Rochambeau Started The Trends You're Obsessed with A Decade Ago
Back in 2007, when backless dresses were a shoo-in for pretty much any club and cadres of pointed-toe, neon stilettos were peeping out from under heiresses’ jeans, NYC-based designers Laurence Chandler and Joshua Cooper were just bringing their shared interests to fruition—and starting what would become Rochambeau.
Their initial aim was to fill a void in the menswear market—“void” being a polite term for the gaping lack of care and thought put into men’s fashion at the time. Both native New Yorkers, Chandler and Cooper’s upbringing—spent immersed in skating and hip-hop—has naturally informed their brand; in fact, it was their shared love for sneakers that led them to work together after meeting freshman year at Pace University (for FW16, they showed their collection with Nike Air Force 1 shoes and are apparently debuting “more [Nike] exclusives” at their SS17 show this Wednesday).
The two had always wanted to be involved in high fashion, and were able to first get their feet in the door thanks to their cunning creativity—creating shirts designed specifically for models to wear to castings. The idea, unsurprisingly, proved successful. Yet as determined as they may have been, they were equally aware of how hard infiltrating menswear would inevitably be; Chandler and Cooper, you see, are anything but stupid. They did, after all, name their brand Rochambeau—“rock, paper, scissor” in French, bien sûr—and a nod to the risk that was involved in starting their brand. Peruse their former collections, and the concepts behind them, and you’ll notice they’re markedly erudite too. For their FW16 collection, they were channeling the clothes in the movie Juice, with Tupac Shakur; for SS14, they took inspiration from ancient gladiators and modern-day boxers; and for their SS12 collection, they apparently drew inspiration from holidays and “the way holidays or traditions affect [us] as we grow from young to old.” And given the fact that they were championing drop crotch pants back in 2007, one can confidently say that they’re pretty ahead of their time, too.
Now in their second year as CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalists, Chandler and Cooper seem to be getting the attention they’ve always deserved. Ahead of their SS17 show, we caught up with them as they were putting the final touches on their collection.
So can you tell me about the upcoming collection?
Laurence Chandler: What we’re looking at this season is the idea of creatives in exile. You’ll see our mood board took particular reference from The Stones, and the late ‘60s. They’re in London, they’re getting in a shit ton of trouble, their management is kind of like, “Get the fuck out of here,” and suddenly they wind up in Morocco and it goes from a dark city vibe to vibrant colors, patterns, prints. One of the great things that we’ve been doing lately is dealing in a lot of color. This particular collection [has a lot of] corals, lavenders, indigo blues, and I think that’s something that’s making the collection stand out.
What are some of your favorite pieces?
LC: There’s a young artist Cody Gunningham, and he developed all of the custom prints for the collection—the embroideries, the motifs, the hand painted silk shirts.
“We always also say our guy is kind of at the right place, but not the center of attention.”
Who is your “guy”—or, your muse—right now?
LC: Someone who’s grown up skating, listening to hip-hop. Our guy is [us], which I think has always been the intention. But it’s really someone who grew up wearing graphic tees with logos, and they’re getting to the point where they kind of want to evolve from that, and it’s not so much about the brand but having an element of style. We always also say our guy is kind of at the right place, but not the center of attention.
What’s something about the industry you would never know unless you were immersed in it?
Joshua Cooper: I mean, the business side of it. There are some very lucky brands that make it in the first couple of years, but I feel like most young brands have to be at it for five to seven years to really make an impact and create awareness. I think that’s something lacking from all of the interns that we’ve had over the years: they may know how to cut patterns, or graphic design, or come up with amazing intricate ideas, but knowing how [that] translates to commerce is a totally different conversation.
LC: And also having a network. You need to build great relationships.
JC: Ego is something that’s going to get in your way in this business.
“I don’t know where the market is going so what we’ve done is we’ve focused internally on perfecting fit.”
What’s one thing you’d love to see more men wearing?
JC: I think the world of menswear is very exaggerated [now]. When we got into this business we were paying attention to what the market was inundated with, and it was a lot of Americana heritage. When we saw that, we kind of went against the grain. Rick Owens, Damir Doma—those were the people we were focusing on eight, nine years ago. That’s the direction that we took the brand in originally, which was accepted much more overseas than it was here. And now you see guys wearing things you would not have seen ten years ago. I don’t know where the market is going, so what we’ve done is we’ve focused internally on perfecting fit.
Have there been any moments since starting the brand when you guys felt particularly misunderstood?
L: [Early on], we were creating a vibe that only now [has started] to come full circle. That merger of high and street—that now you’ll see on the biggest runways in Paris—is what we’ve ben pushing, what MADE was giving us the platform to do.
“I think sometimes it seems like a blessing to have immediate success, but unless you have the resources in place to grow with that success, it can be a detriment.”
Do you ever get frustrated seeing people who haven’t been designing for as long as you have, churn out one collection that’s a mix of high and street, and get undue attention for it?
LC: I think sometimes it seems like a blessing to have immediate success, but unless you have the resources in place to grow with that success, it can be a detriment. There’s not really competition in the men’s market—it’s not yet so big that there’s a rivalry. It’s like, the more attention and buzz that comes into the industry, the better it is for everyone.
I also read that, at least when you first started Rochambeau, you did so because you wanted to “fill a void” in the menswear market.
LC: Yeah I think something that we noticed at the time was: how can we be in a city like New York and there not be a dedicated men’s fashion week? So that’s a conversation we were having, literally, five, six years ago. And suddenly, as we start[ed] to really get the understanding of our business [and] our guy, and how to develop the collection, we get a call, “Hey we’re launching men’s fashion week.” So to see that come to fruition was [confirmation that] our heads were in the right place.
All photos taken exclusively for Milk by Monet Lucki.
Stay tuned to Milk for more New York Fashion Week: Men’s coverage.