Journal de Nîmes no 6: The Dutch Issue

Two years ago, in the Nine Streets shopping area of Amsterdam, lifelong friends René Strolenberg and Menno van Meurs opened a store called Tenue de Nîmes. Like a lot of very hip retailers these days, Tenue de Nîmes is devoted in large part to denim — Nîmes, France being the fabric’s birthplace — and also like a lot of very hip retailers these days, it publishes a semi-annual magazine, this one called Journal de Nîmes. The shop has become widely loved for its expansive outlook and inventory (great denim doesn’t have to be Japanese!, it seems to say), and the magazine, while nominally a vehicle to promote brands sold by the shop, has also become, over six issues, something much more. This is due in part to its excellent art direction and photography, which come courtesy of Another Something blogger Joachim Baan, but also because of its simple, very Sight Unseen–like aims: to reveal the personalities and the stories behind how things are made.

The magazine, edited by Van Meurs, has centered its past three issues around countries with rich histories of craftsmanship, in denim as well as elsewhere: the British issue, the French issue, and with number 6, which is being released today, the Dutch issue. The new issue includes a look at Moos — a one-man denim shop in the eastern docklands of Amsterdam — a history of Spyker cars, articles on like-minded stores within the Nine Streets, a hand-drawn map of the city’s best offerings by Spanish illustrator Luis Mendo, and a Q+A, which we’re excerpting below, with Ad de Hond, brand director of Denham, another Amsterdam shop that devotes its passion to jeans. The questions are by Van Meurs, and the photos, taken at de Hond’s home, are by Baan.

10 Questions to Ad de Hond

Would you please introduce yourself, and tell us all about your background?
I have worked in the fashion business for twenty years. I started off at Mexx when I was twenty and was involved in marketing and PR and supporting the international sales of the brand. But after some time I realized it was not really my kind of brand and decided to move on. Nike had asked me if I was able to help them out expanding their operations in Europe, by setting up Nike stores here. So at first I asked them how an international business student with 5 languages could possibly be of use with something like opening Nike flagship stores. But they showed faith in me and they trusted my expertise and experience. I could have never expected I would stay there for 16 years. I started with the bottom line of what a Nike shop should be about. After that we designed shop-in-shop concepts and we basically investigated the Nike retail atmosphere — what it was supposed to be. I formed a team that really made things happen in that period. But in everything I do I need some creativity so by the time the project grew I was able to strictly focus on the creative side of Nike retail. So I became their Retail Design Manager. I was responsible for Niketown concepts and retail in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. After six months I became their Design director. By that time Nike took its first steps towards lifestyle and they needed a Brand Design director for Nike Sportswear. I did that for nearly 8 years. It concerns everything related to product design. So that means all trade shows like Bread & Butter, Pitti, shops – literally everything that concerns the lifestyle side of the brand. It was a great time. I learned a lot and I was able to see a lot of the world. Then eventually Nike asked me if I would consider a move to product. So the last two years of my career at Nike I was Global Creative director of Nike sportswear.

What is it that you do for Denham and how did you end up working there?
Well nearly two years ago Nike was going through an enormous reorganization and I had the choice to move to Portland (Global Nike H.Q. – ed.) and in the end I decided I did not want to go. So I quit. For nearly 6 months I did some private projects and after that Denham crossed my path and they asked me if I could come and work for them. I had known Jason (Denham, ed.) for some time because we were neighbors. So I asked them what they wanted from me, because at the end of the day I was Creative Director and Denham already had one with Jason himself. I became their Brand Director with retail, sales, PR and marketing as my major areas of focus. In terms of retail I am responsible for all the retail designs. Our last stores in London and Tokyo are good examples of my assignment at Denham. But I have to emphasize here that we are a very small team and together with Jason Denham and Liam Major (tops designer) we move along every new project. We use our own designs with antique finds. My job is to put everything in place, to make sure the right people work at the store and the best selection of our products is presented in the stores. The beauty of working in such a small and inspiring team is that you never do something on your own.

Did you have a feeling with the brand from day 1?
I’ve known Jason for a long time now and I have always followed what he does. I knew what he was able to do with denim and how passionate he is, so that was very tempting to become a part of. But you have to understand that initially I was meant to set up a private business. But the feeling I got at Denham was so extremely inspiring, such an energetic and young team – it was hard to resist. Besides the brand I was a big fan of Liam’s private projects. I was so impressed by his design philosophy and I found out that his thoughts were identical to my beliefs. He is always into detail, it’s all about real tailoring and choosing the right materials and colors to do it. I said to myself if I got to work with such a great team I would be crazy to refuse it.

Where does you love for denim come from?
I started working at a shop at the age of fifteen, which also marks the moment I started to collect denim. It was the time that the 501 made its comeback. From that moment on, jeans has always been a kind of extension of myself, although it would take me years before I started working with it again. To be honest I knew more about jeans when I worked at Nike than about sneakers in general. Because I grew up with Levi’s in the 80’s I have a never fading connection with the brand. It has always been one of my favorite brands to wear.

How many jeans do you have and what is your favorite pair?
As a jeans collector it will not surprise anyone I have around 70 pairs in my closet. But I always wear the same pair for some time. Sometimes though I get some old jeans from the top of the shelf and be nostalgic for a day. And of course, just like you do, I ask my tailor to customize one, every once and a while. 17 cm on the bottom and sharp it is (laughs). I guess that’s another example of combining old with new. You create your own updated style. I suppose this proves that I sometimes miss nostalgic details, true craftsmanship in contemporary design. There seemed to be less rubbish for sale in the past. Luckily some small brands have embraced the old fashioned kind of quality standards again.

I don’t really have a favorite pair though. If I had to, I would name three. First a nice vintage 501 from the fifties because it is more tapered than its counterparts. I really like my 501’s to be worn. I bought my first pair at a shop that was called America Today (not to be mixed up with the big chain store, ed.) who would only stock the real McCoy at Waterlooplein. They were the first to stock original American 501’s for 80 guilders. I would take the train from Zeeland to Amsterdam to get myself a new pair. In that same time I would travel to Paris to buy vintage Levi’s pieces. That is how I managed to get my hands on my first pairs of Levi’s Big E’s.

Next to my Levi’s I would have to say a nicely worn-in A.P.C. jeans is something that really pleases me. And lastly, a pair of jeans from our own line the ‘Great Slim’: a lovely kind of denim because it has a rather classic pattern, combined with a nice slim leg. This pair is best in a raw virgin Japanese selvage. Virgin means rigid here. Make it beautiful yourself. A concept that I really appreciate is the ‘Butler’ program by APC in which they let people wear-in their jeans and give them the opportunity to resell it again in the shop. By doing this, people who like to wear rigid are only able to buy a new pair at half price and people who do not have the patience to wear a rigid pair for so many months can buy a vintage (washed, repaired & ironed) pair.

We really admire your taste for the right products and you always appear immaculately dressed. How would you describe your style?
Let’s start by saying that I simply enjoy beautiful things and quality. It pleases me to combine old with new. I like to believe that I am a fan of classics and that can include modern classics as well. I am not particularly interested in fashion. It is so temporary. Especially now that I’m getting a little older I appreciate things that tend to last.

What does style mean to you and where do you shop?
That is an easy question. I like Antwerp a lot. And I really enjoy spending time in London, shopping in Tokyo and since not too long ago I really like New York again. If you asked me what these cities have, in comparison to Amsterdam. I would say: choice. And of course there is a certain kind of style for sale in every single city. But people copy a lot off of each other you see. So most of the things you see in Tokyo are based on, or taken from strictly American or European icons. But in these cities there’s just so much to see. That is very different in Amsterdam. It is impossible to shop here for an entire day. I am done in an hour. I visit a couple of stores and that is it. Next to that cities like Tokyo really add something new. The Japanese have such a powerful kind of taste in terms of quality, detailing and style.

One of the nicest aspects of the big cities is the number of interesting people that you see walking around. There is so much to see. For some reason it intrigues me a lot more to see what the people of large cities wear, than how the shops look where they buy their products. Again the secret is in the actual combination of different things.

You travel the world. What is your favorite city to be left alone in for a couple of days so you can spend some time in the best stores around?
That would be most definitely Amsterdam because of its liveability. I consider this city as a large suburb of London or New York. That quality level is available here. There is something casual to this city. Amsterdam has the charm of a village but the possibilities of a city. But you will always be able to get on your bike or take a nice walk and still be able to get somewhere. Nothing is to difficult here, it isn’t pretentious in any way. And I like that about it.

What would be your favorite retail stop in Amsterdam?
It will always be a nice combination of a few. You guys at Tenue de Nîmes have a great store were I can easily find the stuff I like and I believe Denham obviously unites a lot of my passions as well. But next to that I would really shop for second hand stuff in Amsterdam. Lady Day is one of the best vintage stores in the world. They have a certain level of taste that is really unique in the world. That is the environment in which I find things. And let’s not forget the Amsterdam Watch Company. It’s never a challenge to find my way in there (laughs). I love watches. But for instance for shoes it is a lot harder to succeed apart from the shops that I just mentioned.

If you would ever leave Amsterdam, where would you like to grow old?
Outside of Amsterdam? That is a hard one for me. I believe when one gets older he will need more and more entertainment. Or at least I do. I think my need for that will only increase so I would probably move to a larger city like Paris for its culture or New York because of its character. I would never survive in a small village or the countryside. I am afraid I would get bored in no time. But I still believe I will become old in Amsterdam.

“10 Questions for Ad de Hond” is excerpted from Journal de Nîmes no. 6: The Dutch Issue, with minor modifications to fit Sight Unseen’s format. Click here to read the entire issue online.