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L'Homme Rouge

Award-winning designer label delivering a contemporary take on Scandi minimalism.

Edited by Robin Douglas Westling Written by Jimmy Guo

Stockholm/Gothenburg, Sweden — In 2010, John-Ruben Holtback started L’Homme Rouge as a reaction to the relentless culture of disposable fast fashion. After the unexpected success of a well-made knit beanie, he was joined by his friends Jonatan Härngren, Axel Trägårdh and brother Carl-Johan Holtback to build a fully fledged ready-to-wear menswear label. After two seasons of review-acclaimed shows at Fashion Week Stockholm, opening their first store and winning the prestigious International Woolmark Prize in Europe, L’Homme Rouge has quickly developed into one of the buzziest menswear labels in all of Scandinavia.

How did you guys meet and how did you decide to start L’Homme Rouge?

Carl-Johan: We’re all from Gothenburg. Me, John-Ruben and Axel all studied together at Lund University. We were quickly drawn to each other and shared a lot of references and interests about design and culture. During the summer of 2010 we gathered to make a knit beanie that John-Ruben wanted to do as a fun project. John-Ruben: My ambition was to study design after a few years at Lund. So this was a kind try-it-out project which apparently went a bit too well. Which led to me working in design in a different way than I first had imagined. Jonatan: A year or so into the beanie-project I got to know John-Ruben through mutual friends. At that point, I created a “mood” fashion film for L’Homme Rouge and we talked a lot about branding and both felt that I had some interesting points of view and dimensions to bring to the brand. There was simply more for us to discover, which led to a continuation of our collaboration.

You’ve said in earlier interviews that you want to change the conventions of menswear, how?

John-Ruben: If you look at womenswear, the spectrum of creativity is much greater. It’s inspiring to look at but also a frustrating reminder of how the evolution of menswear has lagged behind. In our design, we strive to push the boundaries of what menswear can be. We want to inspire men to style classic garments in new ways and to dress less conventional with fewer gender boundaries.

After your first show, you decided to open your first physical store in Stockholm. How come you chose to open a store in times when retail is so tough?

John-Ruben: L’Homme Rouge is essentially analog rather than digital. This makes the physical experience very important to us. The main purpose of the store isn’t to sell. It’s rather a platform and a space for interested customers to be able to dive deeper into our thoughts, collections, and concepts. The store changes the design for every collection. This spring had an ethereal “Green wave” vibe that was replaced in the autumn by punky young rebels with the Stompers collection.

Has Scandinavia and the Scandinavian culture been important to you in terms of inspiration?

Jonatan: The Scandinavian legacy is, of course, a part of our aesthetic and continually inspires us. But to reach new heights, it’s important to view yourself from an international perspective. Inspiration can’t be restricted, that’s not how we do things. Blindness was, for example, a very interesting subject that we worked on for the aw2016 collection, it was like an inner trip without geographical restrictions. The subject really raised a lot of interesting questions for me, considering perspectives I hadn’t thought of before. On the other hand, the concept we created for the Woolmark Prize was a collection based on traditional boat building on the Swedish west coast. Something very local and Scandinavian.

What do you think about Scandinavian menswear?

Axel: We’ve been good at it for a while now and Scandinavia has a solid representation out there in departments stores all over the world. It would be interesting to see more diversity and something more contemporary in Sweden. The average Swedish still man doesn’t like spending too much money on a garment, he understands the value if it’s made in Egyptian cotton but it’s harder for us to value exceptional design. Either way, we’re very commercial in Scandinavia so it would be cool if we could come up with a real fashion house on the men’s side.

You’ve been vocal about criticising the current fast-fashion consumption that defines the industry today. How do you view your role in this matter?

John-Ruben: The biggest issues in our industry are the poor wages, working conditions, and quality that the high-street chains produce. We all need to stop and ask ourselves how a wool sweater or a shirt can be sold as cheap as they are sometimes. At the moment, we’re working hard to ensure the highest possible quality for our garments. This we do by working with experienced suppliers in Europe. In the future, as our brand grows, we consider it to be our responsibility to educate customers to make more informed choices.