Baudoin and Lange website, you go out of your way to mention that both of you come from backgrounds not related to shoemaking or even to menswear. How have these diverse perspectives influenced the growth of Allan Baudoin Bespoke and Baudoin & Lange?

Allan Baudoin: My “background” is in computer science and business. I did not train in shoemaking formally, but had to learn everything on the spot under the pressure of building a name and an income for me in the early days – this means that mistakes are only made once, and you get to touch a lot more of shoemaking than under an apprenticeship.
I had to quickly learn to manage artisans and make decision that went beyond my formal knowledge. In the end, intuition plays a great part in making shoes – that and experience – and luckily I instantly “clicked” with the craft and everything around it. For the first time, I was working on something that felt very natural for me, and I got better at the craft with each iteration to reach the level of knowledge required to launch into RTW with Baudoin & Lange.
Bespoke and RTW use different parts of the brain; a lot more planning is involved as volumes grow, but you always need that bespoke “practicality” to come up with innovative elements and ways of doing beautiful work with nothing. I think one important factor in the growth of B&L is the complementarity of the skills I have with Bo. We are the inverse of each other, and that works very well for running a business. Bo comes from a finance background, having worked in private equity, and is an ex-competitive driver. I don’t have a license, so that tells you a lot about how different we are. In the end, the best decisions are reached by compromise between our two mentalities.

SF: Are there aspects of bespoke shoemaking that you were intent on keeping in your RTW line, or that lended themselves particularly well to your project? Similarly, were there aspects of the bespoke process that you knew would not translate – or even be detrimental – to an RTW line?

AB: I think the lines and aesthetics of my RTW work are very similar to my bespoke, and I did transfer (and improved) on some bespoke shoemaking techniques from the latter to the former – such as brass nail decoration which is now on every pair we make as our logo.allan baudoin interview stylefourm baudoin lange styleforum interview
Of course, some aspects of bespoke have to be systematized to become viable for a RTW line. We still hand-last each pair entirely and close the shoes entirely by hand, but obviously some aspects – like blocking insoles by hand – make no sense in RTW. However, our insoles are still blocked and shaped to the last before lasting, so they do curve around the last – which is rare in RTW.
Many techniques that I learned in bespoke I removed on purpose from the RTW project of Baudoin and Lange. For example, a bespoke shoe has hard counters and toe puffs, uses calf and lining – our Sagan loafers are unlined and unconstructed,  which means they are very easy to fit compared to a normally constructed shoe. This translates into extreme comfort from the first use – by removing something akin to traditional bespoke shoemaking, you end up with the exact same result, and a very large part of our clients are bespoke shoe buyers.

SF: I’ve heard that before starting your shoemaking line you briefly worked at Apple, and referred to your time as “disillusioning.” Even so, are there aspects of working with a large company that you miss, or lessons you learned during your time there that you think are applicable to your current life as a shoemaker?

AB: That’s indeed true, you must have heard this from an early interview probably quite soon after I had left the corporate life and was working from a tiny 10-square-meter workshop out of east-London. I think I was really not wired to work in the kind of spaces and environment that most large companies offer. As a shoemaker, I probably did not take away anything from working in an office, but as a designer and new company owner I do owe a lot to my previous background in computer science and business school.
allan baudoin interview stylefourm baudoin lange styleforum interview
I’ve always been inspired by Apple design and manufacturing principles. The amount of design work and lack of compromise that the ideas go through from inception to execution without being dropped is hugee, because at Apple only great design ideas make it to the finished product. The vision comes from the user experience designers and hardware designers first; the manufacturing team is there to make it happen no matter how hard or how much work has to be put in. It makes everything easier when the product is perfected beyond the competitions’ standards. I think that’s something we try to emulate at B&L – some features our customers need to have in their shoes – and we find ways to incorporate them, sometimes by going very different routes than what a standard shoe company would do.

SF: What was it about shoemaking in particular that appealed to you? Were there other crafts you found equally enjoyable?

AB: I’ve always wanted to know how shoes were made. I think that for me, this is the craft that uses the most of my strengths – touch and the eye. Touch, because it all starts with leathers, and to use the proper kind in the right application takes a lot of gauging, of imagining the properties of the piece you’re holding and figuring out how best to use it for this or this other purpose. The eye, because everything is always in progress while making shoes, and your eyes guide you through the many steps. There is so much checking involved when making shoes, and nothing works faster and better than a trained eye. Being observant is something one is born with, and for some reason I think I’ve unintentionally or intentionally scanned every person’s shoe I have ever seen since I can remember. It is so incredibly rare to see someone with beautiful shoes that fit them – it’s about knowing what works for you.allan baudoin interview stylefourm baudoin lange styleforum interview
Now that I know shoemaking (to a satisfying level, in my opinion), I start to see other crafts as more attainable – and now I want to make too many things! I got to know tailoring a bit from how close our industries are related, but I’ve never been fond of working with soft fabrics. I don’t know why, but how fragile and flimsy they seem to be to work with is something I can’t cope with.
I really like sanding and finishing things at the moment, and so the things I d like to learn for myself one day would probably be watch case making and knife making. I love both watches and knives so that would be useful things to make for myself and I same as for shoes, there are no watches design that I really crave in the market so perhaps I could do something there. For me, all crafts have become more and more fascinating and they all connect at some level. I feel really at home with makers; we have a common language I think.

SF:Can you tell us about the process by which you became involved with the London shoemaking scene? What drew you to the art? How long did it take you to think: “This is what I want to do?”
AB: It took me approximately one week to decide that I wanted to do this. I really just came out of nowhere, I knew nothing about shoemaking or making anything actually – but when I visited a shoemaker close to my apartment in East London everything changed. I was in a mental place at that time where I felt I could do anything, and that anything goes as long as you enjoy it (I had just come back from going to Burning Man in the desert of Nevada, so that did leave an impression on me, the way everybody there was sharing their “trip” to the fullest with absolutely no regard to judgment about it. There, anything goes; everybody comes to share what they are about and in such a beautiful and generous way that it is hard to describe in words what the experience is like.
allan baudoin interview stylefourm baudoin lange styleforum interview I knew absolutely no one in the industry or even in anything related to it, I was introduced to makers by going from workshop to workshop thanks to my laster, and I went on to discover every aspect of the craft by myself by spending time with artisans.
Then, the shoes that I had made at first for me, then my friends and my 1st and 2nd degree network, found their way to a wider audience thanks to social networks.  I did get to talk and meet people who really knew a lot of industry people – first in mind is meeting with Simon Crompton [of Permanent Style] – a guy I had no idea I’d get along with so well. I was not even a reader of any blogs before I met him for lunch one day with no other purpose than to say hi and talk shoes and craft (which seems the way we connect with anyone in this little world of ours). I really have to thank Simon for his help in getting the word out, he introduced my work to everybody he knew. Mark Cho [of The Armoury] has also been incredibly helpful and supportive from the first day he ordered shoes from us.

SF: It appears that the Sagan loafer began as a bespoke or MTO project. How did that come about? 
AB : The Sagan indeed came from the atelier, when I was in the need for a pair of easy to slip-on, all-day comfortable pair to wear around the workshop while making bespoke shoes. My clients and some industry people around me soon took notice and started buying them.
Actually, a lot of tailors and cutters on Savile Row were among my first customers because of how comfortable they are to wear in the workshop while standing, and how well they served and looked in front of customers – perhaps their patronage helped put them on the feet of the right people at the beginning. I still get emails from people telling me that their tailor has recommended them. Today we are stocked in a lot of specialized shops that carry great tailoring brands.

SF: Why did you want this to be your first RTW shoe, and why build an entire brand behind it? How do you see it being worn?

allan baudoin interview stylefourm baudoin lange styleforum interview AB: The idea is of a versatile, extremely comfortable loafer that can go with as many environments as possible in one pair of shoes; from evening wear to summer wear, home use, travel and every day use at the office.
I felt the Sagan really deserved to have an entire brand built around it, because the concept is a new and innovative one – it just needs explanation and focus. At B&L we only make Sagans, and that is how much we believe in the concept. This laser-focus on one product translates to quality of craft and service.
I think the product is very innovative for the industry and for the luxury shoe market in general. I think we’re creating our own space instead of finding a gap in the market. It takes time, but I don’t see other brand or makers as competition – I never have. Every pair is different in use, and I feel no other shoe can replace the Sagan.

SF:Baudoin and Lange is a very accessible brand. Many shoemakers go the other direction – why choose accessibility over exclusivity?

AB: Bespoke shoemakers choose exclusivity by default, because the way a bespoke shoe is made is simply not focused on price sensitivity or lead times. That makes the product very expensive and hard to get which is the definition of exclusivity. I do like the idea of a very small number of aficionados enjoying and recognizing the work that goes into my bespoke shoes – it is a passion that connects us.
However, I really don’t think a great product like the Sagan would benefit from such an approach. Our goal is to put as many great looking, comfortable shoes on the feet of people as possible, not just for a select few who can afford it. Many retailers have told us we could charge double what we do but that’s simply restricting ourselves to a smaller market for no real reason.

SF: Can you describe a bit of the “flow” of the creation and production process? I’m aware that you have several partners in the pattern-making and construction processes – can you walk us through the creation and production of a new shoe for the Allan Baudoin line? Does this differ for the Baudoin and Lange line?

AB: I have a pattern maker, a clicker, a closer, two lasters, and a finisher and we all work really well together. I’d say an AB and a BL shoe start exactly the same way and go through the exact same initial process, but the AB goes to only one customer and uses only one skin of leather, whereas the BLs have to made for a lot more people, which requires many more steps.

It all starts with the last. I usually make lasts myself from “unturned toe” wooden lasts, meaning the toe is left wide and rough, while the heel to the joint area are made to the specific measures I give my last “factory” in France.

A first last is made to do the pattern making. This last and pattern will most certainly be modified a few times to accommodate changes I want to make, which happen constantly – I think the Sagan pattern was remade at least 50 times to accommodate changes in leathers, lasts, insoles, and other tweaks.

allan baudoin interview stylefourm baudoin lange styleforum interview Parallel to that is the work in sourcing and tanning the leathers we use for soles, insoles, uppers, fitting, bindings, and other pieces – they are all made to our specification and color ways that I have chosen over time. I never use ready-made colors or articles (leathers have countless specs) – you just can’t ask a tannery to have the best taste in color or substance and texture.

I will usually spend a lot of time with my pattern maker and closer when making Sagans (a lot of the work is in the stitching of the upper and the fine design details of each variation), and with my lasters for MTM/Bespoke, as these are always made with different sole types and construction methods. I always quality check every shoe, bespoke and Sagan alike, that comes out of the atelier, to make sure they are made as well as possible. This also allows me to spot problems and constantly perfect the shoes.

Every batch we make is always better than the last one, as I tend to always spot new “imperfections” we can improve upon. I think the Sagan range is now very close to perfection, but we always come up with new things, so it is a never ending process. Perfection does not exist, only the perception of perfection – for a trained eye nothing is perfect. I’m pretty sure you could ask any bespoke shoemaker if they are happy with their last work, and they will say “No” regardless of how perfect it looks to the outside world. We know exactly how good the shoes are, and that’s just never good enough. This is, I believe, the drive (and the curse) of the shoemaker.


SF: You’re still very young – do you feel, now, that you’ve found your niche in shoemaking? Or do you still have a bit of the restlessness in you that took you away from your first career path?

I am always restless. I have found a passion and obsession in shoemaking, and I have built a lot around it both personally and professionally. I intend to keep evolving and see where that takes me. I am always interested in all kinds of crafts and topics related to our industry, so you never what will come out of this!

allan baudoin interview stylefourm baudoin lange styleforum interview

A Conversation with Daniel Dugoff

Okay, I’ll admit it: while I was wandering around Man Paris last January, the real reason I stopped at DDUGOFF to look at the clothing is that Daniel Dugoff looks really friendly. That, and also because Eric (@noiseranch, our photographer) and I had walked past him three or four times, and the labyrinthine hallways that wind through the building that houses Man are so narrow that it was starting to get awkward. I ended up being really glad I did, because not only is Daniel a friendly guy, he makes pretty cool clothing. 

I think that most people would refer to it as “minimal,” but if I were going to give it an over-simplified marketing descriptor (and we must, mustn’t we?) I’d call it “quirky intellectual,” sort of like Daniel himself. He studied architecture, then interned at Patrik Ervell, worked a stint at Marc by Marc Jacobs, and finally decided to start his own brand. There are certainly echoes of Ervell and Marc in the cuts and the colors, but it’s a much funner brand than either – the kind of brand that would maybe even use “funner” to describe itself, with a nod and a wink thrown in. 

Expect bold prints, shirts with zip closures, and a mix of natural and technical fabrics – including, back in F/W 2015, the world’s comfiest winter onesie. But despite the colors – for which I was thankful, after surviving several seasons of almost drowning in black – Daniel wants his clothing to be everyday wear. I figured we should talk about how he makes that happen.

You can see the full range of DDUGOFF’s offerings at www.ddugoff.com


Jasper:

You trained as an architect before interning at Patrik Ervell and working at Marc by Marc Jacobs. I seem to recall that your initial interest was in furniture design – something about menswear must have resonated with your sensibilities. Were there similarities between the fields?

Daniel:

One of the things that architecture school is really good at teaching is how develop and sustain a project. In school I began to realize that I was much more interested in how design relates to bodies. I was, and am, interested in how design relates to the world around us, but I like to work with it at a scale that I can hold in my hand. When I graduated from college I wanted to work in a design studio where things were being made; not in an architecture studio where the work was digital and for months (or years) just drawings in a computer. I wanted to see what it was like to work somewhere where there were prototypes that were evaluated for their usefulness and their beauty. I wrote letters to a bunch of furniture designers, artists, and fashion designers that I admired, and was lucky enough to land an internship with Patrik Ervell. It was the absolute perfect place to start – a small studio, all hands on deck, working to make incredible menswear happen. I learned about the whole cycle that happens in a studio to make a new season, to produce a collection, to get it out into the world. 

J:

One thing I’ve noticed about the way your clothes are cut is that you’ve got a very keen eye for space, and for negative space in particular. Does that come from your background in architecture? 

D:

It’s very easy to think of fashion as a two-dimensional thing – as a front and a back. But it’s really a bunch of shapes that don’t want to be flat, sewn together, so that they can hold a body, because bodies aren’t flat – they have lots of weird ridges and valleys. I can’t stand when the only interesting thing happening on a jacket is on the front. It should be on the back (a surprise for the person walking down the street behind you) and on the inside (something only you know about). In menswear, where the goal (or my goal) is to make something that at the end of the day is wearable above all else, I can’t get away with what womenswear designers can do to add interest – ruffles, volume, shine – the details that make you love the piece have to be quiet. It has to be a jacket first. It has to be something you can wear all the time. I really do want to design your favorite clothes. My favorite things to wear are usually the simplest pieces. But it can’t be so simple it’s nothing. (Almost) everything should have pockets so you don’t have to carry anything in your hands if you don’t want to. (Almost) everything should have a locker loop so that you can hang it up at the end of the day to wear again tomorrow or the next day. (Almost) everything should be soft and comfortable, unless it’s express purpose is to be rigid and tough. 

J:

That sounds a lot like an idea of ‘utility,’ to me – I think the problem that men (or men’s companies) run into is that so much of the clothing has to be “go anywhere” clothing, and that the end result is excruciatingly lame. I know that a handful of designers have said that working within menswear’s constraints is almost liberating.  Where do you stand on that? Are you looking at peplum tops with envy?

D:

No, not at all – I’m not envious of peplums one bit. What I mean is that I see my job as having to be inventive within such a narrow confine. I like to work up against challenges, both ones I know about from the onset and ones that pop up along the way. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I find the limitations of what “works” as menswear as being liberating, but I like working on a set of products that are meant to be used. Sure, utility can be a little stale, but it’s clothing. It should be useful. It should provide for you. The part of design that I find most exciting is when I’m playing with an idea for days or weeks and all of a sudden a beautifully simple answer emerges. I think it’s often too easy to make bold moves – to make a loud statement often doesn’t require that much thought. There is so much elegance in simple, thought-out solutions. There’s a leather jacket in the Fall/Winter 2016 collection with a shearling panel right where you hand goes into the pocket. It’s one of my favorite details from the collection because it puts the most luxurious texture right where you hand is going to enjoy it the most. It’s subtle. It isn’t a big collar or even a lining. It’s such a small amount of material, but it accomplishes so much.

J:

You’ve said in other interviews that you want to make people’s “Favorite clothes.” When you design a shirt, a coat, or a pair of pants, how do you approach the creation of an object so that it becomes more than that – more than just a shirt, coat, or pair of pants?

D:

When spend so much time developing the prints for each collection. How can a print be subtle enough that it is extremely wearable and be part of your wardrobe instead of standing out from it? How can it fit in while also being unlike things you already have? I play a lot with textures we’re used to seeing and changing the scale or abstracting it from the object it came from. For Spring/Summer 2016, there’s a print that’s from a photograph of a blue plastic bag. But it’s manipulated into an infinite repeat, so you never see the edge of the bag or the handles – you just see crinkly blue plastic. When you know it’s a bag it’s obvious, but before you figure it out, it looks like an oceanic topography and from far away it looks like your shirt is super wrinkled. I love when the answer to a question is so simple you’d never think of it. I’m working on a print for next Spring right now that’s scans of torn paper. Those edges are beautiful.

J:

As objects go, plastic bags and torn paper are pretty un-sexy. Why no florals? Crosses? Rottweilers? 

D:

Haha – why isn’t DDUGOFF more like Givenchy? Because Givenchy does a really good job being Givenchy. Designers all have their own obsessions. I keep coming back to material textures, how birds flock and fish school, stripes, collage… season after season. I did photo prints the first season, taken from iPhone pictures I took from a plane on a really clear day flying from New York to San Francisco. To me, those images were perfect for clothes because they were instantly recognizable as earth while also not being overly specific about location. The clothes should be beautiful and wearable – I’m not trying to sell an ideology above that.

J:

On your website, one of the words you used to describe your brand is “realistic.” How so?

D:

These clothes have to be realistic. They have to be the kind of clothes that fit into people’s lives. I don’t want the people wearing DDUGOFF to feel like they’re wearing a costume – they should feel like themselves. But what sets it apart from everything else all of these people already own? The fabrics, for one, which I source from amazing mills, primarily in Italy and Japan. The make of the clothes is also extremely important. Right now the clothes are all manufactured in the United States. I like being able to go to the factories on a regular basis. I like problem solving with the people making the clothes. Having production happen in New York, New Jersey, and California means that I can stay involved in a way that would be significantly more difficult if it were overseas. This may change as the brand grows, but I am definitely proud of the quality of the products coming out of these US factories. These are clothes that are well made, from materials that are beautiful and meant to last. 

J:

Yeah, let’s talk about costume, because that’s fascinating to me, industry-wide. Like for DDUGOFF, you also designed some kind of quilted onesie a couple of years back – which is totally awesome, but maybe not totally “realistic” for most people. How do pieces like that fit in? 

I get that menswear consumers are, largely, boring as fuck, but you’re in this zone where you’re not making clothing that’s going to fulfill anyone’s James Bond or boardroom fantasies, and you’re also not as wild as Comme. People who wear DDUGOFF are definitely making a conscious decision to do so – who does it appeal to?

D:

Costume is fascinating. And Fashion (capital F) is often more costume than real-life. The distinction I’m making here is: when I put on a piece of clothing, do I feel like myself or do I feel like a character? If I feel like I’m playing dress-up, that’s a costume. The beige snowsuit – the quilted onesie you’re talking about from Fall/Winter 2015 – was teetering on the edge between realistic clothing and something a bit costume-y. A small portion of the collection each season veers towards a more editorial eye. These pieces stand out in the lookbook and usually don’t sell a huge number of units, but they take ideas elsewhere in the collection and amplify them. The snowsuit was made out of a waterproof nylon, with a hefty layer of insolation, and a cotton flannel lining – it was a serious winter piece. The same idea came as an overcoat, and it is an excellent winter coat – super easy to wear, warm, not too bulky, plenty of pockets. When you put on the coat, you feel like yourself in it. That’s the goal. DDUGOFF doesn’t need to be a heady brand where you need to know the back story in order to enjoy the clothes. I don’t want to have to tell you some convoluted story in order for you to appreciate why something is the way it is. The clothes are solid, stand alone products.

J:

It’s refreshing to meet a young designer who’s not afraid to use color. Even your winter collections have largely shied away from black – is that a conscious decision?

D:

In the first five seasons of DDUGOFF, there have been one or two pieces in black. There is such a beautiful range of navy blues in the collection, I don’t feel a need to have black. A head-to-toe navy look is so much stronger than a totally black look – there’s so much life in navy, but black is often so flat and dead. The collection doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’m trying to prove that every day clothes don’t have to boring. Wearing some color, some texture, can break up a monotonous wardrobe. 

J:

I’m a fan of navy – are there colors you wish we saw more of in menswear?

For Fall/Winter 2016, the collection explored all of these rich greens. I liked the idea of using this color that looks good on pretty much everyone, and using it in the winter, when people tend to dress in dark monochromatic outfits (at least that’s the case in New York). The city in the winter is weeks and weeks of grey skies and concrete and asphalts and big black parkas. I wanted to break that up with lush greens that really felt alive. But I didn’t want it to feel neon. It still has to be wearable. Bottle greens, grass greens, and a little bit of ochre all break up the collection which otherwise is grey and navy. I used gold buttons and zippers for the first time for this season as well. I wanted to play with giving winter clothes some life. But, trust me, I understand why we all wear dark colors. I wear almost all navy almost every day. It’s easy and it looks really good. A dark green shirt with navy pants and navy jacket is a good look, too, though.

J:

Do you feel that New York is a sustainable environment for a young designer?

D:

Is New York a sustainable environment for a young designer? I talk about this with my friends all the time. New York is extremely expensive and that’s really tough. But I cannot imagine doing DDUGOFF outside of New York. The city is so crucial to the brand right now. I can’t even quantify how much of what happens with the brand comes from situations like running into someone on the street and having a quick conversation about a gallery show that in turn inspires a print. Having proximity to all of these other people who are doing amazing things with their lives is so important. 

J:

There are definitely some interesting brands coming out of New York these days. Are there other scenes – art, photography, museum-going – that you’re involved in, that end up having a dramatic effect on the clothing you design?

Along with that – when you’re a young brand so surrounded by brands both young and old, how do you stay focused on what you’re trying to achieve, instead of focusing on what someone else is doing and trying to make it work for you? Is it possible to keep your process and your ideas insulated? Is that even desirable?

D:

There are so many people making amazing things in this city. I like making things and I love talking to people about the things they make. Friendships with artists and designers and musicians are crucial because we’re all struggling with the same things – figuring out how to make something good, and how to know if it’s good, and how to know when to show it to other people. That’s a higher-level answer, and then there’s also a low-level, super practical level. An artist friend may be using a material in a really cool way. Or another designer may have found a factory that does a specialized kind of sewing. Or a furniture design friend may introduce me to a film director who works with fashion brands. Being in tight quarters with creative people helps encourage collaboration and sharing resources and knowledge. And I love that.


DDUGOFF Stockists:

California
American Rag
Le Point

New York
Opening Ceremony
Steven Alan
Swords-Smith

Canada
Neighbour
Working Title Shop

Japan
Stock
WISM

Online
DDUGOFF
East Dane
Spring
No Man Walks Alone


Portrait of Daniel courtesy Tictail. Lookbook photos courtesy Daniel Dugoff. Showroom photos by Eric Hanson.

Impressive: A Conversation with Designer Siki Im

Siki Im's fall 2012 collection continues his evolution of sharp tailoring worn with unusual shapes. A headband is just one of several basketball references.

Siki Im’s fall 2012 collection continues his evolution of sharp tailoring worn with unusual shapes. A headband is just one of several basketball references.

When Siki Im moved to New York in 2001, he had no intention of designing clothes. After graduating with honors from England’s Oxford Brookes School of Architecture, Im took a position with a New York architecture firm, but over time realized the job wasn’t satisfying him. Since high school he had liked clothes, admiring  iconoclastic labels like Maison Martin Margiela, Comme des Garçons, and especially Helmut Lang before they were well-known beyond fashion circles. When Im got the opportunity to join Helmut Lang (in the post-Lang era), he took it. After several years working in the fashion industry, he decided it was time to start his own label, and in September 2009 he introduced his first solo collection. Inspired by William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies, it was a hit, earning him the Ecco Domani Award for Best Men’s Wear.

Im’s collections since have taken their inspiration from a variety of sources—Native Americans, the immigrant experience, Michael Jordan—but each works with one consistent vision. Beautifully tailored blazers and coats, billowing pants, and elongated tops, all crafted from luxurious fabrics—often in black—form the foundations of that vision. Im also insists on adhering to traditional methods whenever possible. Most of his blazers are fully canvassed and hand-tailored at Martin Greenfield Clothiers in Brooklyn, and his denim, which he introduced in his spring-summer 2012 collection, is all selvage sourced from Cone Mills in North Carolina. Im’s fans may not know exactly what to expect with each collection, but they can always be certain it will be expertly made, modern, and smart.

Styleforum contributor Marc Bain sat down with Im at his Manhattan design studio to talk about Im’s work, his influences, and whether fashion has a brain.

A lapel-less blazer from Im’s spring-summer 2012 show.


Marc Bain: Walk me through your design process. Where do you start when you’re coming up with a collection?

Siki Im: It’s not very linear. It starts always with something like an emotion or feeling, or even a proportion I’d really like to develop further, and then I test it out for a couple months—or not months, it depends—[to see] if I still like it. Sometimes you listen to great music, and maybe at first you hate it, but it’s stuck in your head and you start thinking about it more and more. Then you think maybe that’s something which is valid, you know? The initiation, sometimes it starts with a mood, like from a book, or once it was a New York Times article, once it was a movie. I try to keep it pretty open. At the beginning I started with books, but then people were asking “What will be the next book?” And if that already happens then it’s not really fresh.

I like to also surprise a little bit. The spring-summer ’12 collection was pretty heavy because it was about the Arab Spring in a way. Then last season I did the opposite more or less. It was a lot of Michael Jordan in the ’90s, because somewhere along when I was developing and designing the spring-summer collection it got very political, which I personally love but I don’t know if it was justified in fashion. I was a huge basketball fan in the ’90s and into all that stuff, so how can I make that into a non-streetwear, non-literal form, you know? So it’s definitely not linear.

MB: You’re known for doing a thesis for each collection. Where does that come in? Is the idea there from the start?

SI: My first collection, Lord of the Flies, it was really parallel. But sometimes it comes way before, sometimes in the middle, sometimes it’s later. If it does come later, usually the mood or the theme was already there; I just had to dig deeper and research more. For me, what I really like is researching more, so every season I can learn something. It keeps my mind going, which I need and appreciate. It’s just also fun. People can dis and say it’s not relevant or it’s too much, and that’s fine, but for my sake I like to learn and research and study.

MB: Do you have a particular person in mind as your customer?

SI: I’d like to say 25-35, male, sophisticated, but no. We do also have women wearing it, which I think is very beautiful. But it’s not for everyone, just because of the fit, the details, the price, the visibility. I think it will already in itself direct to a certain group.

MB: One thing I’ve noticed looking at your pieces is that you choose really beautiful, rich fabrics. How do your fabric choices play into your designs?

SI: Like with music, if you write a song, sometimes the melody comes before the lyrics, sometimes the other way, sometimes they go together. It’s the same thing. Sometimes with certain garments I design I already know what the fabric is, or sometimes I’ll see a fabric and I know what type of garment it should be. So it goes hand-in-hand.

MB: You studied architecture, so how did you end up designing clothes?

SI: It was pure accident. I just like designing. I never thought to become a fashion designer. Somewhere along, when I was working in an architecture office, I was just getting bored doing, like, renderings and drawings twelve hours a day, and buildings take so long to be built because of the scale. I just wanted to try something else in terms of designing. It could’ve been a car or anything else. New York City is so open and so horizontal in terms of how you can move around and meet people—it’s like a playground almost—and I’ve been very fortunate. It took me a really long time to call myself a fashion designer.

Im experiments with silhouettes more than most menswear designers.

MB: You’ve said that Helmut Lang was a big influence on you. What about his work attracted you?

SI: Since probably the end of high school I was really attracted to his aesthetic. I couldn’t tell you why. Then coming to New York I studied more of his stuff, just going to the stores. I liked everything he did. It was always modern, meaning timeless, and always pushed the boundaries of what fashion is. The advertising, store design, the details: it was amazing, and it’s still so valid. If you see his menswear by itself, it’s well-made clothes but very simple. But it’s about the context. Everything he tried to do, and he did, like thinking of new ways to think of menswear and also to think of fashion. He was one of the first advertising on a New York cab. He was one of the first streaming online, on dial-up. And he had a great team, like Melanie Ward, who I was fortunate enough to work with afterwards. They just pushed the boundary.

MB: Do you keep up with menswear blogs at all?

SI: I really wish, just to keep myself, I don’t know, relevant or contemporary. I try to, and there are some that I look at, but not as I used to when I was in the corporate world and had more time [laughs]. I do sometimes now to just get away from reality and see what’s up and what’s out there, but not as much as I should maybe, I don’t know. I’m trying to also be very controlled. I teach at Parsons and I see the students, they come with so much research material and so much research from blogs that it dilutes and clouds. It’s just too much.

MB: So it’s not good that they have so much material?

SI: All the social media is great, but you really have to control yourself so that it doesn’t control you. Especially in design. If you have too much information, when are you going to say stop and do your own thinking, rather than getting inspired and influenced by other things? It could be a very dangerous process.

MB: Your heritage is Korean; you were born in Germany; you went to university in England; now you live and work in New York. That’s a very global experience. Has that had any influence on your work?

SI: It’s very strong, that dichotomy. Even in university, all my theses were about identity, and about anthropology, and cultural context and dissonance. It’s the same thing, I think, with my collections. It’s all about different poles and juxtapositions which could be violent or beautiful. This is what I always love, the tension between, say, soft and hard fabrics, or Wall Street and religious influence [Im’s fall-winter 2010 collection], or—I’m just referencing certain of my collections—immigrant culture and living in the Western Hemisphere [spring-summer 2011], or Middle East meets globalization meets America [spring-summer 2012], or Michael Jordan meets suiting [fall-winter 2012]. I’m always interested in that because I think that is reality and it is honest and imperfect, and this is what I like. It’s also how I’ve been living and experiencing, you know, messing around with identities.

MB: What are some examples of garments you’ve designed that you think demonstrate this juxtaposition you’re talking about?

SI: The tunic. I love tunics. The tunic is a garment which is very, in a way, ethnic. It could be seen as a primitive, vernacular garment worn in the Middle East, certain parts of Asia. But I just love it. I love the proportion. So we took the tunic and made it more modern: this is a silk-cotton fabric, and we made it slimmer and more modern with certain details. But this is like a simple metaphor.

MB: And you incorporate that into a more Western, tailored look?

SI: Yeah. For instance, you have this soft, drapey fabric, and I would put a harder, tailored, fully canvassed blazer on top of it, and that gets a look which people think, “Wow, it’s fresh.” But no, it’s not. In the Middle East, that’s what they do: huge tunics with a jacket or blazer. What I do is nothing new. It’s not that avant-garde, I think. It’s just what I like and what I’ve seen in other cultures, studying them. So that’s a simple example. Or that crazy hat from the Native-American collection [Silent Thunderbird Prayer, fall-winter 2011]. It’s actually from images of Native Americans, and they used to wear these crazy big hats. But ours is done in a rabbit felt and, hopefully, more modern. So using those references from those ethnic or vernacular languages and making them more modern with fabric, with proportions, and then clashing them with denim or a leather jacket or a handmade blazer, something like that.

Mixed influences: a Middle-East-inspired tunic; tailored, asymmetrical vest; and Native-American-style hat.

MB: When you think of someone actually wearing your clothes on the street, is there a particular image or fantasy that comes to mind?

SI: I hope it’s some cool kid who could be a skater, or someone who works in a gallery, or someone who goes to a party, or someone who picks up the trash, that would be fun. But since it’s luxurious fabrics and it’s all made here in America, in New York mostly, there are certain limits in terms of price point, so it will already specify a certain [person], unfortunately. But I’ve heard from a couple of customers who say when they wear my clothes they feel very confident and strong and protected. That’s a very nice compliment.

MB: That raises an interesting question about who has access to your clothes since I’ve read that you’re influenced by a lot of left-leaning thinkers. Is that accurate?

SI: I really enjoy postmodernists and poststructuralists from the ’60s and ’70s to the ’90s and now, like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, or like Martin Heidegger. They seem to be socialists/Marxists, but the reason why I like them is not because they are leftists or socialists but because of their critical thinking and critical questioning.

MB: Do you think fashion can be an intellectual pursuit? I guess by that I mean can clothing ask critical questions or make critical statements?

SI: Yeah, I totally think so, because fashion is cultural in itself and culture is usually a reflection of certain opinions or statements. Even like Michelle Obama wearing a lot of domestic designers, it [offers] an opinion. That’s the beautiful thing about fashion: it’s not just clothes, it’s something more than that, which is how design should be actually. It should have an opinion, I think, or no opinion is an opinion too.

MB: Do you have any favorite pieces from your last collection, or from any past collection?

SI: Yeah. We started denim, and I really like some of that stuff. From last collection, I really like the outerwear a lot. I thought it was quite successful. There’s stuff I don’t like as much, but definitely the outerwear I’m very happy about. I enjoy designing outerwear more anyway probably.

MB: Is there any general direction you see your designs heading, or is it just one season to the next?

SI: What’s really important—and some people see it, some people don’t—is that every season we have certain stories or themes, like Native American, or Michael Jordan, or Arab Spring, but if you take the themes out or the colors, then everything should have the same language. Some people think every season I’m so different, which I don’t think at all just because there are certain things that are alike and will continue. You will always see a tunic. You will always see a big, cropped pant. You will always see a black blazer. And it’s just about the styling or the story put on top of that. So for me it’s really important that I keep my language and keep improving my language. It’s important for me also to work on silhouettes, which I think menswear is not really doing so much.


To discuss Siki Im, visit the official Styleforum thread.

Nick V. talks with shoe care magnate Sergio Barange

Today, the discussion is between Nick V. and Sergio Barange, CEO of Tarrago Brands International, associated with Avel (led by Sergio’s brother-in-law, Marc Moura). Avel is the parent company of Saphir, whose shoe care products are among Styleforum’s most recommended.

Nick V. of B. Nelson Shoes, New York, talks with has been sharing his conversations with some of the biggest names in the footwear business. Check out his interviews with Nick Horween of Horween Leather, Paul Grangaard of Allen Edmonds, Peter Agati of Paul Stuart,  or William Church of Cheaney Shoes.

 


Nick V.: Sergio, please tell us about your background.

Sergio Barange: I was born and studied in Barcelona, Spain. I got my degree in economics and business management at 23, after a year in the army. The university gave me my fundamental life/work basis, and the army gave me strength and order, and (as a reserve lieutenant) taught me how to manage 200 people.

I later studied for a 1-year Master in Financials, and then a2-year Master in Business and Administration. I worked for a bank in Barcelona, and for a European hotel group.

In my 20s and 30s I founded several businesses: laser printer recycling, Natura Organics™ cosmetics and body care, Doctor Clic computer assistance, and other smaller endeavors.  With Natura Organics I learned how to create and develop quality products, and Doctor Clic taught me to give good service to people (today this company has more than 150 employees).

I speak six languages, which is very useful when traveling.

Since my 30s, I spend my spare time (not much!) mainly with my three girls; I love skiing and golf, and when I can, I fly a Cessna, as I earned my license recently.

NV: What interested you in the shoe care business?

SB: I have always been a fan of nice shoes. Also my hobby has been the do-it-yourself home and decor activities. (The French company Avel does both lines: Saphir shoe care and Louis XIII DIY products).

Beginning in the 1990s the shoe care and DIY businesses were growing substantially and the opportunity for developing a subsidiary of Avel in Spain was a good challenge. Once I started working with Alexandre Moura, my father-in-law, who was a great business man—our family axis and a unique leader—I realized with no doubt that this was my professional life project.

NV: How did you get involved in the business?

SB: In 1992, my father in law proposed that I come into the Avel family business, by building and managing a subsidiary of the company in Spain. I began to grow the Avel business in several countries.

In 2008, the Tarrago Shoe Care Group, which belonged to the Tarrago family, appeared to be in a very poor financial situation and in general distress. After some conversations with the former family owners, Alexandre, his son Marc, and I, bought the whole group.

Tarrago was not only in financial distress, but had poor management. I have been, since then, improving the management, expanding export sales, reducing cost, improving formulations, modernizing machinery, and updating the whole production processes in our plants.

Today Tarrago Brands is a very healthy corporation with presence in more than 50 countries.

NV: What was the business like when you first started in it?

SB: In the late 80s and beginning 90s, the shoe care business was beginning to open to the Internet. I think this has been the most important fact in the last 25 years. Shoe repair shops and small distributors knew very little about the diversity of brands around the world, and the many opportunities to use different products. Local brands were leaders in their own countries and had little competition from abroad.

Also, the Asian products were coming into European and American markets, with the loss of margins and subsequently a decrease of quality for the domestically made products, because of the need to do price adjustments to be competitive.

Great corporations like Sara Lee or Reckitt & Colman were leading the world sales, and small regional business like Tarrago could not afford to globalize without spending great sums.

Despite this, the high-value-added products that Avel proposed at that time, gave Saphir a presence by the early 90s in more than 25 countries, always considering quality as the main factor to differentiate. The company obtained several prizes and Alexandre was honored with the French Legion d’Honneur Medal, the highest French honor, which the French President gave him.

Other brands, controlled by larger corporations, could not follow these “luxury” criteria, and came down to reduce colors, quality, and items, redirecting sales to big retailers. Progressively, these brands disappeared, or changed production to Asian countries for high volume / low quality, closing local plants. For example, Meltonian does not exist in Europe anymore, since the late 90s, and Kiwi is losing force substantially.

Very few brands have today the critical size to develop world sales. Those who are not large enough, will progressively be bought by bigger industries or simply disappear.

NV: What do you consider the most influential impact you have had in the industry?

SB: In my personal experience, buying Tarrago in 2008 has been the engine that accelerated our family business. Our family business could actually be the second or third in world presence in the shoe care.

NV:How would you describe, differentiate the Tarrago, Avel, and Saphir products?

SB: Avel has two main branches: Do-it-yourself products (care of woods, tiles, metals, paints…) under the Avel and Louis XIII brands; and shoe care products, under the Saphir and Saphir Medaille d’Or brands.

Saphir Medaille d’Or is a high-end luxury brand, with the highest consideration in any market where we sell. The general comment is that this brand has no equal. The best shoe, bags and leather brands in the world use these products.

Saphir is Avel’s French large shoe care line. It is considered as the most quality range ever done for quality shoe shops and shoe repair. Saphir has always put quality before price. This is very important for many clients, as the margins obtained when selling this brand are very good, and customers appreciate so much the security of using such good products. They become confident in the brand and in the shop that sold it.

Tarrago is a high quality European-made shoe care brand. Based in the experience of our family, we have been able to put this brand in a much higher level in image and quality than it was before. Today Tarrago, thanks to the confidence of our distributors, is present on 5 continents, and in more than 50 countries.

NV: In my opinion, the polish and shoe care industry has gotten very stale over the past few decades. The only thing that seems to happen is big companies buy out smaller companies. Then the bean counters reduce available colors and products. It all gets pared down to basics. Your comments?

SB: The last 3 years have been very difficult for the European and American economies. The lack of money to finance business projects is putting Europe in a very delicate situation, where the Asian companies are coming with strength, ideas and money.

This is reducing the traditional stores market, which has always sustained the business. We are seeing many businesses close and we do not see many efforts from governments to protect these entrepreneurs; much more education and support is needed if this economic change has to lead to a successful new economic period. I still believe that the Keynesian theory will result and so governments will help more to get out of this situation; in fact, I do not consider we are in a crisis but in a big change. We must realize this to adapt our business to the new rules coming.

What we must not do is decrease our quality, reducing cost and keeping very little margins. We need to maintain our levels, and reinvest in research and development, new machinery, be stronger and propose valid and high-quality alternatives. Fighting against low prices is no future for a family business or even any developed countries’ brand that wants to survive against low salary countries’ brands. We have recently seen what happened to Tacco Footcare in Germany, where they went into a financial distress last November, because of low prices, offering some Asian production, insufficient margins, and no machinery renewal.

Expansion for the leaders in the shoe care market must come by choosing the best merge or buy-out opportunities that we will surely see in the next months or even years.

NV: Many of the shoe makers see this as an opportunity to introduce their own labeled care products for their leathers. Can you tell us what makers you produce products for?

SB: Shoe makers should make their own brand when they accomplish two goals: they have the size to procure branded products to the MOQ [minimum order quantity] requested by producers, which are high; and they have the management of the shops’ where their products are sold.   Many people think than when doing a private label, they should have lower prices, as they ask for “reasonable” quantities. It is not true. For example, when I buy 1 million caps or labels for my shoe cream I get prices that when doing a private label (for smaller quantities), prices are very expensive compared to mine. When I produce my shoe cream, I can do up to 20,000 units in one production turn, in only one color; can you imagine how expensive it is to have to do only 600 or 1,200 units for each color, for a private label? So MOQs the factor that permits gain margins and operating full performance; with private labels, it is difficult to meet those margins, so that is the reason why it has to be sold at a higher price if we want to keep the same quality. Of course, Chinese productions (which have high MOQ by the way), can give nice prices for these private labels, but quality is very low. In Spain we say: “there are no $5 notes that value $4.”

Making shoe-branded products must also be done to the quality that is at the level of the shoes. Cheap shoe care cannot be used for nice shoes. This is something many shoe producers do not look at: when a customer buys a $200 pair of shoes, and the brand proposes a $1 shoe polish, do you see something wrong? I do.

In Saphir, our branded clients are mainly from the leather European luxury items and luxury shoes (English, Italian, French…). Products are done in the art of the highest possible quality.

In Tarrago, we offer a very good quality product for a very tight price, so bigger quantities are demanded. We are not in the battle of reducing quality for cheaper pricing, so normally we only work when client has the necessary MOQ level for doing its own brand, and is interested about quality, not only price. When looking for low prices, we always suggest Asian producers, what is a better choice for that, even though we are very competitive and the price difference is very small.

NV: How many plants do you manage?

SB: Our family business has two factories, one in France and one in Spain. My brother in law Marc lives in France, and I live in Spain.

NV: Their sizes?

SB: The French factory has 30,000 square feet, and the Spanish plant (factory plant and logistics plant) around 15,000 feet.

NV: How many people do you employ worldwide?

SB: Our total human resources are 100 people.

NV: What changes do you see in the near future?

SB: I think we could see how big corporations “discover” that the shoe care is not a great deal for them, and they will abandon this market, which will be led by the big retailers with self-labeled products, done by Asian producers.

By the way, the Asian price gap will not last forever. Prices from Far East will increase every year, so we could see a new economic period where domestic industry could recover, but always with a bigger size, so I come back to my idea of seeing many mergers in our sector.

Concerning the traditional market where we are, as I said before, we will see many mergers and buy-outs, so only a few brands will stay; those selling very cheap will be mismanaged and disappear, as some cheap brands will take the place. But this “cheap” concept will be reduced in the shoe shops and shoe repair, as those wholesalers and shops that do not pay for quality and distinction, could also be in very bad shape in the future, as “cheap” is a natural market for big marts and not for traditional shops.

Quality brands will continue to get bigger; I would say almost one or two in U.S. that will stay for sure, and maybe two or three from Europe.

NV: Where do you see your company 10 years from now?

SB: As is happening already, I imagine our company growing because of our bigger international presence, and also because of the companies we are buying. We have already bought some in the past, and we are negotiating for some others.

We present a great opportunity for intelligent managers. When a company is in distress, the best solution is to merge into a bigger corporation. Unfortunately, to be able to survive in market circumstances, this is the only way to proceed. Or to close. So when the owner or manager of a company in distress, accepts a company like Tarrago or Avel (our group), to take the shares and rebuild the organization, it is a good decision. This permits the manager to keep his work, to keep employees (in many cases), and of course to make its brand to continue to exist!

NV: Favorite reading material?

SB: Fiction books, spy novels and science, but my reading is mainly management and marketing.

NV: Three dinner guests (past and present)?

SB:

  1. My father in law, Alexandre; friend and mentor.
  2. Any of my distributors in the world, as it is not only a matter of business and already many are very good friends.
  3. Obama, Sarkozy, and Merkel at the same table, to ask them the truth of what it is all about.

A selection of Saphir Medaille d’or shoe care products.

 

A 1967 Saphir print ad.

 

Tarrago’s plant in Manresa.