Creating an in-house collection to run parallel to an already-thriving multi-brand store is a decision not to be taken lightly. As the line between creating a somewhat reputable collection — something buyers outside of one’s immediate circle want to invest in — and churning out what might be perceived as pure merchandise, is becoming increasingly thin. With this comes the question of whether or not buyers and customers alike are more invested in seeing the name of their favorite retailer plastered across a selection of basic clothing pieces, or whether they actually want a considered cut and sew line, packed with character. What is the difference between a pure branding power play, made for the purposes of say guerrilla marketing, and constructing a careful narrative through collections that move beyond cotton basics?
To understand the challenges of diving headfirst into producing an expandable in-house collection, we sat down with Hannes Hogeman, who, together with his brother, Simon, Björn Lindén, and Jakob Törnberg founded the hugely-popular multi-brand store that is, Très Bien. Established in 2006, at a time where a concept of its kind didn’t quite exist in the world of menswear retail, Très Bien was quick to cement its reputation through a combination of what might now be seen as its guiding principles: precision curation across the board, basking in what Hannes describes as a certain, “offness” in design, and exciting a necessary confusion in its end consumer.
Today’s clothing market is saturated, and rife with notable players, eagerly pushing the envelope of presentation and selection. But pushing the envelope of in-house production always seems to fall short, despite the current menswear revival calling for more of such productivity. Focusing on streetwear, rooted in ’90s sportswear, the fashioning of early America, and a base of Europeaness, our interview comes shortly after the unveiling of Très Bien’s sixth in-house collection, and offers a typology of sorts, documenting a selection of milestones that lead the brand’s new found form to become what it is today.
For those out there less familiar with what it is that you do, can you please give us a brief overview of the Très Bien brand?
That’s not always the easiest question to answer, but we are originally a curated, multi-brand retailer, and ever since we started back in ’06, curation has always been our top priority. We kept this ethos at the forefront of our thinking to create some kind of new retail world that wasn’t out there at the time. In 2006, menswear retail wasn’t very big, especially not online.
Now that Très Bien’s in-house line is in its third season, do you feel as though you have managed to unify the aesthetics of the multi-brand platform, and your collections?
I would say so, yeah… hopefully!
And how would you describe this aesthetic?
It’s very much based on a feeling, rather than something particular. The kind of effortless, not-trying-too-hard kind-of feel. However, making it feel natural and unforced can sometimes be a lot of hard work. Everything we do is always based out of our own taste, or interest. We wouldn’t run for something just for the sake of it.
I feel it is important for brands to be able to put their authority behind, or in your case, emotionally invest in, the products they produce, even if it might feel a little weird at first. And the more such ideas estrange themselves away from contemporary trends, the better.
Yes! That’s also a pro of being 100% indie. We can do whatever we want, all the time. Of course, we have to sell stuff to survive, but we can almost always trust our gut. And if we want to do something, there is no-one around to tell us otherwise. We’re in control, which is very much how we like to handle stuff.
Do you feel the curation you practice for the benefit of seasonal buys trickles down to inform the in-house line? How was it making the decision to branch out?
For us, it was a very natural step to start our own collection. With every appointment, we tried to create a unique buy that mirrored our perception of the brand, and who we were presenting it for. That’s of course the case for many stores, but we definitely tried to push that since day one. Our main interest was always Très Bien. How would Très Bien present this brand or designer, and how would we then style it on our website? The inspiration for doing our products is basically what our taste has always been when buying other brands and coming up with stories for shoots.
And with this, what would you say have been your biggest challenges up until now?
The biggest challenge, for me at least, was to not be seen as just a line made in-house. To me, an in-house line can be a store putting out sweatshirts with their name on it, but when we were designing it, we chose to see it as another brand we were working with. It’s a lot of work to create something that you have visually created in your head. That’s a big challenge. To actually present that thought live in a store, or on a website, is a long journey; especially with clothing design. We’re only at the very start, and have a lot more to offer. Our vision is pretty big.
Scandinavian fashion is often pigeonholed, or labelled as having a very particular, minimal approach to design and fashion. What is your stance on the matter?
I guess, being from here, working from here, spending a lot of time here, and being involved in the Scandinavian design world has its effects. I don’t however see myself as being too inspired by the Scandinavian clothing scene. Although our website is quite Scandinavian in a sense, it has this sort of weird touch to it. Scandinavian design, to me, is always perfect in a way. We try to go against that. We like when stuff is a little bit off, and when something doesn’t look like what you’re used to, but still feels natural.
Sometimes we bend backwards, and sometimes not at all, but we always look towards the bigger picture to understand how it works together with what we communicate. We feel like it should all communicate the same thing, but not too much, because you still need to have that touch of offness, so to say, or excitement. Internally we joke about the fact that if the end consumer gets 70% of what we’re trying to say, that’s pretty good, because sometimes we only understand 85% ourselves.
Do you feel that there’s a particular country that mirrors this idea of what you’re trying to portray? What are, to this day, your biggest inspirations that continue to pop up?
I wouldn’t say there is, as cliché as that might sound. We have boiled down and refined all of our inspirations during almost 15 years of doing this. It’s been the same inspirations throughout the years when it comes to what kind of fashion we’re looking into; it’s still the same old Margiela, and the same old Helmut Lang that we continue to find interesting. It’s more important for us to stay the same, even if we increase. It can be a little bit scary to dive into new things, but it’s also important for us to always challenge ourselves. Understanding how new inspirations work with our ground rules. It gets a little vague at times, and it’s hard to point out exactly what it is; sometimes we don’t even know ourselves.
I think that’s very good. The more inspirations you tend to gather, the more you move away from what might be considered your “ultimate inspiration.” To lead on from that, you do a lot to push the envelope with your designs. Is there a bigger, more disruptive change on the horizon for the in-house label?
That’s hard to say. At the moment, the big goal is to make better products. That’s the only focus. Make use of better fabrics, better fits, better details, and find the right people that we can do that with. Finding people can however be challenging, as they need to share the same ambition as we do when it comes to the product and what we’re into. You’re always in a different stage, and we’ve never been that fashion brand with a 10-year plan. With everything we do, we try to always do it as good as we can, but never be satisfied. Always looking for new challenges, new directions, and new people to work with.
As you believe “there aren’t that many indie players left,” how would you position yourself next to your peers?
I guess that’s up to everyone else to decide. Classic answer, but it’s true. Obviously, we know what’s going on, what people do out there, but that would never be something that we keep in mind for our own store. We follow our own vision. Of course, that’s what everyone’s going to say, but you should be able to recognize that this is us. We can’t just run after every new thing, but we do need to, and we do want to, evolve the business all the time. I’m very happy with where we are at at the moment with retail, but that is obviously going to change.
Despite the multi-brand store and in-house line peacefully coexisting, there seems to be an obvious line between the two. Does the performance of the store effect the output of the in-house line?
I guess, me being a buyer for 10 years has definitely taught me how to build collections, and how to work around said collections. What we want to do with the collection is to translate and cook down all the Très Bien ingredients, and present that in a collection based on these references.
It’s good that you have a certain linearity between the two and can draw a parallel between what it is that you buy for the store and how you use this to then, even if slightly, inform the in-house line.
There should definitely be a parallel, but it should come naturally. We don’t want to force anything. Now is the time to present everything clearer, and really clarify our mission. It’s just the beginning for us. Making everything work together is one of our biggest tasks. We are looking to create a combined energy of sorts.
To wrap up our interview, do you feel having an obvious, almost imposing physical presence seen on the runway and in presentations, is necessary to the development of brands, such as yours?
Yes, for us, the physical presence is important. We have a store, it’s very small, it’s very nice, it’s only open on weekends, and it’s within our headquarters. It’s important to us because that’s the only way for us to really connect with the end consumer. Also, the energy that customers and people alike give you, is vital. Having such a space was also necessary to build something that is truly “Très Bien,” and not only a web store, or a clothing line. It’s a physical world.