Exclusive Interview – Rene Strolenberg of Tenue de Nimes (Pt. 2 of 2)
In a fleeting, sunny moment earlier this July, Heddels had the chance to sit down with one of Tenue de Nime’s founding fathers, Rene Strolenberg for a chat about denim, curating a store and the importance of fit on a bench outside Tenue de Nimes in the Amsterdam sun. This is the second part of our interview so if you haven’t already done so, check out Part 1.
RD: What do you look for when curating denim stock? How do you sort it so someone who knows nothing about raw denim can come in and find something?
RS: The philosophy behind the shop is that we have a jean for everyone. So if you’re 15 and a denim nerd (in a good way) or if you’re 55 or 65 and just looking for a good pair of jeans. Or a girl who is size 34, or a skinny size 24.
For men there are really three fits: skinny, straight and loose to keep it global. For women, there are flair, bootcut, different rises; low and high. The higher rise for one brand will be different from another, but we make selections from all of these. We want it so a guy can come in and ask for a skinny fit and we can offer maybe an 11 oz., a 16 oz., a light wash, a medium wash, etc. That’s how we try to select our brands.
There’s also the price level. But for everyone there’s something. In Europe right now, the skinny fit is taking off really hard. You see a lot of stores with almost all skinny denim, then a small bit of the rest. We can’t really do that though, then there isn’t enough room to move (no pun intended). With denim there are so many different tastes…fashion guys may go for skinny, a slow mover who knows what they like may just keep with loose because they’re used to buying it.
In the end, in the shop it’s important that we sell what fits you the best. I have girls coming in, thicker girls, saying they want a baggy fit with a low crotch. I say no. “Go to another shop and you can buy it, but we’re not selling it to you…” They maybe get a little mad, but the lower crotch will make your legs look shorter and your hips look wider. It may be the trend and they’d love to buy it, but figure-wise? No. So give me one good reason to sell it to you. I don’t stock those, I sell jeans that will actually fit you.
RD: So if there’s one thing you’d want to tell a customer when they’re looking to buy a new pair, what would it be?
RS: Well, mostly fit. But also, if you want to start with a dry denim, start with a denim weight of 12 oz. or less.
RD: From just a quick look through your stock you seem to have a great deal of brands with a history of great craftsmanship. Is that something you take a lot of care in going for?
RS: Yea, we like that. Take, for example, Red Wings. They’ve been doing their jobs for over 100 years. They really know what they do. That’s something we really appreciate. That’s not something we’re seeing in most brands. A lot of brands now though say they’re authentic, or vintage, or the real deal…I’m getting a bit tired of that. For us, make a nice product. We don’t need more than that.
RD: When you’re looking to do a collaboration, how do those come about?
RS: Call us strange ducks, but in the end all the business we do here, the brands we sell…we always like the people. We only want to buy things from people that are our friends. And the same is with the guys we collaborate with. We’ll go for dinner, go for a drink, we’ll have good times. Then things like that just happen. Because you share a passion.
Brandon Svarc (Founder of N&F) calls us up and says “I have this mass of a paper denim fabric, it’s made from PAPER! You need to see it.” On the other end of the phone its silent at first and then we’re like “F–k, f–k, send it to us! We need to do a collaboration!” In the whole atmosphere, things just are happening. It just exists.
RD: It’s really cool how that starts. Is there a lot of communication like that in the denim industry or is that something that you are one of the few that would be doing it?
RS: I don’t know. I see some really nice collaborations passing by, from different brands. Mostly its brands with other brands, not brands with shops. But we see it as something that should be inspiring for both parties. In the end we only sell 5-pocket jeans. Simple. If you need to keep on making things with a certain denim or fit thats important for everybody, you need to make that product stronger.
I think doing the collaborations makes the product better. We had the Broken Twill collaboration with Naked & Famous and it was one of our best sellers. Having been here for one-and-a-half years, sales might’ve gone down a bit. If we do a collaboration, we do 24 pieces, and people buy it. People start to really take notice of it again. That’s the funny part of the collaborations. But in the end, they’re just fun to do. You need a hobby right?
RD: With the collabs you’re doing yourselves, how do you do the fit?
RS: We’re working with a pattern maker, and we just complain. We complain and complain and complain. Its kind of funny, really…because its the same way we did the shop. We sat down and started talking about the shop. What it had to look like.
We sit down and relax and figure it out. There’s never any “We need to get it finished!”, or “This has to be here!”. It’s relaxed, we talk about it and things happen. And that’s how we’ve done it with the denim. We ask, “What do we like, ourselves?”
It’s simple. If you stand in a shop, the things you wear, yourself, when someone asks you about it, it’s like being in love. Like if someone asks about your girlfriend. You’re like “Yeah, great!” That’s the same feeling you should have with the denim when it’s finished.
That all being said, its mostly just me and Menno complaining…
RD: Why Amsterdam? It seem completely natural but how did you come to the decision?
RS: I’m Dutch man. I’m proud to be from Amsterdam. Why Amsterdam? I think this is the only city in Holland that we could have pulled this off. It’s difficult, my parents live in Lelystad, like a 45 minute drive from here, and when I’m back there, for birthdays and such, there’s people I grew up with who are in their thirties, saying I’m investing too much money into shops, telling me “Get some new jeans, those look so old and dirty! How much do you sell those for? 80 euros?”
They don’t understand. I think it’s the same with New York in the States, or London in England. It’s a different way of looking at things. Happily for us, because of the internet people are getting better informed. I have guys coming in now from up north explaining things to me about denim. Respect for all of them.
RD: So you’d maybe, one day, think about expanding?
RS: Yes, we’re actually opening a second Tenue de Nimes.
RD: You are? Where will that be?
RS: Amsterdam. (laughs) Here we only have 9 meters for women, we’ll actually have 90 meters for women at the new shop. Overall, it will be two-and-a-half times the space of this one. The only thing different is there we’ll show women’s jeans more. We’ll show other bits of merchandise too. This is our maximum… any more than this wouldn’t fit in the current store. We want to have a shop where we can really show things off.
It’s not about too many brands, either. Here I think I need less brands than I used to. But now I’m not really buying as many new brands. It’s more the ones we’ve had a while. But the chinos…In my perfect world I’d have a wall with just chinos. Here we don’t have the space to do that. They’re all over the place. Same with shoes, or polos. In the new shop we’re really going to show things off.
It’s funny, not only with work or studying, but as shop owners we have to really keep on developing. Our main group, the 35-year-olds, they’re now saying “Okay, we’ll buy the raw denim, but not with sneakers and flashy coat anymore. Instead, with a pair of Trickers and a blazer.” There’s been a lot of influence from Japan with this. It’s going to be a movement here soon. More guys dressed classy. More style. That’s reflected in the clothing we’re stocking but also interior-wise. The steelware in here is really thick, but the with times now, we think we’ll be able to make them smaller. Same with the wood, maybe not dry and raw but more varnished. With the new shop, we’ll even be selling some furniture. Some Eames.
RD: You must have the best time developing this, picking things out?
RS: You don’t even want to know. It’s like we’re living in one big candy store.
RD: You have the darning machine inside, do you do that yourselves?
RS: I can draw patterns and sew a bit, but only on a home sewing machine. This is a Union Special, so I’m getting lessons now. It’s about making adjustments to the machine so that yarn won’t break. Tougher than I thought…This is purely for the hemming. Bit of a tough one.
RD: Perfect, I think that’s all for us. What have you got on the rest of the day here?
RS: I’m off now to Dockers. Earlier we did Nudie Jeans, we did Lee…I’m trying to make my buying period shorter. Get everything done. If you plan a lot in one day you’ll go faster, and be more productive. I’m doing less and less fairs or buying now. We did a big trip to the Rose Bowl flea market recently, that made us really creative again. We want to do that more, more of that and less just buying, less fairs. Off to Bali tomorrow for holidays.
RD: Thanks so much, we really appreciate you taking the time to do this for us.