On day one of London Collections: MEN last week (Sunday, June 15), Alexia Hentsch and her London-based label Hentsch Man delivered a stylistic ode to cigar smoke, glasses of rum and games of dominos – a story of street life in the South Americas. Working with a pastel palette inspired by the washed out walls of Havana and Rio, models milled about with the collective attitude of a well-styled street gang – their clothes a nod to distant memories of charming, flick-knife carrying thugs with gold teeth glinting in the tropical evening sun.
Titled La Cantina, the theme of Hentsch Man’s SS15 collection is a fitting one, marking a spiritual return of sorts for designer Alexia Hentsch to her motherland of Brazil. Picking up where previous collections left off – in terms of eclectic styling and a light hearted (if off-the-wall) take on menswear staples – it is also arguably the strongest Hentsch Man collection to date, blending soft tailoring (a remnant of the brand’s preppy beginnings) with more street-ready pieces like cropped anoraks, printed bombers and graphic t-shirts.
Amidst the hectic period preceding her brand’s presentation at LCM, we managed to sit down with Alexia for a chat about Hentsch Man – in particular, where it’s come from and where it’s going. Off the back of a successful capsule collection with MR PORTER, the brand’s trajectory continues to ascend as it finds resonance with new consumers, enticed by increasingly wild prints and an edgy design ethos. In fact, we’d say Hentsch Man’s hitting all the right points in casual, contemporary menswear today. Check out our conversation with Alexia below, as well as a selection of SS15 images as worn at LCM.
SlamXHype: Can you start by telling us a bit about how Hentsch Man was founded?
Alexia Hentsch: It started because of an ex-boyfriend of mine I was looking for clothes for – I ended up making him a white shirt. But that had led me on a search for an inexpensive, well made white shirt, which would be the perfect transition piece if it didn’t look like you’d just walked out of some big office or something horrible like that. So it was about finding that middle ground. We quickly realized that was impossible if you produce in Europe, but that was the idea – that good design didn’t have to be expensive.
That led to a number of other things – I was working for Tyler Brule’s branding agency, Winkreative, which is a bit of a branding Mecca – and that was a great finishing school, in a way. I shot a great brand book (initially the brand was called Jack Shirt) and in it there were these guys who were supposedly brand ambassadors, shot in all these different contexts, which I did because the branding at the beginning was probably stronger than the product – I mean, there was no product, it was just one shirt. But through that I met all these different buyers, including the guys at Opening Ceremony who, at the time, were also kinda pussyfooting around – they didn’t really know what they were doing either…
This is around 2006. But we got into a bit of legal trouble at the time, and I had to rethink the name of the company and I ended up taking like a six month hiatus to figure it out. I relaunched the brand as Hentsch Man in 2008. Anyway, in 2006 I went to see Opening Ceremony and they were like, “Yeah this is pretty cool, we’ll give this a chance; now go and make some product.” And I’m not a fashion designer by trade, so I was like, “Uhhhh.” But I found this pattern cutter here in the UK and we went off and made some products, just kind of figuring it out. But OC were really helpful and instrumental in making Hentsch Man a brand.
But I consider when Hentsch Man really became what it is, in its current format, in SS13. We started making prints and shot a good lookbook and all of a sudden we created a buzz. It was all about Summer Boys, and it was then that we sort of spiked in terms of attention and direction. There was a shift in our thinking in terms of who this ‘Hentsch Man’ is, who’s wearing it, who we’re selling to – and that the demographic was younger and edgier than I had previously imagined.
SXH: Are you designing the collections by yourself?
Alexia: Yeah. I mean, I get some freelance help, but ultimately I’m designing all the collections. Eventually we’re going to have to hire a designer as we’re getting to the stage where we have to compete with the bigger guys and ultimately we’ll have to up our game. The MR PORTER collection has trained us to think about creating four collections a year as opposed to just two.
Would you say the brand’s values have changed since you’ve expanded in this way?
I don’t think the values have. To a certain extent it’s about simplicity – I like a guy that has a certain way of dressing where it doesn’t look like he’s trying too hard. There’s always been an element of fun – even when I shot that white shirt. So that hasn’t changed, it’s just gotten louder. The tongue-in-cheek-ness is stronger, but I think I’m like that in character, so it’s always been there. The brand’s values lie in trying to make good clothing, but not at crazy-high pricing – for an everyday man with an edge. I want it to always be accessible.
Will SS15 be a departure again from the direction you’ve explored since SS13?
Yeah, it’ll be a bit away from that. It’s South American inspired – I’ve place the theme in Cuba. I took inspiration from the color of walls in these third-world countries – which is like a turquoise, really bright but also really washed out from the sun – that’s where the palette comes from. But it’s not like the whole collection is based around Havana, it’s more like that city is the epitome of the Latin American vibrancy, which is also quite decadent. It’s about living in the streets … guys waiting around outside the cantinas for a fight…
In a sense, is that kind of who you see wearing Hentsch Man? A kind of tougher sort of dude?
Not really, I kind of think that you sell that image of the tough dude to creative types who wanna be badass. I mean, the brand has always been a bit preppy, but has always been photographed on guys who have been ‘out there’ … who aren’t so preppy. We’re creating a fun story.
Like the SS14 collection, where the clothes are wearable, but the way you’ve styled it is quite far out…
I think you have to market things in a different way to set yourselves apart. I mean, you can’t reinvent the wheel – a pair of navy trousers are a pair of navy trousers – it’s about how you sell things, how you contextualize them and the idea behind them. I’m more interested in the idea.
How did the MR PORTER capsule come about?
MR PORTER have been really good to us. We came onboard with them in the second season that they were selling, so we’ve got a great relationship with the buyers. They asked us to do this capsule, and their explanation for it is actually quite a smart one. The bigger brands they stock drop all year around, but smaller brands like us don’t have anything between our two major seasonal collections – which means it’s harder to buy into. So MR PORTER try and stagger how they drop our product and this capsule is a nice way to stagger how our product makes its way onto the site.
So it’s a business move?
Yeah, it’s a business move for sure, but also our customers like to have exclusive product. and being able to provide exclusively for MR PORTER’s customers is excellent. I mean, it’s amazing to see what having this capsule on MR PORTER has done for the rest of our collection.
What’s the collaborative creative process like?
They asked us to create the capsule, and I’d never done one before so I asked them if there was a direction. They were like, “No but it’s gonna drop in summer, so it needs to be a move-on from what you’re already doing.” So I went and created this print, and designed fifteen pieces, and then they altered one or two things … but ultimately, I mean, I just sent them the sketches and they were like, “When can you drop?” So it just worked out … and now we’re working on another one.
What’s the story behind that Spring/Summer capsule print?
I came across this print in one of the archives I research in. It was real whacko – black and white, of a burning house … like 1940s looking. I thought it was interesting and it was also a slight move on from the Hawaiian theme I’ve been working with. The print itself fell a bit flat though because it wasn’t very summery, so I added a few pink flowers to give it a bit more pop. It’s nice because the flowers aren’t too feminine…
Are collaborations something you want to keep doing?
Definitely. We have two in the pipeline but I can’t really tell you about them yet!
Haha, well they’re footwear and lifestyle based…
So how do you approach these sorts of projects? Because collabs should really bring value to both brands…
I agree with you. Like for example we did this collaboration with Ape to Gentleman. They make grooming products, and we thought of how we would combine our two brands. He actually suggested making a shirt where there is a pocket built in to stash your comb – so we figured out how to combine what we’d do to make a new product that works. You should use the other brand, or loan one of your attributes to them … it makes sense.
Where do you produce your collections?
Mostly in Portugal. I’m Brazilian and speak Portuguese, which helps with these relationships. We’ve found that people are ready to give us a break simply because they like having lunch with us! Portugal has a really strong manufacturing heritage – in Europe it’s probably the place where you can find the best ratio between quality and pricing.
Going forward, what direction do you want to take the brand?
We’ll keep doing what we’ve done. I’d like to make the winter collections stronger. Obviously because I’m Brazilian, the summer collections resonate more with who I am, but going forward I definitely need to make the winter collections as strong as the summer ones are. It’s never gonna be too serious. We mix basics up, but the message – the tone of voice – is always gonna be lighthearted.