The problem that many heritage brands face today is how to make their products relevant outside of the current trend for back-to-basics that have many brands flogging tradition as their biggest asset. Carhartt, an American workwear company founded in 1889, came up with a solution to this problem ages ago. By letting an European company first license and import the workwear clothes, then allowing them to design and manufacturer new styles inspired by the classic garments worn by US farmers, steel workers and lumberjacks, the company has not only managed to please everyone but also to push an ancient brand to the forefront of contemporary style.
Today, with a new store opening up in East London, Carhartt Work In Progess not only makes simple, qualitative and functional clothes, but also collaborate with high end fashion designers like Adam Kimmel and A.P.C. These brands are attracted to Carhartt's tradition and heritage, and Work In Progess' understanding of contemporary sartorial needs. Having launched in Europe in the mid-Nineties, Edwin Faeh early on understood that the European audience adored Carhartt but needed a modified version to fit their needs; new fits, colours and shapes. The 'new' Carhartt was quickly picked up by musicians and became part of an urban youth culture.
In the last few years, Carhartt Work In Progress has seen its transformation into a youth-focused lifestyle brand go even further as Faeh's young nephew, Arnaud, has come onboard to steer the ship in the right direction as creative director. Taking not only a direct interest in the much appreciated designer collaborations, but also fine-tuning Carhartt Work In Progress main line collections, Arnaud has managed to position WIP as a brand that knows why it designs in a certain way, has a reason for using certain fabrics and knows what cuts are ideal for its customers. This knowledge comes a) from the extensive Carhartt archive but b) also from Arnaud being the customer himself, knowing what his peers expect. This has nothing to do with fashion... that's called style because quality, heritage and traditions outlive fickle fashion trends.
Dazed Digital: What's the difference between Carhartt and Carhartt Work In Progress?
Arnaud Faeh: Carhartt Work In Progress comes from Carhartt, the American label. It's the same brand but two different companies.
DD: How do you mean?
Arnaud Faeh: We started out as the European branch of Carhartt. My uncle took the brand to Europe as part of a licensing deal. He imported the brand from Detroit in the mid-Nineties. But there was so much going on here at the moment in terms of music and urban culture that the brand took off, and they started manufacturing garments over here.
DD: So the American Carhartt let them carry on developing Carhartt Work In Progress... what would you say are the main differences between the American and the European versions of Carhartt?
Arnaud Faeh: It's a bit like with the pick up trucks that Ford makes for the American market. They don't sell over here so Ford makes different kind of cars for the European customers. In terms of Carhartt, in the beginning it was only the colour that changed. They added red and navy. But mainly it's the fit, cut and fabrics that are different.
DD: So how did you get involved with Carhartt Work In Progress?
Arnaud Faeh: My dad ran a denim company and I used to go there everyday after school between the age of 12 and 17. I helped with denim washes and looked at fabrics. Then, when I went to Florence to study fashion design and marketing, I travelled up to Milan to see an exhibition and I bumped in to my uncle who was sponsoring the event! We spent some time together there and a few days later he called me up.
Later he invited me to Basel to come and work for him... I left school straight away and went there! For two years he took me with him and showed me everything. Then, when I started questioning the marketing and the collection, he was like 'do it yourself!' and there we are. That was about two years ago.
DD: Are you also involved with the collaborations, like A.P.C. and Adam Kimmel?
Arnaud Faeh: The Adam Kimmel collab actually came through from the American Carhartt, but Jean from A.P.C. is a good friend of mine. We met when we both opened up stores next to each other in Stockholm...
DD: How do they evolve?
Arnaud Faeh: It's all very organic... it's not about contracts and numbers. You need to like the people, we get along. It's all about what we feel and what's right there and then!
DD: So tell us about the London store...
Arnaud Faeh: It's our third but it's nice to come back to East London where we had retail presence years ago. But back then there was no brands like us selling clothes here, so now it's like the circle is closed.
DD: You've made special T-shirts with Neigborhood and umbrellas with London Undercover...
Arnaud Faeh: Yeah, I figured what can be more British and suitable for London than an umbrella!
Carhartt Work In Progress
191 Shoreditch High Street
London E1 6HU