Jeans brand Imogene + Willie burst on the scene with the concept of offering honestly-crafted jeans in Nashville, Tennessee. Owners Matt and Carrie Eddmenson have organically grown their brand into a full-on line as well as a denim tailoring service, all run out of a refurbished gas station in Nashville's 12 South neighborhood.
What makes their brand really cool is the space in which they do business. We talked with the two about ambience, found art objects, and the thin line between rugged authenticity and Cracker Barrel corniness.
A lot of the buzz about Imogene + Willie comes from the location. How did you find that spot? Did you know from the get-go how you wanted to build it out to reflect the spirit of the brand?
Matt: Before we moved to Nashville, my wife Carrie had written this blog about this dream business we had come up with together, and she had this premonition that our business would be in a gas station. And she could not shake this idea that it would be in a service station, so we would come down to Nashville very week and scope the city out and pick an area and go have lunch in that area and just hang out — and I think on our second or third trip we had lunch in the 12 South area of Nashville, and we found this gas station that had this for sale sign on it.
We called the number on the sign and we asked if they would be interested in leasing it, and the answer was no. They were asking for an astronomical price for this building, and we were super bummed because from just peeking in the window we knew it would just be a really cool spot. Sure enough, after pestering the landlord for a better part of four months we called and she said she was on the way to put a for lease sign in the window, and we were like "don’t even bother, we'll be down in the morning to sign the lease."
When it came to the build out for the building, we had to do so much of the little stuff like make sure water didn’t pour into the back room and doing structural things. A lot of what we did didn’t have anything to do with the aesthetic because the walls had these really great textures. A lot of the stuff we spent more time on was the bathroom and a lot of painting.
Carrie had this premonition that our business would be in a gas station.
Anything special about how you built it out? Any cool secrets?
M: Yeah, we were tearing out the ceiling in order to build a loft where our office is, and we found service report receipts from 1859. So we took those and made them into bathroom wallpaper, and the baseboard that goes around the bottom is the old tin ceiling. We repurposed a lot of the stuff. There is this old pulley that you used to pull an engine out of the car that's in the showroom. You can't recreate little things like that, so might as well leave it where it is. We had a lot of fun building this place.
How many purposes does the space serve for you guys?
M: Right now it is everything to us. We're busting out the seams with 18 employees, thank god we're not all here at the same time! That being said, we had a kitchen, but we tore that out and now they're dressing rooms, but it also serves as where we distress some of the washes that we do. We have a sanding department in the old dressing room kitchen, and of course all of our sewing machines are in the other half of the gas station, and we also have a cutting room where we cut all of the fabrics and do alterations to the jeans we tailor. We even added an office upstairs. The one thing we fell short on was storage, so we got an old shipping container where we keep our inventory.
Is that outside the building?
M: Yeah, it's right outside, and the backyard serves as a music venue or just overall party space, so it's pretty unique, but yes all of those things. And we have a couch when you walk in, so a lot of people plop right down on the couch and drink their coffee, but we totally encourage it.
Are there any plans to make any more renovations in the futures?
M: If memory serves me correctly, the building itself is on a historical preservation site so I think it would be difficult to change the footprint of the building, but we have this gorgeous backyard. And sometimes we think we should just make that the new office and the upstairs can be storage where we keep shoes and boots. We're always thinking about that, but nothing currently in the works.
The space definitely has a rustic vintage feel to it. Is there a certain aesthetic you try to adhere to?
M: Honestly, a lot of what we did at first came out of the fact we didn’t have any money. A lot of the way the store looked at first came from bringing in things we already owned. I’m a total Junker and picker. I go to flea markets, and this is just what I do. My whole thing is if I find something I love, I try and incorporate it into our house or our store, and that aesthetic goes along with who we are as people. Our store has a very masculine feel, but there’s enough women that work here that flower it up quite a bit, make it nice and it always smells really good.
Does that give it sort of a tomboy vibe?
M: You know the girls that work here, including my wife, are all sort of tomboys at heart they tend to wear military pants and shirts. That changes with the seasons, but overall it definitely has a masculine feel, but it's pretty cool to see a womens dress hanging on a pretty beat-up wall that’s been painted and has nail holes. There’s something really nice about that.
Carrie, is there anything you do to the interior to soften up and balance out the masculine aspect of it? Soften up the toughness and rugged vibe?
Carrie: Yeah, interestingly women are for some reason in tune with it, drawn to it, come during lunch breaks or after work, bring a bottle of wine, sit on the couch, and feel just as comfortable or even moreso than men. I think aesthetically, it's very asexual. We're pretty big on how a space smells equally to how it looks, so we spent a lot of time before we opened identifying the smell, and the smell we landed on is very... sensual. It's very sensual, so I think the smell of the building is very attractive to women.
There’s a very fine line between Imogene + Willie and Cracker Barrel. Honestly you can definitely overdo it.
Is there a certain fragrance that gives it that air that you guys use?
C: It’s a candle from LA made by Ron Robinson called "Soul," but the notes are really interesting.
M: It says, “An intimate room, alive with energy. Piano, bass and percussion accompany a warm, sensual voice. Soul resonates in the air. A smooth combo of African ginger, rich mahogany, deep taboti wood.”
C: Customers and friends are always dropping off fresh rosemary from their garden or forsythia when it blooms, or we always have something from outside that tends to give a more feminine feel. The atmosphere is what it is because mostly of the just the hospitality that's in it. It's more about the people in the store than the decoration in the store.
What are your favorite pieces of the interior of the store?
M: I think I speak for both us when I say the leather couch. It came out of Carrie's dad's office, and we both have had plenty of meetings on that couch. I think I was even sitting on that couch when I asked her dad if I could marry his daughter — a lot of sentimental things. It's one of those things that's got years and years of wear and scuffing. It's pretty awesome.
C: I would mention three other pieces: there’s an 8x10 picture of Imogene + Willie from when he was in the military . I think he was home from Germany and they got a family picture made, and that’s always floating around somewhere in the store. People always pick it up and ask who it is, and that’s very sentimental. There’s a huge sign on that Matt's uncle found, and it was the first big big installation piece we got for the store, and we also love our scoreboard. In the town we grew up in, there were 12 county elementary schools, and it's exactly the same scoreboard. It's really rich. Some of the lights still work and its lovely.
Do you guys use it to tally scores for anything?
M: I wish.
C: We put a point up every time we sell a jean.
M: That’d be awesome.
How would you personally describe the vibe of the interior design of the space?
M: It’s funny to see people come in that may not know what we do here, and they do this whirlwind twirl at the front door. There’s just so much to look at and so much to see, and we put a lot of emphasis on changing the store around so it doesn’t become stagnant — one of my most favorite things in the world to do is to change it up, keep it fresh, and move things around so I think people leave thinking: "wow, that is not what I expected."
C: Based on emails that we get from customers, the space inspires people to do something on their own and to me that’s everything. For some reason it has this energy in it that just gives people inspiration for people to do what they dream to do.
Any quick interior design tips for anyone looking to transport the vibe of Imogene + Willie into their personal lives via their office apartment or house?
M: Yeah I think there’s a very fine line between Imogene + Willie and Cracker Barrel. Honestly you can definitely overdo it. I have no background in design, I just know what I like, and I remember the first time I saw Carrie's house before we ever dated and I was like: "wow, that’s so amazing." She has such great taste, and we didn’t have the money to buy things like a Ralph Lauren store would, so it was really important for us to try and figure out ways to incorporate new things and put them next to old things. Our mottp from the very beginning is "old and new," and how to incorporate both of those things so they both looked equally loved.
C: It's old meets new, east meets west, and shiny lacquer meets old wood — pretty much everything we do runs through that filter.