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When images of hip, young couples with the tag line “The Kooples. Nicolas and Honorine, a couple for eight months,” began appearing across Paris, even those fashionistas usually in the know were kept guessing.
“They didn’t know if it was an online dating site, a fashion label or a band,” says Alexandre Elicha, 33, who cofounded The Kooples with his brothers, Laurent, 32, and Raphaël, 22.
As distinct black-and-white stores selling preppy looks with a rock ‘n’ roll twist began springing up across the country, French consumers got their answer.
Thanks to their contemporary fashion genes—the siblings’ parents, Tony and Georgette Elicha, created the French fashion chain Comptoir des Cotonniers in 1995—The Kooples isn’t your average fashion start-up. After opening 20 stores in three months, the brothers are planning 150 within the next five years.
Where Comptoir features real-life mothers and daughters in its ads, The Kooples is building its image through unknown couples, found through Facebook, MySpace or in the streets. They’re chosen for their creative jobs plus edgy looks to embody the unisex label’s rock ’n’ roll meets Savile Row identity.
Originally conceived as a men’s collection, the brothers decided a women’s line would enable them to cater to the many couples who shop together, and The Kooples, a pun on how many French speakers pronounce “couple” in English, was born.
In each 600- to 700-square-foot boutique, black flooring contrasts with white walls under harsh strip lighting. Men’s items, from military-style wool coats designed in collaboration with the Savile Row tailor Norton & Sons, line one side, while on the other, women take their picks of basics such as cardigans, jeans and the trenchcoat, which has three-quarter-length sleeves and a narrower fit so it doesn’t drown its wearer when it’s open.
A central counter features earrings, rings, double necklaces and bracelets, created with London jewelers The Great Frog, which, in keeping with the couples theme, includes twin rings to be exchanged.
The skull, adopted as The Kooples’ signature motif, appears on everything from T-shirts, which start at 45 euros, or $63 at current exchange, to gold and silver-colored buttons on coats, which sell for 340 euros, or $474.
Bestsellers since stores opened in September include an Audrey Hepburn–inspired navy stretch flannel dress featuring stiff, white shirt cuffs, plus khaki-colored ball-shaped skirts and lace tops. Men’s cardigans have proved a hit with the brand’s female clientele.
“In these times of crisis, you have to really stand out,” says Alexandre, who claims that the brand’s difference lies in its tailoring and its unisex approach. “There aren’t many brands doing both men’s and women’s,” he says. “It’s going to happen. Men’s wear is developing more and more, and women’s brands are introducing men’s lines, but for now there are very few.”
International expansion, likely to start in the U.K., followed by the U.S. and Japan, is intended within two seasons.
Online sales started late last year on thekooples.com, where shoppers also can read interviews with The Kooples faces, by Olivier Nicklaus of French music magazine Les Inrockuptibles, where they discuss everything from their first kisses to their pet hates. Music types also can check the latest gigs happening across France, courtesy of Olivier Tesquet of lifestyle magazine Technikart.
Keeping the rock ’n’ roll theme, rock, pop and electro tracks play simultaneously in each of The Kooples’ brick-and-mortar stores, where couples are even allowed to share a changing room.
THE REAL DEAL
Nicolas Ratieville, 30, and Honorine Crosnier, 29, both TV producers, embody The Kooples’ 25- to 35-year-old bobo (BOurgeois-BOhemian) target audience, though Crosnier admits she’s usually less sophisticated and less scary looking. “We were acting like typical standoffish Parisians,” she says. “No one recognized me in the photo—I don’t style my hair that way and I don’t usually wear makeup.” Ratieville, meanwhile, gave up his everyday staple of baggy jeans for a skinny pair.
While the duo says they found The Kooples’ rock approach and skull motif far from avant-garde, they lauded the clothes as “really well cut.”
They always shop together at stores such as H&M and APC. “We like to get it over with quickly,” says Crosnier. “So it’s yes to that, no to that, yes, no, let’s go.”
Time is short for the two, who are producing a TV series called Mylène et Son Garçon (Mylene and Her Boy), set to air on the French cable channel Canal+ in February. “It’s a comedy about a really trash couple and it’s going to be the next big thing,” declares Ratieville.
As well as writing the script, the couple produces, directs and acts in the 32-part show. Quips Crosnier: “We do everything together.”