Tim Coppens is naturally shy, but the designer has learned that he needs to provide a glimpse into his life if he wants to build a business.
The Belgium-born Coppens, who attended the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and worked in the sports design department of Adidas as well as on Ralph Lauren’s RLX brand, created the Tim Coppens brand in 2012.
“I really had something I wanted to share personally,” he said. “I felt there was some sort of link with the fashion world and that was what I wanted to create.”
Although ath-leisure was just starting to have an impact, Coppens said at that time it was “still a very much of a sports thing and it wasn’t ready for the streets.” But “we live in a time when the merger of fashion and sports got a lot more visible.”
So he set out to fill what he saw as the gap between performance and fashion. “Suits were still there but how could we make those more fit for the guy of today,” he asked. “For me, I don’t want to go out in a suit everyday, but I still want something sporty in a nice material that feels comfortable but is also cool that I can move around in all day. And that was something I wanted to address in my brand.”
His unique take on athletic luxury soon gained the notice of the fashion industry. Coppens received the Ecco Domani Award for Best Menswear Designer in 2012, followed it up with a Fashion Group International Rising Star of the Year award the next year and was awarded the Swarovski Award for Menswear in 2014.
These awards got Coppens “a lot of exposure” and provided him with “insight about how the industry works,” he said. And it wasn’t long until he realized social media needed to play a role as well.
“I’m Belgian, you don’t talk about yourself,” he said. “My way of handling [my brand] was to not talk about me personally. I think that has changed a little bit. I know I have to give a little bit of myself to my consumer, but stay authentic. That has made me realize that part of my brand is my name. It’s my background and I want to communicate that a little more. Social media for me is about that.”
Coppens has begun to share “a little bit of insight about what I was in the Nineties and in the start of the [Aughts] when I was really going out and having fun. Those elements are very much about what my brand is about as well. So that has to be communicated and social media is a really perfect medium.”
That comes through on a sweater with Acid across the front. The word is intended to “encapsulate the feeling I had when I was growing up in the Nineties: a sense of freedom, going out, the music, the whole vibe, the skate culture. It was a free time.”
Another way to get consumers “engaged in my brand,” Coppens said, is to deliver a “really compelling message. These days, people have so many products to look at. You have to be able to communicate what the brand is about.”
For Coppens, that message centers around the artisanal nature of his line.
“I feel that as a designer, it’s my task, and also my passion, to create a product that is really well built, has craftsmanship and an element of quality,” he said. But it also has a “rough edge,” he said. “You can see the soul running through the product.”
A more commercial side of his personality is evident in his most recent project, creating the UAS collection of sportswear for Under Armour.
“I would never put Acid on a sweatshirt for UAS — that would not be good for business,” he said. Instead, UAS has “more of a performance link to it: how can I make this jacket fit perfectly, where does the stretch come from, is there a certain breathability. It’s not pure performance, it’s what you can wear everyday, but it has these elements integrated into it to make the product you wear everyday better.”
UAS is priced lower than the Tim Coppens line and skews younger with a much broader distribution, he said. And while there are similarities “UAS is a lot more linked to what Under Armour is all about: the athletic, the performance. But for [my line], it’s more about the freedom and adrenaline I felt growing up in the Nineties.”
During New York Fashion Week: Men’s in February, Coppens created an event/installation for a special capsule collection. He said he drew on his experience operating a gallery in Antwerp some 20 years ago where “people stayed, they didn’t just come in and out. I think it’s important to connect to a brand right now and create that experience.”
He’d one day like to recreate a similar experience in his own store, which he would fashion after successful retailers such as Supreme, Celine and Dover Street Market.
“The Celine store is amazing. I go in there and feel the product, and it’s very expensive and you can’t afford it, but it tells you a lot about the brand and that’s what I’m interested in when I would create my retail store.”