MALMÖ, Sweden — Coolness, like obscenity, is hard to define — you know it when you see it. Hannes and Simon Hogeman — the two brothers who co-founded Swedish menswear store Très Bien in 2006, along with childhood friends Jakob Törnberg and Björn Linden — are definitely cool.
It’s not uncommon to see the business’s two frontmen in street style photos by Tommy Ton, dressed in a uniform of long wool coats, paired with toques or baseball caps, sunglasses, slim trousers and the kind of trainers that excite sneaker enthusiasts, like Nike Air Force 1s and Air Jordan IVs. The look reflects the distinct blend of sneakers, streetwear and high fashion at the heart of Très Bien’s business, which is projected to generate about €4.5 million (about $5.6 million) in 2014, according to the company.
When Très Bien opened, “menswear was kind of new — to the bigger crowd at least,” says Simon Hogeman, clad in a black t-shirt and beanie, at the company’s office in Malmö, Sweden. Très Bien’s four co-founders first opened their shop, also in Malmö, amidst a Scandinavian fashion renaissance that saw the rise of brands like Acne, Our Legacy, Norse Projects and Han Kjøbenhavn. They did it with what Hannes Hogeman, dressed in a simple black hoodie, says was a “ridiculously small amount of money.” The Hogemans had worked at international sporting goods retailer InterSport and saved up about €35,000 to €40,000 for the new venture.
“It’s run by us; it’s financed by us,” underscores Simon, who says the fact that they have no external investors gave them the creative freedom to curate a particular high-low mix which they didn’t invent, but have honed, perfected and made their signature.
Indeed, it’s not uncommon to see Très Bien customers wearing a wide spectrum of brands, pairing Dries Van Noten coats with Carhartt beanies, or Margiela sneakers with Our Legacy trousers. Tees, caps and knits by rider-run skate brands like Palace Skateboards and Bianca Chandon are also fast sellers. “We have a customer buying everything from Nike to Margiela,” says Hannes. “The styling has always been a big, big thing — how we mix and match different types of brands and try to present it the Très Bien way, instead of, like, how the brands want you to portray it,” adds Simon.
Recently, Très Bien posted an image on their blog of Simon Hogeman at the Raf Simons showroom in Paris wearing a double-breasted camel topcoat from the Raf Simons Sterling Ruby collection, paired with Nike Air Force 1 sneakers and a white hoodie from up-and-coming Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy. “We were interested in all those brands in 2005, but we aren’t the typical department store customer,” says Hannes, “and, honestly, we’re too scared to walk into a super nice Dries shop and feel comfortable.” Très Bien aimed to close that gap between the intimidating world of high fashion and the streetwear-savvy men who were increasingly drawn to it.
Shortly after opening a physical shop in Malmo, Très Bien launched an e-commerce site, tapping what Hannes calls the “unexplored territory” of the Internet. “Menswear online was kind of non-existent ten years ago,” he says. “No one was really thinking about putting stuff together. At that point, everything going on online was very standardised — ‘this is what we have, come buy what we have.’ We wanted to build our own world.” The online business grew swiftly and, a year and a half ago, Très Bien closed its physical shop to become a pure play e-tailer.
Sneakers have always been a key part of the business. Hannes estimates that footwear comprises about 30 percent of sales. Très Bien has been selling Common Projects since 2006 and is also one of Nike’s elite ‘Tier Zero’ stores, meaning they sell the brand’s most limited-edition footwear. When Nike released the Kanye West-designed Yeezy 2 sneakers in 2012, Très Bien was one of the few shops that carried them. Unsurprisingly, the hype surrounding the release caused their website to crash and Simon says he still receives e-mails about the shoe to this day. “I think Nike likes us because we’re not like the traditional sneaker store, we bring in something that no one else can,” he says.
In recent years, the fashion and sneaker scenes have crossed wires like never before. “A lot of fashion people have approached the sneaker scene and the sneaker crowd did the same thing and approached the fashion scene,” says Simon. “There’s a nice little melting pot that’s basically exploded the last couple of seasons.” He believes Très Bien has played a big role in creating this and sees the designer sneaker category as a “gateway” to high fashion brands for many guys. “It’s easier to get connected with a brand through a clean sneaker than a furry coat or a €600 shirt,” he explains.
Très Bien grew out of their first office space “pretty quick,” says Simon. Today, their headquarters remains in Malmö, but takes up a 10,000-square-foot space that functions as a warehouse and office, as well as a design studio for the brand’s nascent foray into its own products. “We took on the plan — that we always had in the background somewhere — that we want to be an international fashion house all over the world,” explains Simon.
Back in 2010, Très Bien launched a venture with Swedish brand Our Legacy, starting with a temporary store called Welcome, which sold limited-edition items from Our Legacy, alongside a smattering of goods carried by Très Bien. The shop shuttered in 2011, but Welcome evolved into a brand developed in collaboration between the two companies, which went on to launch its first collection in 2012, mixing streetwear staples like coaches jackets, graphic sweatshirts, and tees with more formal items like topcoats, albeit infused with sporty mesh fabrics and camouflage patterns. The partnership was established “without a lot of rules and without a lot of budget,” according to Simon, but was a first step towards doing their own collections.
Last season, Très Bien took the plunge and launched a sunglasses line called Sun Buddies, priced between €125 and €145 per pair and sold at 30 elite stockists, including Dover Street Market, Opening Ceremony, LN-CC, Copenhagen’s Storm and RSVP Gallery, the Chicago store co-owned by Off-White designer and Kanye West’s creative director Virgil Abloh. (By Spring 2015, the line will have 120 global stockists.)
In April 2014, Très Bien also debuted the company’s first in-house fashion collection, which was sold exclusively on their website. The 13-piece collection featured core streetwear items like graphic print hoodies, elongated t-shirts and a sweatshirt with an open bottom. Très Bien’s signature mix was very much in evidence in items like woven shirts with a dual zip placket, a minimal parka made from technical fabric and a lightweight unconstructed topcoat.
“We definitely want to be considered as more of a fashion brand than an e-shop doing their own line,” says Hannes. Simon adds that the composition of the clothes matters enormously — down to the feel of zippers — because while the brothers admit to being super picky about production and materials, their customers are just as discerning. “We only use Japanese and Italian fabrics, Super Lampo zippers — the most expensive zips — and Cobrax buttons,” explains Hannes. “We’re trying to bring out product that will make people think that we over-achieved.” Their Fall 2014 collection, which launches next week, is much bigger than their Spring offering. “I feels like basically something we’ve been working on for almost ten years and now we’re able to present it, scaled down to fifty items,” says Simon. The outerwear-heavy collection includes leather bombers, wool cashmere coats and army parkas.
But it’s not easy for a menswear retailer with streetwear credentials to be considered a serious fashion house. “Fashion has been locked up for like a hundred years,” acknowledges Simon, before adding that the lines between “streetwear” and “fashion” continue to blur. He cites designers like Virgil Abloh and Shayne Oliver [of Hood By Air] as a “real and significant part of what’s going on [in fashion]. No one knows where it’s gonna stop.”
“All that scene has helped us grow as a brand, that’s for sure,” says Simon, referring to the Internet-fuelled niche menswear scene where streetwear and fashion increasingly converge and sites like Hypebeast drive desire for everything from limited-edition sneakers to Balmain biker jeans. Indeed, menswear has turned a corner and consumer tastes have become more eclectic to the point where it is no longer far-fetched to visit a menswear blog and see a Rick Owens look juxtaposed with a Supreme sweatshirt.
Of the €4.5 million in revenue that Très Bien expects to generate in 2014, about 20 percent can be attributed to the nascent Très Bien brand, along with the Welcome and Sun Buddies brands, with the remainder coming from the company’s online multi-brand retail business.
The Hogemans have no plans to open wholesale accounts for the Très Bien brand, though they do plan to establish a physical flagship in time for the Fall 2015 season and have found a suitable location in Stockholm. “We want to present in nice environments [that we can control],” says Simon. Indeed, as Très Bien grows from retailer to nascent brand, one thing hasn’t changed. “We’ll always be super picky, like we’ve always been.”