Rochambeau: Designing A Game of Chance
“When people meet us, it’s kind of funny,” says Joshua Cooper, one of the creative geniuses behind the fashion
label Rochambeau. He glances to his left, at his partner Laurence Chandler, and smirks. “They see our collections and then they look at us like ‘I don’t get it.’ But we like that. We like that we’re pushing the limits and we’re not stereotypical.”
Chandler leans back into his chair. Stretched across his chest is Larry Clark’s iconic image of a dazed Casper sitting on a couch with 40 bottles sprawled across a table in front of him. Chandler clasps his hands behind his neck just beneath the leopard print brim of a backwards baseball cap and laughs, flashing a gold grill fitted to his bottom row of teeth. Cooper, in a black tee, black jeans and a black leather baseball cap, joins in.
These 29-year-old native New York designers are skate kids at heart with a penchant for hip hop and Nike Dunks, the very sneaker that sparked the first conversation between the pair 10 years ago when both still in college.
A solid friendship quickly formed, followed by a DIY promotion business in which they set up parties for models. Before they knew it, in 2004 the designers were screen printing graphics on T-shirts and handing them out at events — a branding mission that in three years would transform into Rochambeau.
“Yeah, we made business cards before we even had a business,” Chandler recalls. “It was just trial and error to go from the first tee shirt to how do we make a sweatshirt to where we are now.”
When Cooper and Chandler officially transformed Rochambeau into a clothing brand in 2007, they were looking to fill a void. The two had been following European menswear and realized that, in comparison, the American heritage vibe coming out of the States was safe and didn’t represent their style.
“We wanted to infuse a little street and accents of hip hop into a higher-end market,” explains Cooper. “At that time, smaller menswear brands in that market obviously existed. But there weren’t these young, experimental menswear brands. It was you’re either streetwear or you’re a fashion house.”
Since neither Chandler or Cooper has formal fashion training, everything was made piece-by-piece. If something worked, they would do it again. If it didn’t work, well then, they knew what to avoid moving forward.
From season to season, the collection begins as a casual conversation between friends. Many times the conversation is visual,
whether it’s building mood boards or collaging from images they’ve gathered over the past six months.
“One of things we would do is constantly go to the library and reference old fashion books. We’re trying to learn as much as possible,” Cooper says. “Because neither of us are able to draw well, or really do the sewing of these garments, we will bring on talent who, for example, can
execute our vision.”
“This has all come over time too,” adds Chandler.” Initially there would be just a crude drawing from us in production and now it’s finally getting to a place, within the last two years, where we know who’s going to be developing each component of the collection.”
When it comes to the Rochambeau aesthetic, they often go for sharp cuts, heavy layers and dark tones; a move that has labeled them by many fashion critics as “the dark kids.”
“What’s funny is that we kind of rebelled against last season in way; even though we were happy with it and it was successful,” Chandler explains. “But in a couple bigger publications, I don’t know why, but they referred to it as ‘Goth.’ It was just so strange. So almost tongue in cheek we were like, ‘OK, Goth,’ which there is nothing wrong with that, but to typecast a label as that?”
So they pondered what the antithesis of Goth would be. “And we were like, let’s do sportswear,” Chandler continues with a quick smirk.
Digging through the library archives into classic sportswear, they liked what they saw: obscure sports, but also materials — and colors — they had never worked with before.
"For Spring for us to use color the way we did — that was experimental,” Chandler says.
Since they both have a print background, each season Cooper and Chandler like to create one print for the collection. And if Rochambeau was going to take a risk by stepping on the field, they knew there was a chance they’d get pummeled and bruised, which was the inspiration for their bruise print. To capture the intricacies of an actual bruise, the guys joked how they roughed up an intern and snapped a few photos.
“In this weird way, a deep bruise has a beauty to it. It almost looks like a galaxy. And we thought, ‘wow this could work’, but there was a lot of risk, going into that,” Chandler says. “We started to pull the colors of a bruise without having an actual print ready, so if the print didn’t look good, we’d have this whole collection of unexplainable color. That was a big risk.”
While Rochambeau is making their mark, they still think there’s a tremendous amount of room for menswear to grow in New York.
“One of the amazing things with the label is that when it started in 2007, it couldn’t have been a worse time to begin,” says Chandler, referring to the economy bottoming out. “Everything seemed insane and we didn’t know how we would do it, but something from out of the blue would keep presenting itself. It’s just so strange how that works”
“Rock Paper Scissor. It’s as simple as it was a game of chance,” Cooper chimes in. “This was a huge chance for us to take and it’s the small positive things that present themselves each season that helps us to continue growing. We’ve learned that our vision can’t be dictated by the world of fashion in New York.”
Photos by François Lebeau**