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.
Rene has a wealth of experience with, and a real passion for raw denim. You can tell in the way he speaks about a new pair of jeans like a girlfriend he’s deep in love with – the man would probably bleed indigo. The following is a transcript of our conversation.
RD: So Rene, what is raw denim to you?
RS: For me, my first pair of dry denim I had – at that first moment I really didn’t know what to do with them. It’s uncomfortable, it’s hell, fit-wise, and you don’t know what to do around light furniture. There’s really nothing good about it at first.
People buy it from us now, but I can’t say one good thing about it in the first place. But after wearing it -wearing and wearing – it becomes your second skin. That whole process of aging, it’s crazy. You see that it went from a workwear jean to Obama. Yet, it’s always still the same 5 pocket. You don’t see that in any other clothing, not in shirts, not in jackets, nowhere. But dry denim…You can wash it after a week, you can wash it after a year. The effect is always different with each pair of jeans. It gets you hooked.
RD: What inspired you to start the store? What brought you in originally?
RS: Well, for myself and my partner in crime (Menno van Meurs), denim is our passion. Since we were 14-15 years old, starting to work part time in a shop, we both worked for Bendorf. I worked for the Bendorf here in Amsterdam – a jean shop – and he worked for Mode d’Emploi in Den Haag, same owners. One of the first staff parties, we met and we were getting drunk and we said to each other “Okay, when we get older we will start our own jeans heaven!” and that was 15 years ago, we just did it.
RD: Do you have any background in this, or has most of your experience been working in the shops?
RS: I lost track of Menno for a longer period of time. We both started off in the shop. I was always more a guy for doing everything, and Menno was the studying guy. So Menno did communicative marketing and got his masters and everything that you can imagine; he got it. I went from part-time to full-time, full-time to assistant, and assistant on. And that’s how I carried on until I stopped working in the shops and started working for G-Star for almost 7 years.
After that it was, for both of us, a new period of time in which we needed to do something with our lives. Menno was done with his studies so he could choose to work with a really big international company, 9-5, and that’s it. But the blue blood streamed, so we started talking again. Started to work it out. And that’s how it happened.
We had a little irritation, it’s one of the most sold clothing articles in the world. But if you see how bad the communication is about jeans in shops…like if you buy a suit they measure it, but if you buy jeans it’s just like “Here’s some sizes, try them on…”.
RD: About that, you’re different from a typical denim retailer in that you’re really focused on the denim, itself. You seem to have an attention to detail unlike many others.
RS: It’s just simple as life is. It’s not that we’re doing anything different – this is just how it’s supposed to be. We don’t really see it as a good thing, we just see it as normal. If you go to a good restaurant where you pay a good price, you get good food. That’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s the same as what we do.
RD: I’ve often heard people saying they can’t get past the first steps in breaking in new pairs, but it seems to be less of a stumbling block recently. Have you noticed a trend toward more people wearing raw denim overall?
RS: In my level of shop I see that there are places focused purely on raw denim. We try to explain the story of raw denim to customers, showing them the different weights of denim and such. We sell up to a 32 oz from Naked & Famous, or we sell a 12 oz. broken twill, where if you try it on a couple of times it already feels great.
So what’s easy for us is that most shops that try to sell raw denim by offering the premium things right away. It’s like riding a bike for the first time, you should start with the training wheels on before you ride on just two wheels. I think that you should judge the denim similarly. Start with a lighter weight fabric. Buy a 10 or 11 oz, maybe even a rinsed quality.
RD: Have you tried the 32 oz? I was playing with it a minute ago, it can stand on it’s own…
RS: Yeah, but I think you’re a sick f–k if you buy it. When I was younger, the newest fits, newest models, that was really important for me. I had a period then where the fabrics were really important for me, a Cone Mills denim, or a certain kind of denim. But I’m back now to really basic. I need a jean that is my fit. I don’t care if it’s a 12 oz or a 16 oz, as long as whenever I put it on I get the feeling that this will be my jean for the next one and a half years.
That’s how I try to explain it as well in the shop. If you buy dry denim, buy something that you know for sure is right. It’s going to be on your ass for a year, so you’d better like it. The way it feels, it may be too tight but it’ll be your next baby.
I have customers coming out of the fitting rooms here for example, they take in four pairs of jeans, they try one on, come out, won’t even look in the mirror. You see their face, you tell them to just go try the next one on. They come out again, go back in. They didn’t even look in the mirror. They come out with the third one looking almost relieved. Then you know this is the one, you can tell them to look in the mirror. “How did you know!?”, they say. It’s their face. They can feel that this is it. That’s how we try to sell it in the shop.
RD: You’re saying, for you it isn’t so much anymore about the fabrics. What is it about the fit that you go for?
RS: It’s really all about fit. For me I’m wearing Tellason right now. I have a bit of a butt for a Dutch guy. Most denim will go a little open, but Tellason has a bit of curve in it so it fits me perfectly. At the moment we’re busting our balls, working on our first prototype for Tenue de Nimes. Because we’ve had so many different denims in our hands for the last years, it’s been really tough hunting for perfection. That’s been really hard. It’s been in the works a long, long long time now. But we’re really far. I look forward to that.
Stay tuned for Part 2…