In Conversation with René Strolenberg | Tenue de Nîmes
by Yoeri Khyrian Jonker / posted on 29/07/2015
Praised by their one of a kind store concept, notorious with the young and the old for their gut-feeling and one of the most inspiring stories in denim history; in 6 years Tenue de Nîmes grew from a simple denim store to a lifestyle with cult following. From Japanese denim to fragranced candles and Alden boots, whether you’re 18 or 80 years old, Tenue de Nîmes will have what you’re looking for.
In this “In conversation with” we spoke with René Strolenberg, one of the two founding fathers of the Amsterdam denim nirwana, about his vision on the current denim landscape and what we can expect from Tenue de Nîmes in the future.
Where does your passion for denim come from?
I just think denim is a powerfully, beautiful thing. You know you’ve got something special when a garment can be worn by a president like Obama to the average joe that you meet on the streets every day. It’s a universal garment available for everyone, and next to that one of the few garments that – as you wear it more often – becomes more beautiful and unique. With time you’ll see that denim will start become the canvas to your lifestyle, and show the world what you do and who you are.
Do you, by any chance, still remember your first denim piece when you were young?
I’m not sure, but what I do remember is that my first worn-in jeans were the G-Star Raw US Lumber. I can vividly remember that, in the earlier years, the jeans still came with spray cans full of water with which you could spray the jeans in the places that were least comfortable. This way, they’d fade better.
By the way, most stores at that time only sold unsanforized denim, so since G-Star wanted to bring back raw denim, they decided to keep their dry denim extra dark. This way, if you saw them in the stores next to other brands, they formed a complete contrast in both colour and texture. This spawned people to ask what was so different about these jeans, thus creating popularity out of curiosity.
I still remember that I used to go to all these stores in the quest to find the rarest and most special jeans in the Netherlands. This resulted in a very diverse and special collection of jeans; it only took one small unique or special detail in the jeans for me to buy them
About the beginning of Tenue de Nîmes: it’s a well know story that you and Menno met at a party and on the spot came up with the thought of starting a store. Why did you eventually go through with it?
Well, if you’re hungry, you go to the supermarket and get what you’re longing for. With that same logic: we had an idea, we did it.
Would it be more difficult to open up a store like Tenue de Nîmes in 2015?
There’s a high probability that it was harder back then, because we had the whole world at our feet. I had worked at G-Star for 6 years as a sales manager, Menno just graduated, had graduated from several management studies and courses and could have gotten any job he wanted. And then there was the financial crisis; banks weren’t cooperating and there wouldn’t be any investors excited to take such a big risk. We borrowed money from our parent with which we opened a checking account at the bank to finance Tenue de Nîmes. Before we opened that store, we had security. It’s just that we were willing to trade that for doing something that would make us happy.
And why did you guys start Journal de Nimes?
When we opened up the store in 2008, we didn’t want to send out the cliche newsletters to the press saying that another denim store would open. We wanted to show them in some way that we were different, so we decided to send an online magazine to the press.
It’s marvellous to see how it’s grown from there. To start with a readership of 80.000 people was already great, but to launch a second issue that grew to a smashing 360.000 readers and that it kept growing was something we couldn’t have seen coming in our wildest dreams. These days we have no idea how many people read it, but it’s always nice to see the magazine read by people that you would’ve never expected to be interested in it.
What is it, aside from denim, that motivates you?
What I personally really love is that it isn’t the brands, but the crystal clear vision that attracts people to this store. It’s a wonderful thing if consumers feel themselves at home in your store, and I’m very proud of my staff because of that; they have their own characters and are different in their own right, but they all feel like this is their home. Sometimes you’ll walk into a store where the staff can act arrogantly towards the customers, just because they work for a certain brand. I feel proud that my staff doesn’t act like that at all.
Another thing that motivates me is that Tenue de Nîmes is entering a new era. For some time now we’ve been attempting to launch our own label. That’s also very motivating as we’re both not designers, both don’t know how to do it but are learning how to. It’s a big challenge, but that’s why it’s so satisfying.
Any goals you want to achieve with this collection?
What’s important to us is that we offer a product that isn’t contingent on contemporary fashion. People in the store need something to fall back on, and be able to blindly trust on what we create. And of course, for ourselves, it’s important that we offer products that we personally really love in the highest quality possible. We kept bringing out collaboration after collaboration, and we’re surely proud of those, but the demand for our own label kept growing.
Talking about these collaborations. How do these come to fruition?
That’s something that happens very organically. When everyone feels at ease in our store, you’ll build a connection with the consumer. The same happens with your suppliers. Sometimes you go and grab some food with them, and it’s a lot of fun, and then there’s a moment where someone says: let’s do something fun.
So how do you decide what you’ll sell and won’t sell?
The concept behind Tenue de Nîmes has always been that we sell a pair of jeans for everyone who walks in the store, whether you’re 15 or 50. This means that you’ll need a diversity in good products, so you’ll have to find a balance. The only thing that changed within the years is that these days people don’t only go to us for denim, but love us because of the lifestyle that we’ve built around it. We have a store on the Elandsgracht that’s more focussed on women, and the corner that used to be for Double RL on the Haarlemmerstraat has now grown to a Red Wing store; you react to what it is that the consumer needs, and you adapt to it.
Any brands that you personally really like at the moment?
I personally like Atelier Tossijn a lot. It’s a tailor made denim service, which means that you have to go to the atelier to develop a fit together and measure everything. I’m pretty specific about my fits, as you can imagine, so that’s a perfect solution. And then I also really like what The Real McCoy is doing, that’s a really fantastic brand. I guess there’s a lot of Japanese brands that are doing incredible things. For instance how Blue Japan and Momotaro run their company: they make their own denim, sell it on Kingpin and create all their products with that fabric. So it’s completely vertically integrated.
Funny that you mention it: in 2012 you mentioned in an interview that Japanese Denim is becoming the next big thing. How do you react to such changes in the market?
Like everything in the store has its own special place, the same goes for Japanese denim. But the same rules apply here: you need to find the right balance. At this moment we’ve got Blue Japan, Momotaro, Orslow Jeans, Big John and The Real McCoy, so at a certain moment you need to ask yourself how much Japanese brands will do the trick. When is it enough? So a while ago we decided to limit ourselves in the enthousiasm that we buy new Japanese brands. So quality above quantity.
After your own label, what can we expect from Tenue de Nîmes in the next few years?
There are a lot of dreams and goals that we still haven’t accomplished, and there’s a lot to still expect from us, but on this moment our primary focus is on getting our label out there, a dream that will become reality in a few weeks. Our first jeans will be available soon, and we’re also working on our first dress shirt. And that won’t be all.
Another dream that we both share is to bring Tenue de Nîmes across the border. It would be incredible if we could ever open another store in LA or Paris, but at the moment I’m afraid that these dreams will not become reality any time soon. Before we can start with the first chapter of that story, we’ll first need to finish the story that we started in Amsterdam. Our own label will be a very important paragraph in doing so.
Tags: amsterdam, Big John, Blue Japan, denim, haarlemmerdijk, haarlemmerstraat, interview, journal de nimes, Label, Menno van Meurs, momotaro, Orslow Jeans, Rene Strolenberg, store, tenue de nimes, The Real McCoy