Everyone wants to find the next hot fashion brand before it blows up. En Noir is that brand.
Head designer Rob Garcia cut his teeth at West Coast streetwear label Black Scale, and is now cranking out quality pieces with meticulous detailing and giving a big "fuck you" to traditional fashion practices. By dropping clothes not pegged to seasons and focusing on made-to-order pieces, Garcia isn't cutting any corners. Whether he’s thumbing through leather swatches for T-shirts or using zippers other brand's can't afford, he's aiming to take his line to the next level. He also knows the value of having good taste on your side — one of New York's most stylish men, CurT@!n$, is riding shotgun for the release of the brand’s debut collection.
With monochromatic T-shirts, Kanye West’s favorite new leather sweatpants, luxe outerwear, and all-over printed graphics inspired by the Renaissance, En Noir’s first collection is a force. Complex got first crack at talking with Garcia and CurT@!n$ as En Noir opens its e-doors today. Read up and remember where you heard about ‘em first.
Interview by Joe La Puma (@JLaPuma)
Rob, you got your start with Black Scale, what was your role there?
Rob Garcia: My position was head designer, so I built out accessories, shoes, bags — and then during the end of my time at Black Scale I helped out with graphics. We built an amazing streetwear brand that was just different. We were influenced by high fashion, and we really made it a point to put that in there. At the end of last year things started to line up, and I told them that I always wanted to do my own thing, not just streetwear. I met some people at fashion week events, I found great factories and great consultants, then two friends who I grew up with were like “we’ll fund your line.” I had to make a decision, and I wanted to gradually move myself out of Black Scale, so I designed everything up until Summer 2012, and jumped into En Noir.
What were the early steps of putting together En Noir?
Rob: At first I did a huge collection of about fifty pieces and wanted to do a presentation — fashion week and all that stuff. I was working with a great factory in Paris: they produced Balmain, some of Chanel, and they produced Kanye’s women’s line. I learned a lot from the factory there and definitely slowed things down, took a couple of steps back, and tried to learn and consume as much as I could and get my fits right, get the silhouettes right, get everything right, and see what the reception would be like.
En Noir kind of falls in the middle of high-fashion and streetwear. What do you think about the current state of streetwear?
You know once Kanye puts his stamp on something the world comes running.
Rob: I grew up in streetwear, it’s always been a part of me and I think it was dope that I was able to learn from streetwear and was able to progress from such a dope culture and dope genre. It’s so set apart from anything else. Supreme is so consistent and an amazing brand. I wore BAPE a lot in the early 2000s, and I think they’ve had a great resurgence. I think they’ve definitely found the right formula bringing the right pieces back. As far as brands I really look up to and respect — I really love Gourmet. They are amazing. The cut and sew line they did was so ahead of the curve and unbelievable. Of course Black Scale, what we did there was amazing. You know Diamond, there are so many. All of them deserve so much respect for setting themselves apart. I also loved what Nom De Guerre did.
CurT@!n$: The kids are what keeps BAPE and Supreme at the forefront. I feel like Supreme does an excellent job at reinventing themselves and positioning themselves as a brand. I think BAPE is getting back to that. They definitely lost track for a minute, but if a kid like [A$AP] Rocky wasn’t wearing BAPE heavily mixed in with other coveted items, then kids wouldn’t look at it like “yeah I’m back on BAPE,” because kids abandoned it for a while. Supreme kind of always had its loyal fan base but I feel like the brands themselves just have to find a way to not shun people, because a lot of brands get cocky and are like, “we don’t want these kids wearing our clothes.” You have to find a way to work with that. Don’t do it in a corny way, but be like “okay cool, let’s make something happen,” like Supreme did with Odd Future. BAPE needs to do something with Rocky to just let the kids know that the brand knows they exist.
What’s the direction of design for En Noir?
Rob: This line was really me designing what I wanted to see in my closet from brands like Givenchy, Rick Owens, and Balmain. I love a lot of the stuff, but honestly some of it can’t be worn off the runway. I was like: “there’s a way to execute those silhouettes and still be able to wear them on the street.” That was it. With me right now I didn’t adhere to the seasons as far as spring, summer, winter and fall. I’m just making pieces you can have in your closet, and you pull them out whenever you want, it doesn’t even matter what time of the year it is. That’s where I was approaching it from the initial stages of En Noir.
Just like Kanye wearing your leather sweatpants in the summer.
Rob: I think it’s cool that things are always being done different within the fashion world more and more each season just because people are adapting to the times. I’m not going to say there shouldn’t be seasons, but I mean fall is releasing right now and it’s hot as fuck. The weather is changing so why be so tied to these fashion calendars? If you got a dope piece then drop it. I remember when Kanye did his first women’s line. He had these amazing ideas that he wanted to get out. It doesn’t matter if you buy it in spring and wear it in fall/winter.
How did the Kanye connection come about?
Rob: I see some people who are in his crew a lot, but dealing with Kanye is weird because obviously I would’ve given him those pieces — and that’s someone who I’d definitely would want to get feedback from — and it just so happened that his stylist somehow saw my pieces on Instagram and Tumblr. She tried to find me and get a hold of the sweats, so she hit me up one morning and I actually had a sample pair which I’d just been developing. I went over to fit him and they fit perfect. She was like “do you have any other pieces?” I brought the whole collection, and they ended up taking it to Miami to pull from for some videos.
It was just a natural, organic thing that happened and that’s how I want it to stay. I know other brands would try to place it and stuff like that, but even with Black Scale early on, we never placed and it worked out. We ended up getting A$AP Rocky out of this. Everyone has paid for the stuff, which is another cool thing. The only promo I’ve given had been for friends and people that I like, but as far as celebrities go... if Kanye’s paying for this shit, then everybody’s paying for the shit.
CurT@!n$: The samples were just getting made for personal use and just to test out, and Rocky actually saw Rob with the tank top and was like “I need that.” Rob had it on at an in-store appearance Rocky had. Kanye wore the leather sweatpants just hanging out in the street. You know once Kanye puts his stamp on something the world comes running.
You kind of married monochromatic T-shirts with a twist and all-over printed T-shirts with this first collection.
Rob: When it came time to pump the brakes, reprogram, and re-evaluate how I was going to roll out the collection, I just went in there and picked bits and pieces that I knew I could develop first, execute well, and release. It just happened to be the basic silhouettes of tees. I never wanted to do just screenprint, because then I’d be just another streetwear brand. So I was like “okay, how am I going to do a tee different but still have some type of print?” I always liked the process of Christopher Kane, but I never liked his prints, and I’ve always just been into art: the Baroque period, The Renaissance, and just pieces that stand out but haven’t been vividly portrayed on fabric yet. My factory in Paris hooked me up with someone who does that in Europe. I had these prints in my archives for years that I always wanted to execute — I just pulled them out, and the prints came out so vivid.
And the monochromatic T-shirts?
Rob: I just love basic tees. And that’s another thing, you know, Alexander Wang tees sell so well but I think the cut fucking sucks. I took almost a year to develop this pattern, which sounds kind of crazy, but I really feel like I executed a perfect tee pattern in my opinion. I always wanted to do basic but have the best fit and that’s something we worked on. The wax finish on the plain T-shirts came about from me thinking of what can I do to add visual value to a basic tee without overdoing it, and I love waxed denim, so I was like “fuck it, let’s wax a tee.” I’ve seen a waxed full tee though, and I’ve seen people doing a gradient print, so I was like “let’s do a wax gradient, I’ve never seen that.” It took a couple of tries, but we executed it well enough to release and it’s been well-received because it’s different, adds visual value, and it adds aesthetic that you can feel and touch, but yet it’s not over the top.
One thing I’ve noticed that is really impressive is the leather sweatpants have the red accents and gold RiRi zippers. The detailing really stands out.
Rob: That’s something that came about at Black Scale. When we built that aesthetic we wanted it to be a minimal brand and not heavy on loud graphics, especially the cut and sew. No branding on the outside, we wanted the branding to rely on the details and the woven label. At Black Scale I was able to do that on a decent level, but now I’m able to do it where I don’t have to care if a zipper cost five or ten dollars. If a waxing treatment costs $15 bucks per tee, who cares let’s do it. Especially now, there really isn’t much branding on the outside so the details have to be well executed. They have to stand out because you don’t have your embroidery on the outside or a whole bunch of branding on the outside so people have to identify with those details to really remember your pieces.
Rob: Hedi Slimane is the best designer to me. I remember early Hedi at the days of Dior when he built up the denim program and had his darts and his scars on the jeans, and that was completely genius, it became his branding. I also use a lot of darts and seams on as many pieces as I can and RiRi zippers. RiRi is the Rolls Royce of fucking zippers. Honestly, I would never put anything else on my pieces because it just goes that much further, maybe people won’t know that it’s a RiRi zipper, but I think once they become educated they will, and then the people that do really appreciate it. I know that Wings and Horns has used RiRi out the gate and that line is so well received and appreciated. The RiRi zipper is made in Switzerland, and it’s the best zipper. I mean it’s probably the most expensive, but it is the best.
CurT@!n$: It’s the little details that matter more than anything. Like, just look at the detailing of the varsity jacket. Rob’s very detail-oriented. Anybody can make a black leather jacket, but how do you make a black leather jacket that looks ill? It’s through the details.
What stores are you looking to get En Noir in?
CurT@!n$: We’re focused on the website and we scored our first account. It’s a store in Miami called Apartment 606. It’s a new store opening up August 11. They have a pretty great brand list.
Rob: I have a wish list of stores but it’s like ten accounts, and some are so respected like Maxfield in L.A. I’m going to keep developing better and better pieces until I’m in there, but in the meantime, we’ll drive all the traffic to online. It’s really crazy to say but it’s really not about the money, the wholesale, or the accounts right now.
It’s really just about getting out these ideas and executing great pieces and kind of just throwing it out there to see what the reception is.
When it comes to dictating street fashion, it kind of feels like A$AP Mob has the crown now, do you think that’s fair?
Rob: I know for a fact that Rocky and A$AP Bari have been in this fashion thing for a long, long time. There’s a lot of these other Tumblr kids who maybe just started reading some stuff and can go drop a whole bunch of money and act like they’ve been on it for a while, but Rocky and all of them really have been in it, and they have somehow managed to pull a couple pieces here, a couple pieces there when they were growing up, and really start to jump into the fashion world. I think because it was so organic and so natural for them that they were really into it, that’s why they’ve been so well received and embraced by legitimate fashion people like Riccardo Tisci, Alexander Wang, and Raf Simons. I feel personally when Kanye first came in, of course he had great fashion sense, but I think it took him time to really get on that high-fashion level, whether it was influence or whatever, and I think that Rocky has just got that co-sign and embrace from that world much faster because it was natural for him. That’s really what he was into, it didn’t take anytime to grow, it was really just a matter of he’s been into it, now he has access to that. I think Bari might have seen pieces from En Noir early, and I ended up making Rocky some stuff, him and Bari have the whole tee shirt collection, I’m making Rocky some stuff as we speak. But having Rocky and ‘Ye wear it and actually like the stuff was really dope for me to know that I’m making things that two respected, fashionable figures really enjoy. Especially for a line that has no website yet. It’s not even in stores, it’s crazy.
CurT@!n$: When you walk around the street you see little Rockys, when you look on TV you see little Rockys, you look in magazines, you look online, you look at other rappers’ videos you see little Rockys. You have to give him the crown because of his influence. When Jay-Z was out saying “I don’t wear jerseys; I wear crisp pairs of jeans and a button up,” you walked in a club and you saw the effect of that lyric. So when I walked down the street and I see these kids and their gold teeth and their backwards snapbacks with T-shirts, jeans, and they got the Margielas — that’s Rocky, that’s a direct result.
Who do you feel like is moving fashion now? Is there an area or group of people that are impressing you?
CurT@!n$: Always the kids. Kids are always moving fashion because that’s tomorrow. I got a group of like fifteen sixteen, and seventeen year olds that’s like my little committee, and I go to them. I pick their brains, I see what they’re into, and they put me onto things, and that’s how I stay current. They’re just trying, they’re just experimenting. You look at somebody like Rocky who’s a young kid and is just like, “I’m going to wear Black Scale and I’m going to wear Rick Owens together.” Those are two worlds that usually wouldn’t be together, and he does it seamlessly. He’s like “I’m going to be in Vogue with this Black Scale hat on with a SKINGRAFT jacket with a Rolex on.” Young kids experiment. I see them all the time. They got BAPE with Margielas on. They’re not brand loyal at all. They’re not specific, they’re not like “nah, I’m a skateboarder so I only wear skateboard stuff.” I see kids skateboarding in Balenciagas. They’re just mixing and matching and trying to do their own thing. They don’t follow any guidelines.