Tim Coppens is not the ebullient sort.
This story first appeared in the May 29, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The Belgian-born designer, who launched his men’s wear collection in 2011, smiles rarely and takes his craft quite seriously. But while he may not be the back-slapping, joke-a-minute type, he’s definitely doing something right.
An avid snowboarder and cyclist, his special take on men’s wear is helping to define a new aesthetic of a global youth movement with a blend of streetwear and athleticism. He has developed an expertise in tailoring luxury fabrics with technologically advanced materials. Barneys New York was the first retailer to sign on to buy his collection in its debut season. Stockists now also include Louis Boston, Altai in Los Angeles, LN-CC in the U.K. and Isetan in Tokyo.
Coppens has received industry recognition for his work, capturing the Ecco Domani award for Best New Menswear Designer and the Fashion Group International’s Menswear Rising Star award. Most recently, he was nominated for this year’s Council of Fashion Designers of America Swarovski Award for Menswear.
The designer graduated from the acclaimed Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 1998, then moved to Munich to design for the active luxury brand Bogner. In 2004, he joined Adidas to lead the conceptual development of a new high-end men’s performance division. Four years later, he was recruited by Ralph Lauren to move to New York to become design director for RLX, the company’s most technical offering.
With that solid background, he made the decision to branch out on his own. Coppens admits that taking that leap was anxiety provoking, but when Barneys gave him a vote of confidence by buying his first collection, he knew he was on his way.
“I remember when Barneys said they liked it. But then I knew the next step was to produce it,” he said.
He hunkered down and drew from his background working at the other brands, and the collection came together. Since then, the collection has grown in scope, and in February, Coppens staged his first runway show.
“Every season we grow a little more,” he said. “It’s a little scary, but the more you grow, the more risk you have to take.”
The fall collection centered around athletic street classics such as bomber jackets and parkas with voluminous sleeves, sweatshirts embellished with graphic prints and sleek dress pants cinched at the bottom. Graffiti prints, statement zippers and closures, and leather paneling details pushed the collection into designer sportswear territory.
Showing that collection on the runway for the first time was a milestone for the New York-based brand.
“I always wanted to do a show, but I gave it a couple of seasons,” he said. “I needed to give people the opportunity to get to know the brand first, but then I was ready to step it up a little. Choosing the location, the music, the graphics, that’s important for the image of a brand.”
Although Coppens knows that he has garnered a reputation for clothes with touches of athleticism, he’s quick to point out that they’re “not athletic clothes.” Instead, he endeavors to offer a collection with “energy and fast-paced movement. It’s not a static collection.”
His next collection will have something to do with speed, he hinted.
Coppens believes that there’s more crossover today between sports brands and sportswear, and he plays into that by experimenting with different fabrics and construction techniques to create something special.
“It comes down to functionality,” he said. “And you wear clothes, so they have to be functional.”
Experimenting with different forms of artistic expression has been part of Coppens’ life from the beginning. Growing up, he didn’t aspire to become a designer, but he was always interested in creating things and was intrigued by the construction of garments.
“My parents let me explore,” he said, adding that he also dabbled in painting and sculpting. “I never said I wanted to be a designer, but when I went to the Academy, I picked fashion because I didn’t know it and wanted to learn.”
Looking five years down the road, Coppens wants to continue to grow his company at a consistent yet manageable rate. But don’t expect any major shifts in direction.
“You’ll continue to see what you’ve seen up until now; we’re going to keep communicating that,” he said. He would like to offer additional products, as well as a collection that could be sold at a more affordable price. “It wouldn’t be a diffusion line, but it would be complementary,” he said. “We’re thinking that would be a natural evolution.”
He’s also set his sights on expanding into women’s wear. “I want to do that someday,” he added. “There’s a lot more to explore.”