We’ve been fans of Arpenteur for a long time now. The first to stock their clothing in the UK, we loved their simplistic, contemporary take on classic French style the moment we locked eyes on it. From the colourful swing tags to the French production, everything about the label is bang on the money.
The arrival of their latest collection has brought with it an uplift in the weather and this combo has got us hankering for a game of pétanque in the sunshine – followed, of course, by a swift half of Kronenbourg. From lightweight cotton shirts to their knitted take on the classic Breton stripe tee, it’s clothing the way it should be done. We thought it high time to catch up with guys behind the brand, Marc and Laurent, to discuss Arpenteur’s origins, their dedication to quality and working collaboratively.
How and when did you both decide to create Arpenteur?
Laurent: We started the brand a little more than five years ago. Marc and myself got fed up with our previous jobs and quit by late 2010, working full time on the brand’s birth. While working on our debut collection, we met a person who had a workwear factory in Bordeaux incepted in the 1950s by his father (now closed unfortunately). He liked our concept and helped us to find our first fabric suppliers and factories. He was a major help to the brand in the beginning.
What was the inspiration behind the brand?
Laurent: When we started, we had this project in our minds for a bit. The main point was to create a menswear brand, inspired by understated details of French clothing culture, that encapsulated simple designs we could wear on a daily basis. The same idea remains today but our inspirations since then are numerous and can come from the elderly in our neighbourhood, to a vintage piece of clothing, or merely from one of the existing styles we wish to update.
Do you have a particular person in mind when designing your collections?
Marc: Not really. It’s more about combining fabrics we wish to wear with the best styles possible. But we can imagine a whole collection by thinking of a place in a specific context, time or atmosphere. For instance, the concept behind our SS14 collection was to recreate the feeling you could get when entering a “comptoir marin”, an old store on the Brittany sea shore where you could find clothing, fishing apparel, accessories etc. There used to be plenty of them, but now most of these stores are gone unfortunately.
We’ve noticed that you are heavily influenced by French and Belgian comics. As well as your clothing of course, we at Peggs & son are fans of the cartoons on your swing tags. Can you tell us a little bit about those? Does your love of comic book characters influence your designs?
Marc: The comic book identity we use is called “ligne claire” in French. It was actually invented by Hergé, who is from Belgium, but many French people adopted his aesthetic. We work with Régric since the very beginning. We had our first illustrations before our first samples!
We see the clothing first and then think of the best way to accompany them with spot-on illustrations. This “ligne claire” style is close to Arpenteur as it’s all in the detail (very precise, never blazing, quite classic but easy to reinvent). But they are two different medias to illustrate the same philosophy.
It’s great to see French culture feature so prominently in your clothing. I know you are based in Lyon, and that your factories are based locally. Is it important to you that they are produced in France?
Laurent: Yes, it’s very important. It’s been part of the brand’s DNA since day one. Our aim is to reproduce the French spirit of these tacky or pared-down vintage pieces we collect and the way they were made is a major component. We could work with factories abroad and get good quality there, yet knowing the people operating the machines, and being able to visit them every week, is compulsory for the desired result.
It must be quite an effort to find manufacturers to produce all the different styles, how do you get around this problem?
Laurent: It can be an issue, as our designs sometimes depend on a specific knowledge we need on one style. We actually travel a lot in France to constantly meet new people. Sometimes factories or suppliers can recommend a colleague with a different knowledge. We take the car and pay a visit as soon as possible! Even if we don’t work directly work with people we just met, we keep their techniques in mind for future designs.
What have been the inspirations for the SS16 collection?
Marc: The SS16 collection was more casual than the previous ones. We used fabrics with lighter weights on our iconic styles. We used plain navy and white and balanced them with Evian blue (inspired by the colour of Evian bottle tops!) and deep green from the Lacoste crocodile. We also introduced the Rachel cotton fabric to our t-shirts and polos – it’s the same material the French Navy utilised for decades on their “marinière”.
Do you both have a clear vision together as designers, or do you ever have to compromise ideas?
Marc: Fortunately, we do have a clear vision of the brand and scarcely argue on a design! A major part of our work for Arpenteur is to make choices on numerous small details for each style: the right size of a pocket, the stud or zip puller we use etc. All of these must be selected to get the most well-balanced product in the end and if we didn’t have a common vision, I guess the brand would had stopped on collection number one!
Do you have a favourite item that’s stood out to you over the years?
Laurent: The Villefranche jacket has probably played that part since the beginning. It is very easy to dress it up or down and the variety of fabrics you can make it from completely transforms its perception, changing one style into multiple.
So there you have it. Many thanks to both Laurent and Marc, not only for taking the time to do this interview, but also for creating Arpenteur in the first place. Be sure to check out the Arpenteur collection in full either in store or online.