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The Kooples Talk Conquering Gender-Neutral Fashion

The art of trading risk for reward in the world of gender-neutral fashion.

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1 of 4|Founders Alexandre, Laurent and Raphaël Elicha
2 of 4|The Kooples Campaigns
3 of 4|The Kooples Campaigns
4 of 4|The Kooples Campaigns

Not many fashion labels can lay claim to 321 bricks and mortar stores from under a decade’s worth of wheeling and dealing. The brutal science of the rag trade simply doesn’t work that way and yet, The Kooples have proven otherwise.

In the first month of launching its label back in 2008, brothers Alexandre, Laurent and Raphaël Elicha along with Nicolas Dreyfus opened 22 stores simultaneously in Paris and the surrounding locale. They didn’t go bankrupt.

“It’s very important that The Kooples is based on the message of real couples.”

“At the opening of our stores lots of people were queuing in front of the shops. It’s very important for us to create a buzz,” says Alexandre Elicha.

This buzz and commotion is exactly what The Kooples have accomplished with astounding precision since their inception. One would need it given they were crazy enough to open 22 retail stores during the GFC.

Dreyfus admits they didn’t know if it was going to work during this “unique time”, but their ace up the sleeve was careful planning, foresight and a massive investment in communicating with consumers on an emotional level.

“The reason we opened 22 stores at the same time was to prove the investment on communication,” says Dreyfus in a thick French accent.

Step inside The Kooples HQ today and you’ll be greeted with masses of clothes strewn across the room from around the world. The team attributes this addiction to the fact that they are collectors as well as creators. Backing up the wardrobe situation is of course music and “cool people with nice style” who are heavily involved in the creative process.

“With an outside vision it’s a real mess. Crazy. People are all crazy in the studio. But at the end it’s very organised. Organised chaos,” says Dreyfus.

This organised chaos is the driving force behind the unique and often gender-neutral threads that role off The Kooples production floor. Their work is instantly recognisable through a Parisian chic approach mixed in with London rock ‘n’ roll attitude for both men and women. What’s even more surprising is that they’ve also managed to integrate Savile Row craftsmanship into their collections under the skillful watch of British designer and close friend, Patrick Grant.

“All of the patterns of the suit, shirt, pants and coat are made on Savile Row,” says Elicha.

“The Kooples is about specific attention to fabrics. To trend. To finish. And it’s very important that The Kooples is based on the message of real couples.”

The latter part is the brand’s signature marketing move which has seen it build a staggering presence even before the label had officially launched. Three months prior to launching the founders started advertising in glossy magazines. Their discrete ads included photos of stylish couples stamped with ‘3 years’, ‘2 months’ and a manner of all different durations of relationships. People who saw these ads in the pages of magazines and dominating the walls of Paris were intrigued. Was it a website to track down a long lost cousin? Perhaps a new rock band? “Nobody knew it was a new fashion brand,” says Dreyfus.

Interest had officially been piqued in the city of love and The Kooples were in the thick of it. At a time where websites for fashion labels were just starting to find their feet, the Elicha brothers and the brand’s founders jumped in to launch their own website.

“In 2008 it was not so obvious,” says Elicha. “We launched it then and now e-commerce makes up over 12% of our annual sales. We have 6 million people on our website a year.”

Replicating this movement was a no-brainer and soon the same strategy was applied to the U.K in 2011 – another 22 stores and a lot of money invested in communicating with potential customers all in the span of a year.

Again, there was no sign of bankruptcy. And the Australian market?

“We are doing it right now,” says Dreyfus.

The Kooples have seemingly managed to turn the emotion of love into a tangible product. Besides backing up that image with craftsmanship and on-trend styles, the founders also wanted to tackle a more contemporary issue: Gender-neutral fashion.

“For us it was really important to have a men’s a women’s collection,” says Elicha. It’s a balancing act that has helped The Kooples draw sales from both genders without alienating one or the other. More importantly it was a new dimension which was championed by the label back in 2008.

“It’s a strength of The Kooples to create from the beginning, two new collections, to have a perfect mix between man and woman. And that’s how we work. We have a real men’s team for design and a real women’s team. And we want the two collections to match which is the challenge.”

Given that the movement has caught on with a lot of brands using this mixed gender message in their fashion shows these days, The Kooples crew needed to stand out once again and opening more stores wasn’t going to cut it. So they decided on a new cycle of 12 collections per year – that’s one collection per month for both men and women.

Insane? Perhaps. Effective? Definitely. Dreyfus believes this is the right route for the label in creating desire. Every component of a fresh collection needs to be desirable and attractive based on colour, print and shape. Enduring this test ensures that every piece is unique and if people don’t buy it upon release, they simply miss out. In other words, every piece becomes limited.

This is perhaps what makes The Kooples both successful and creative to their approach to fashion. On the one hand they are business savvy and constantly feeding their market whilst on the product side, they are collaborating with Savile Row figures and big name brands like Puma on upcoming projects.

“A successful designer is going to be the one who fills the market and fulfil the client’s wants. Doing 12 collections a year is to be a successful designer by feeding the personality and current trends,” says Elicha.

“Although sometimes a good designer might not look at the trend of the client. They just create for the sake of creation. We are different. We are in the fashion of creation. We have a passion for the job and we are born for this business.”

Sound advice often comes from the most experienced hands in the game and The Kooples can certainly lay claim to that. With their range being stocked in 36 countries which come with their own cultural challenges and local tastes, it’d be blasphemous not to steal some handy pointers for the novices.

Elicha always counts on three traits. Intuition. Audacity. And to always question yourself.

“The biggest danger in this kind of business and when you are successful, you can feel that everything is okay and you want to follow your road like it is. But no, you need to change.”

“Every season a bit. You need to surprise your client. This is a big thing to being successful in the fashion industry.”

Even adapting a collection to a new country and market doesn’t come without some cautionary drawbacks.

“The more countries you open in the more feedback you have. You still need to follow the same direction at the end to keep the identity of the brand.”

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