Last week, a crush of people filled the courtyard of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, a breathtaking Renaissance palace in Florence, Italy. The line snaked around several Corinthian columns. Waiters, dressed in pristine white uniforms, served glasses of water and white wine on silver platters. But the crowd of editors, buyers, bloggers, and influencers weren’t here to visit what’s currently a museum and the headquarters of the Metropolitan Council. They were here for one thing, and one thing only: to attend one of four slots for 032c’s debut fashion show during Pitti Uomo, the biannual menswear tradeshow.
032c, the German culture magazine-turned cult streetwear brand, was forced to do three additional back-to-back shows for its first full menswear collection due to increased demand. “Originally, only one show was planned but there are still so many kids in the rain out there,” 032c founder Joerg Koch said after the third presentation, “so I was like, we have the Palazzo at our disposal until 10 p.m. We should get the kids in and show again.”
Staged inside the Great Hall of the building, where the ceiling is covered by frescoes by Neapolitan painter Luca Giordano, 032c’s show, titled “What We Believe,” was not like most traditional runway shows. A video of a group of men singing Savage Garden’s “Truly Madly Deep” was projected onto a big screen stationed at the end of the runway. There was a pole acrobatic dance performance. 032c’s friends and family, its editors, and dancers from Berlin, some of whom occasionally did contemporary dance moves in the middle of the catwalk, modeled the 20-piece collection. Inspired by the Black Mountain College, an experimental college in Northern California founded in 1933, the collection included sweaters emblazoned with 032c’s logo and Renaissance art, blue twill workers jackets and pants, bomber jackets, graphic T-shirts, rubber clogs with the support of Birkenstock, 032c-branded belt buckle, and leather garments for women such as a dress and pajamas.
“We tried to do this feature on the Black Mountain College three times in two years, but there are so many books on it already that we were never able to add to the story,” says Koch. “So instead we compiled this massive amount of research [for the collection]. The magazine’s editorial team operated as a research team for the apparel line. [My wife] Maria took a lot of the stuff she found interesting and brought it to life.”
The show was also narrated by 032c executive editor Thom Bettridge, who recited various manifestos about sex, generosity, politics, love, energy, experimentation, freedom, and fantasy over the piano version of Olga Scheps’ “One (Always Hardcore).” “We work with keywords a lot, and less with mood boards,” says Koch. “When you work with words, you can interpret them yourself and that’s interesting to us. So because this is our first menswear collection we felt strongly about using that as a baseline throughout the show.”
We’re not interested in the classic fashion establishment... That’s the beautiful thing about Supreme—they never changed the pricing of their T-shirts. For us, that’s the benchmark.
Joerg and Maria Koch launched the 032c apparel brand in late 2015. Since then they’ve collaborated with Gosha Rubchinskiy for an exhibition of the Russian designer’s photography, Stussy, and Moscow store KM20. Currently, the clothing is sold at some of the best retailers around, including SSENSE, The Webster, and Selfridges. It’s also been co-signed by everyone from Kanye West to millenials who may have never even picked up an issue of the 15-year-old magazine. “We are super-interested in that market though because these kids believe in something,” says Koch. “So we want to reach them. We’re not interested in the classic fashion establishment. That’s why our prices are low, and that’s obviously inspired by Supreme. That’s the beautiful thing about Supreme—they never changed the pricing of their T-shirts. For us, that’s the benchmark.”
But perhaps what’s most surprising is just how quickly the clothing line has become one of the buzziest names in fashion and streetwear—or how they were able to pack out four back-to-back shows at Pitti Uomo late last week.
Ryan Williams, menswear buyer at SSENSE, the first retailer to carry 032c apparel, was astonished at the number of shows the label wound up staging but, he says, the Kochs have earned that success. “The magazine has been at the forefront of culture for over 15 years,” he explains. “Their past issues range from publishing retrospectives on Raf Simons and Helmut Lang, editorials featuring the Kardashians, followed by their most recent Frank Ocean profile. Their perspective and taste translates to their clothing line very well and allows for a wide audience to appreciate and support it.”
Koch, however, is still amazed at how fast the brand has grown. “We are definitely surprised by the accelerated speed,” he says, with a laugh. “We just wanted to create something that would make people feel energized.”