When old meets new: J.M. Weston invites Kitsuné

Collaborations are a hard thing to pull-off in the finicky and fickle world of fashion. Egos tend to get in the way, brand values get muddled and no one really is fooled. Yes, ok, we’ll buy into the ‘meeting of minds’ thing, but that’s about as far as it goes. Don’t expect us to believe this isn’t, at its very core, also about cash money baby. Which isn’t to say we don’t warm to them. We do. We love Y3, Yohji Yamamoto’s collaboration with Adidas. The Fred Perry/CDG partnership makes sense. As do many of the split-personality creations Monocle manages to get made for its Monocle shop. Making sense. That there is the key to a meaningful, standard-setting fashion marriage.

So imagine our delight when we heard about 120-year-old shoemaker J.M. Weston inviting preppy-hipster label Kitsune to update, reinterpret and revisit some of its classics. Not only did it, in our mind, make complete artistic and commercial sense, the two brands are known for their attention to detail and their high standards in terms of design and craftsmanship.  What more could you want, really? We caught up with J.M Weston’s artistic director Michel Perry and Kitsune co-founder Masaya Kuroki a couple of days ago to talk authenticity, nostalgia and Kitsune interns…

J.M. Weston's Michel Perry and Maison Kitsune Masaya Kuroki

Photography Joke De Wilde

The Word: There is an enormous amount of collaborations, exclusive collections and what not in the fashion industry. Where does one start when working on collaboration?

Michel Perry: it is first and foremost about sincerity and transparency. The fact of collaborating, of doing co-branding is, in itself, nothing new.  But what is new is to find people who correspond entirely to the evolution that we wish to give to the brand, and who benefit just as much as we do in the collaboration. There needs to be a true exchange. And that’s my role as creative director, to put into place these principles that work. And I think we’re quite satisfied here…Things didn’t happen overnight, as we had already met a year ago, and I found Masaya to have sensibilities towards the brand that were right. Then, Masaya called back, several times..

Masaya Kuroki: I really insisted…SMS, email, telephone, love letters…

MP: So we gave it a thought, wondering what we could do with Masaya. We liked what he did, we just needed to find the twist. So we thought about the invitation, as I thought it was a nice way of opening the brand up to other things, whilst still respecting its soul.

It's all in the detail

The Word: When you say ‘opening up the brand to other things’ you mean opening it up to Kitsune’s client base?

MP: Yes, exactly. I had arrived at Weston in 2000, and had brought along a much younger clientele to the brand, with a more urban style. But I wanted to go beyond that, and touch a clientele that didn’t yet have the ‘Weston reflex’, a clientele for who Weston was a brand steeped in history, one they considered ‘classic’, but definitely not ‘fashion’. Few clients knew how to use and wear Weston as a contemporary brand, and pair it with their more modern-day style. Working with Kitsune also has a certain cachet, and acts as a validation of a certain style and quality. It confirms that Weston is well-and-truly ‘fashion’. It also greatly adds value to Kitsune’s brand, as the association with such a historial brand as J.M. Weston definitely helps. Interests and benefits are therefore shared. The association just works.

The Word: Practically, where does one begin?  Do you spend six months in J.M. Weston’s archives?

MP: Not really no. I think our intuition helps, as well as our cultures. That and also the fact that we knew each other. It’s a rather transparent process, very logical. Masaya did go to the archives in Limoges, to see the company’s history and past and meet the craftsmen. He discovered the company’s link to sports (golf and horse riding), which informed his creations with a vision of today. The mix happened very quickly. Masaya has his universe (preppy, East Coast Americana, new Bourgeois) and we had ours. They just both met. Once Masaya had enough inspiration and visual references to begin, he drew up the collection, then we met again and went back to Limoges to work with the craftsmen in the workshop. Nothing really was new in terms of the materials used. It is more the way in which they were used and combined that differed. The shapes already existed back in 1950s, which explains the deep authenticity of the collection. That was very important to me. And, commercially, this opens up Weston to a whole new clientele.

Masaya Kuroki: its true that the idea from the beginning wasn’t to create something new. We wanted to share something that was important to us, an interpretation, an update. There was a new kind of dress code I wanted to integrate to the brand, a new way of wearing Weston. There was a ‘made in France’ label that was very important to me, and that I wanted to exploit it. It is very rare nowadays. There also was the timeless element of Weston which appealed to me: these are shoes that last a lifetime. To give you an example, we have an intern at Kitsune offices at the moment, and he was wearing a pair of Westons. I asked him about them, saying I found it a little odd for his age, and he said there were his grandfathers.

Boots, 660 euros

The Word: Where does this Americana influence come from? The collection clearly seems to be shaped by the United States of the Kennedy era…

MP: That’s Masaya’s influences…

MK: I grew up in Paris, but was very much influenced by East Coast music from the 60s to the 80s. Music is extremely important to transport me back to a period. It is nostalgic, but brought back to today.

MP: Music is indeed a very important factor. When I arrived at Weston back in 2000, I analysed its code and, rather naturally, took it towards an English Dandy kind of style. My musical tastes clearly being New Wave, I naturally took my creations in that way.

Derby shoe (595 euros)

The Word: If the collection were a film, which one would it be?

MK: There’s a Great Gatsby element to the collection.

MP: Arianne, with Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper.

The Word: And if it were an album or an artist?

MP: Marianne Faithfull, with her rebellious, iconic and classic essence.

MK: A lot a band could represent the collection. It’s difficult to give just one artist. Bizarrely, I could see Two Door Cinema Club wearing the collection. The music fits perfectly with the collection: its melodious, casual and pop. I could see Sam wearing the white pair, Alex wearing the moccasins and Gab wearing the boots. Their album’s called Grand Tourismo, so it works.

The Word: We have a habit of asking rapid-fire questions to help readers get a sense of your inner world. Which website can’t you live without?

MK: The New York Times’ website. I only read their headlines though.

MP: Me too actually. I don’t watch TV. I also visit French websites, such as Le Figaro.

The Word: Creatives often resort to magazines for nurturing their creativity and inspiration. Which magazines do you read?

MK: Monocle and Gentlewoman. Fashion titles but with a certain sense of conservatism.

MP: I don’t buy any magazines, but do pick them up here and there. My inspiration’s really been built up over the years. I stock images continuously. It’s an every day job. I write everything down in notebooks. My wife’s really the one who subscribes to magazines.

The Word: do you listen to the radio in the studio? Which ones do you listen to?

MK: I actually have a huge respect for Belgian radios. I remember when Phoenix’s debut album came out, Belgian radios were the first to play it, even though French radios were still sleeping on it.

The Word: That’s odd, given that a large proportion of Belgians listen to French radio, and Radio Nova more specifically.

MK: That’s funny…then again, you do have the best DJs in the world…Two Many DJs. The Dewaele brothers have always been amazing.

The Word: People tend to watch less movies, and more TV series. Which ones do you watch?

MK: It’s the new DVD generation. Madmen is an obvious one.

The Word: It’s a very J.M Weston TV series actually…

MK: Definitely…

MP: It’s true that we aren’t very far off from the series’ entire style and aesthetic.

MK: I actually did a collection that was called Madmen, Kitsune’s AW2010. I even found a model that had the Draper look.

J.M. Weston’s East Hampton collection, seen by Kitsune

Available from J.M. Weston Brussels

Avenue Louise 52 Louizalaan

1050 Brussels