Jun 24, 2014

Drapeau Noir: Interview with Nicolas Barbier

We love discovering new brands that arrive on the scene...

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We love discovering new brands that arrive on the scene with a well-defined and carefully thought out approach to menswear. When we first came across the debut F/W 2014 collection from Paris-based brand , Drapeau Noir, we knew there was something special about it. Looking through the minimalist collection, there is an air of quiet rebellion and a silent strength that pervades through each look. The craftsmanship looks superb too. Here's our Q&A with the brand's founder and creative director Nicolas Barbier below ...

What is the style inspiration and overall artistic direction for your brand Drapeau Noir?

I’m inspired by many things. I was born in 1977 and grew up in Paris in the 1980s. It was a rich and memorable decade with the advent of "street" culture straight from the States. Like my entire generation, that period still influences me, even unintentionally. I also draw a lot from American counterculture from the 1970's for its energy and freedom. The “Easy Rider” bikers, surfers like Miki Dora, unclassifiable figures like Hunter S. Thompson, and more recently authors such as Chuck Palahniuk. These are people with an attitude, their own position, strength of character. However, I am French and am particularly attached to my country, to our craftsmanship, and to a certain sartorial tradition.

Drapeau Noir's artistic direction is tied into all of this. I try to combine all these influences by cultivating a certain form of minimalism and discretion, components of my brand of elegance. More generally, the idea is to create a wardrobe a man can add to from season to the next, a wardrobe where each item plays its own role but also makes the whole collection coherent.

What is the meaning of your brand’s name and what does it signify?

Drapeau Noir is the emblem of anarchists. I'm not political, it's the symbolism I find interesting. The name stands for an idea of freedom, a way of being with yourself, and our capacity to shape our own story. I truly admire those who don’t put up with what is imposed and those who own their choices, which often means giving up some form of comfort. This has influenced the construction of this project. The clothes do not make you who you are; rather, it’s how you wear them that counts.

Can you give us a little information with regards to your fashion and styling background?

I have no special training in fashion. I have a law degree. I've always been interested in fashion as much for its artistic side as for the more technical issues like how specific skills can be used. I'm interested in all areas of fashion, I am just as curious and interested in Hood by Air's latest collection as I am in the techniques used by the Lesage embroidery ateliers, who work for Paris's Haute Couture houses. Both fascinate me with the energy of their artist statement and how that expression is then expressed.

Your initial offering for Fall 2014 looks quite pitch-perfect – how long has planning for Drapeau Noir been in the works?

Thank you very much! It's most probably related to the project's spontaneity and my professional path. Everything happened very organically. I didn't overthink it. I created the clothes I wanted to wear. I was a lawyer for 7 years in a Paris business firm. It was time to move on. I loved what I was doing but it wasn't creative enough. I had been thinking about this project for a while and I decided to take the plunge. In July 2013, I went to Portugal to visit each of the workshops we work with today and I met some great people. People who devoted so much time and pushed me forward. The other key step was finding the raw material. In the end, I only work with Japanese houses that produce high-quality fabrics. Some have existed for over 100 years and are dedicated to handing down their skills and perpetuating a tradition of quality. I find it exciting and immensely respectable. I want to draw attention to these people and these workshops through Drapeau Noir. For example, the cotton fleece for our crewnecks is woven in the mountains of Japan on looms that are 100 years old. The slow weaving gives the fabric an incredible feel. It extends the life of the fabric and guarantees that your clothing will just get better over the years.

How would you describe the Drapeau Noir Man?

He is modern, curious. He loves beautiful things but also enjoys simple pleasures and he knows what's important. He's not a lone wolf but he definitely is not part of the pack. He doesn't pay much attention to diktats and relies on his own judgment.

How would you compare the menswear scene in Paris versus that of NYC and Milan?

New Yorkers and Parisians seem to share a strong desire for individuality and the desire to create their own style. They're looking to set themselves apart. I don't know the Milanese well enough to have an opinion. As for designers, I'm noticing that there are more of us taking the risk, diving into the fray, I find it extremely motivating!

Can you share with us some of your personal inspirations for creating and designing clothes?

Inspiration is everywhere! Our process is extremely well thought out even if our clothes are streamlined. Achieving a certain minimalism is more complicated than it seems. I need to be receptive, to clear out my thoughts. I get an idea and then I work with the materials on hand. I move on to another project and come back a few days later. A break helps you see better. As for the cut, I look for something fitted but still masculine, a cut that highlights the body.

If you could pick three celebrities that you would love to wear your clothes, who would they be?

For different reasons, the actor Vincent Cassel, the author Hunter S. Thompson, and the record producer Rick Rubin

If there was one major lesson you’ve learned about making it in the fashion industry, what would that be?

This past year has been very instructive! So my answer is two-fold. The most important lesson is you need to trust yourself and follow your ideas through to the end. This does not mean you shouldn't take into account other people's opinions but you have to listen to yourself and take risks if you think you're going in the right direction. The second lesson is that you have to surround yourself with people you trust. You can't do anything alone.

What’s your favorite drink you like to have when relaxing after a hard day?

Mika, head bartender at "Mary Celeste" here in Paris makes a great cocktail with chili infused tequila, cucumber, and agave syrup. Amazing !

Lastly, where do you expect Drapeau Noir to be in the next five years?

We just finished Spring/Summer 2015 and are presenting to buyers next week in Paris. It's like starting the adventure all over again! Retailers really liked our first collection for FW14. We're hoping it will last. We took the time to visit each of our retailers to explain our approach. We wanted to build a real relationship of trust with them because they are Drapeau Noir’s first and primary representatives. This is why we prefer reasoned and sustainable growth. Though I would obviously love to see our clothes in the US and Asia tomorrow.

As for the lines, we're currently working with my friend Lucie on a women's capsule collection for FW15. However, I'm not planning on bloating the brand but rather helping it grow with each new encounter. I hope the next five years are as incredible as this past one; that I will continue meeting such extraordinary people. This year wasn't just about creating a brand of clothing, it was a human adventure. Every day, I think about all those who have been there with me, supporting me; all those without whom none of this would have been possible, especially my parents and my wife, Helen.

See shots of the collection in the rotating slideshow above.

Be sure to follow Drapeau Noir on Facebook here, Instagram: @drapeaunoir


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