“We just had a great market in Paris, our busiest to date, and while we were in the security line at Newark Airport, we received a call from the Steven Kolb, the head of the CFDA, to tell us that we were finalists for the CFDA / Vogue Fashion Fund,” Laurence Chandler, co-founder of Rochambeau said while relaxing at Dune Studios in downtown Manhattan a few days before the brand’s Spring 2017 show. That news was the latest in a slew of big moves for the New York-based, streetwear-influenced brand, which will also be facing off against Pyer Moss, SECOND/LAYER, and Abasi Rosborough in this year’s International Woolmark Prize U.S. Regional finals. Couple those two nominations with a presence at this year’s Made LA Fashion event, a shop-in-shop at the new Harvey Nichols Men’s floor in London, having Nick Jonas and Justin Bieber spotted in it, and it would seem like the label is going full court press on the industry right now.
But this isn’t some two-seasons-in, hype-driven, brand explosion like we’ve become used to seeing from men’s fashion. Chandler and co-founder Josh Cooper have been building Rochambeau for almost a decade, citing their mutual love of sneakers and streetwear brands like SSUR and King Stampede as a starting point. Now, they are getting more than a bit of recognition. And they feel it may be about time. “I think it’s our persistence and our willingness to push forward and have conviction within ourselves,” Chandler said when asked why he thinks this is happening now. “There have been moments where it’s been a struggle and moments where brands have quickly surpassed us. There’s been moments where we felt we were being looked over or discounted, and it felt like no matter what we felt we had just done, it was just a blip on the general radar.” Those moments appear to finally be over.
In their Spring 2017 show, the designers’ love of sneakers was made evident in an exclusive collaboration that saw NIKELAB debut their Chalapuka sneaker on the runway. That style is due out next month. In the past few months, NIKELAB has worked with Christopher Kim of Louis Vuitton, Olivier Rousteing of Balmain, and Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy, putting Rochambeau in pretty cushy company of labels sourcing at least parts of their inspiration from the street. The main difference: Like fellow CFDA / Vogue Fashion Fund nominee Stampd, Rochambeau navigates a space that is decidedly not luxury, but increasingly not streetwear.
“I don’t know that we are streetwear, but streetwear is where we became fascinated with fashion,” Cooper explains. “Before we were doing Rochambeau, we were just experimenting, and it was the guys a little bit older than us in streetwear that we were looking to. People like SSUR, King Stampede—some of them aren’t even around anymore, but it was those guys who motivated us to go out to Red Hook and start screen printing T-shirts. Realizing that was a bit juvenile, we needed to learn how to make our own T-shirts and hoodies.” Now the label is doing more than that. Wednesday’s lineup, titled “Creatives in Exile,” featured hand-painted silk shirts and custom embroidered silk bombers, both products of a collaboration with the US-based artist Cody Gunningham. A coral short suit adds the brand’s first iteration of a blazer to their repertoire. It’s all a continuation of the brand’s effort to give a bit extra than can be found elsewhere
For a few seasons now, Rochambeau has prized the consumer’s interaction with garments above aesthetics. That means “added bonuses” like extra stash pockets inside of jackets, embroidery that only the wearer knows about, and high quality fabrics used for linings on simple crewnecks. The tactic makes the company’s retail partners like CLOT in Hong Kong and 424 in Los Angeles vitally important. “In a world where a lot of people are so much focused on the tech side of it, there’s clearly a tangibility to clothing,” Chandler explained. “There’s something to be said for our guy being able to go into the shop and try something on and realize this isn’t just a blank with a screenprint on it. This is a really well made garment, using very high end fabrics. There is value to that.”
The brand’s wares have brought on a bit of an audience. Influencers like Vashtie and Luka Sabbat were at the show, as were rappers Lil Durk and Rich the Kid. Rounded out with industry notables like Maxwell Osborne and Dao-yi Chow of Public School, Kolb, and Theory owner Andrew Rosen, it was a bit of a full house as U.S. Olympic fencer Miles Chamley-Watson walked the runway. The multi-sided support is key for the brand.
“Fashion is changing in that consumer dollars are becoming more important than editor opinions,” Cooper explained. Rochambeau’s consumer support is clear with projects like the Harvey Nichols shop-in-shop, which saw the capsule collection they created with London-based artist Freddy Tuppen sell out. “Since we’ve been doing this a while, we obviously want to make money, but we want validation from the people who have been doing this for the past 20, 30, 40 years. There’s a balance between editors thinking highly of us and people buying product.”
If this year has been any indication, that balance has been struck.