The Kooples Interview
Twice as Nice

The Kooples interview
The Kooples interview

As the French brothers behind The Kooples bring Waris Ahluwalia into the fold, liberté, égalité and fraternité has never looked so desirable. There is more to the brand than good looking couples as we discover in our The Kooples Interview.

 

The three brothers that made The Kooples.

IN 2010, A STRANGE NAME appeared on buses and billboards in London. The Kooples, a phonetic play on the word ‘couples’ was showcased via a series of ad campaigns depicting beautiful real life couples looking fashionably aloof in tailored suits, skinny jeans and collegial blousons. The strapline simply announced their names and how long they had been together; some a few weeks, others a couple of years. The point was, they looked enviably attractive as a pair, whether or not they were destined for the ‘happy ever after’. It was bold statement in a country known for its romantic cynicism, but it filled a gap in the market. Here was a brand calling out to a young and discerning demographic – consumers who liked to shop as a couple, not necessarily together, but under the same roof. As such, The Kooples cemented itself as a label that recognised the fast and fun lifestyle of its customers; it connected with their pluck and their love of music in an age steered by the importance of self-promotion.

The Kooples is the brainchild of the Elicha brothers – Alexandre, Laurent and Raphael – all lean, bearded and bespectacled, and invariably wearing skinny jeans and shades. The trio have fashion in their blood: their parents founded the more prescriptively pretty Parisian womenswear label Comptoir des Cotonniers and were also distributors for Gaultier Jeans. As a (gentle) form of rebellion, the brothers were keen to explore an edgier rock and roll spirit in fashion that blended slimline tailoring with contemporary Parisian cool – that ineffable style that is easy to recognise but impossible to describe. Whatever they’ve touched upon, it’s clearly worked. The siblings now have an impressive empire of 400 stores worldwide proving the international appeal of this young brand which was launched only in 2008. While the concept of ‘the romantic couple’ is still an undercurrent for the label, the brothers have moved this forward to include creative couples and twins. Ironically, the power of two still reigns supreme for this fellowship of three. For their spring/summer 2017 collection, the Elichas were inspired by actor/designer and all round Wes Anderson cinematic hero Waris Ahluwalia, who also stars in their campaign.

The Kooples interview
The Kooples interview

The Kooples Interview: When we met Alexandre Elicha

I met the elder Elicha, Alexandre, who directs the menswear division (Laurent is in charge of womenswear while Raphael, the youngest sibling, oversees marketing and communication) just after the label’s AW17 menswear presentation in Paris. “We looked at the idea of a manor house party in the Sixties and Seventies set in the South of France. So the Rolling Stones and all their friends mixing all these styles together, from military pieces to lots of tailoring but with many more loose pieces too this time. We like that twist and mix”, says Alexandre in a pronounced French accent. “My English is not so good sorry,” he adds with a charming smile. Today, Alexandre is wearing round glasses, a wide brim black hat and a beautiful bordeaux velour varsity jacket over a printed t-shirt and gilet cardigan. A heavy silver keychain loops from the belt of his cargo trousers into his pocket. He looks a like a younger Ringo Starr only dressed in the latest Kooples collection. “You can feel our rock attitude with a twist of Savile Row tailoring in our brand,” he explains of his style which clearly influences the collections. The brothers came up with the idea of using couples as a marketing campaign during what sounds like the easiest brainstorming meeting in history. “It all started thanks to the influence of great images. Like those of Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful and Serge Gainsbourg with Jane Birkin.

We had all those classic images of couples in mind and decided that was a good way of introducing our idea. A man and woman brand with a real story, with real life couples.” Just like that a new label was born into the French high street; the boys opened up 30 shops in France in one go. “Thanks to our parents, the banks they liked us and trusted us”, he laughs. The Elichas did however have the foresight to build up some mystery around their new business: “Three months before we opened the shops, we put ads in magazines. Just images of couples with their names and their time together. We knew that people would be puzzled. ‘Is it an online shop? Is it a dating thing to meet a boyfriend or a girlfriend?’ There were a lot of questions around the brand,” says Alexandre who admits his business prudence comes from his parents, who sold Comptoir des Cotonniers to Uniqlo in 2006.

The Kooples interview
The Kooples interview

Waris Ahluwalia’s influence on a Parisian brand

Traditionally The Kooples has adopted a very tailored approach to men’s and women’ s wear with suiting, blazers and shirting closely cut to the body. British tailor Patrick Grant of Norton & Sons, who is a very close friend of Alexandre’s, had a hand in streamlining this aesthetic from the very beginning. “I asked Patrick to work with me on the fitting of the suits, coats and shirts for men and women. We wanted to have something a bit tailored. I think people liked this bespoke touch and they can afford it because our prices are not those of Savile Row suits!” he exclaims adding that this year, starting with spring summer 2017, he felt it was time to explore new sihoutettes too. “The thing that’s different this season is that we have a lot different fits. We have the tailored looks but also looks that are more oversized, more loose, like fluid coats.”

Waris Ahluwalia was the catalyst for this change. The pair met through a friend and immediately hit it off. A collaboration was settled upon almost immediately. “Waris spends a lot of time in Rajasthan and we met up after one of his trips there. He was describing all the colours, all the fabrics and the summer touch of everything. I just looked at him and said, ‘Waris! We need to work together. I want you to come and inspire me!’ I wanted to give a neo-Indian touch to the collection with jewelled buttons and nice details and still keep a military touch to everything which is still part of who we are.”

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The result is a bright and distinctively free-spirited collection that includes lots of thick stripes and denim sets as well as “a curry powde-like orange” colour on casual suiting and accessories. There’s a clear imprint of the orient on fabrics too. “I had just come back from Japan when I met Waris. I went to all those vintage shops where you can find really cool stuff like kimono coats, patchworks and denims. I decided I wanted to mix [his Indian influence] with a Japanese style. When Waris came back to Paris he bought suitcases full of stuff for us to see. Just so many colours. I was like ‘Wow’.”

I speak to Waris later in our The Kooples Interview to get his take on this meeting of minds. He’s every bit as enigmatic as he appears on film. Tall, dark and softly spoken, his brooding good looks distract from his quiet disposition.

“I remember getting that call from Alexandre and I remember him going, ‘Hey, do you want to work together on a collection? It doesn’t matter whether you say yes or no, you’re the muse anyway!’ laughs Waris in American-tinged tones. “When I first walked into the studio, there were four walls covered with, you know, every imaginable photo of me taken in the last five or ten years”, he laughs adding, “It was really just that first step that made me realise that these brothers wanted to go deeper. There was a feeling that together we could create something new. I wanted to completely respect the foundation they had built, because everyone loves The Kooples. When you see Kooples you smile.”

The Kooples hasn’t always made every one smile. Singer Pete Doherty very publicly lashed out at the brand in 2016 for using animal fur. This admonishment was all the more controversial given that Doherty had been a poster boy for the label for its spring/summer 2012 capsule collection. Alexandre, who strikes me as a very reasonable man who takes heed when it matters, has indeed changed tack when it comes to using animal pelts. “Two seasons ago we stopped real fur. I am more and more against these things. It makes me uncomfortable. Maybe it is my age, the philosophy… I don’t know. Even now I eat less meat now. And today the fake materials are incredible!”

There is a lot more to Alexandre than meets the eye. For one, he practices Thai boxing in his spare time, which is all the more remarkable given that at only 41, he also has five children. His kids, he explains, have kept him grounded as his family business has relentlessly conquered international markets. “You know, when you are with your children you forget everything. They make you work on your own person. They say what they think and sometimes the message is very strong.” Having such a sharply dressed dad who doesn’t sweat the small stuff must make his mini clan equally proud. Plus, Alexandre has a colourful group of friends like true child of the Seventies. “I have a very good friend in Ibiza. His artistic name is Snakeman. He has a shaved head and a very long beard with a metal point on it! In his house he has many snakes. When you go there, they are everywhere; they go all around the house!” he laughs. Alexandre apologises for going off piste, but it is precisely this irreverence makes The Kooples stand out from the rest of the French brands in the UK – and there are many to choose from. The Kooples may have started life as a play on words, but today it is an empire built on love and friendship. “I really believe that every day is a gift. We need to do good things for our family and friends. It is the only thing that stays real in this world,” says Alexandre on a parting note. Thinking about it, maybe he’s more like John Lennon than Ringo Starr in mind and in spirit.

Story by: Ian Thorley 

Photographer: Ossi Piispanen

Fashion: Nad di Nicola 

The Kooples interview
The Kooples interview