Whether you've seen its omnipresent, jealousy-inducing (if you're single) advertisements featuring hipster couples in cool, slim-cut clothes, or if you've just ever been to Paris where its stores are on just about every corner, chances are you've heard of The Kooples. The French contemporary brand founded by three brothers in 2008 has always stuck to a very specific, and successful — there are now about 400 stores worldwide — marketing formula, involving real-life couples in its ad campaigns and making sure its men's and women's collections mirror each other to some degree. But now, as all brands must do in such a crowded landscape, it's shaking things up.
In what I'm told was a rare occurrence, all three French brothers — Creative Directors Alexandre and Laurent, along with Director of Brand Image Raphaël Elicha — were in New York together in a suite at the NoMad hotel last week to meet with press, present their latest collections and discuss the evolution of The Kooples.
While representing their brand perfectly in all black, from their bolero hats to their skinny jeans or trousers to leather boots, Alexandre (I think) began explaining the first change to their business: a move towards smaller, more frequent collections, like the "Moonlight" holiday assortment of party-appropriate dresses and separates that they were unveiling. "The business is changing; you need to work on a lot of small collections to have always something different in the shops," he said.
The other big shift: No longer will romantic couples be the only subjects of The Kooples marketing. "In eight years, we shot close to 100 couples," said Raphaël. "It's a big love story." Of course, there are only so many good-looking, real-life couples in the world, so Raphaël said they wanted to "keep digging into the concept." They decided to expand it to include all creative duos. "We got twin sisters, but also artistic duos, and the message behind it is just, when you are two, you feel stronger and more creative."
Though, the brothers insist, love is still the backbone of the brand, and it will continue to feature romantic couples, too. "Love is really the essence, the philosophy of the brand," said Alexandre in a way that sounded especially poetic in his French accent. And if you're, uh, regrettably uncoupled? "The outfit will make you look beautiful, and in a Kooples outfit, you will not stay single."
But back to the shift towards conceptual capsule collections: For men, the brothers decided to create one around travel — specifically a voyage through Asia, from India to Japan. While sourcing inspiration, one well-traveled, inimitably cool and stylish man kept coming up: Waris Ahluwalia. "When we started to work [on the collection] in Paris, [assembling] pictures and colors, Waris was in all of those pictures, so I said, 'Why not call him?'" explained Alexandre.
Enigmatic, clever and charming, Ahluwalia was also on hand and fit in surprisingly well with the three brothers — something about their facial hair, slim builds and dapper outfits. When approached, Ahluwalia latched onto the fact that they actually wanted to collaborate with him rather than just use his name as a point of inspiration. "That was already for me a telltale sign they were open to the true sense of working together because they were reaching out — they could have continued doing what they were doing," he said. Of course, that's not to say that being someone's muse isn't an odd feeling. "I got to Paris and I walked into the studio and it was walls and hundreds of photos of me ... I walked out of the room," he laughed. Eventually, he got up the courage to walk back in. "They said, 'From these pictures and from what we studied, this is your color palette,' and I was like, 'Oh yeah, that is my color palette. That's impressive.'"
Made up of wine red, gold and dark blues, the palette, and the pajama-esque silhouettes, are more relaxed than is typical of The Kooples. In addition to clothes that would be comfortable (and stylish) to travel in, Ahluwalia also thought about pieces that travel through the day of a freewheeling creative like himself. "From morning through night, it's no longer just a suit and tie and a white shirt; there's a fluidity to the day, so imagine working from home all day and then throwing on a jacket and going out for drinks or to a meeting," he explained.
While this is the actor/menswear icon's first official apparel design collaboration — he also designs a jewelry collection — Ahluwalia works with tailors to make much of what he wears himself. Asked if he's uncomfortable being described as a muse or a style icon, Ahluwalia got, well, a bit uncomfortable. After a pause, he said, "Well it's fun when you actually get to be a part of the process. Otherwise you just have this badge that says 'style icon' and what does it mean? It doesn't matter. For me, and I think you know this, it's about experiences; the clothes are just things I wear as part of the experience, as part of the travel. They are not the thing. If I read somewhere, 'Kooples's new collection inspired by Waris,' how did that add to my life?" After working with the brothers, he explained, "My life is richer because of the exchange of ideas."
The four of them — all worldly and just so cool — had an easy rapport that suggested the collaboration really was quite natural, and not just in the way that everyone always says collaborations are natural. Asked if they might continue working together, Alexandre posited, "Why not?" while Ahluwalia added that there will be "more layers to the project" forthcoming. Stay tuned.