Talking (sub)culture with April77 and Satisfy founder Brice Partouche
Bringing Cult into Running Culture
In 2001 Brice Partouche became a prominent name (without ever stepping into the limelight) in the so-called ‘rock era’ in fashion when he founded Paris-based jeans brand April77, which played a pinnacle role in bringing the slim silhouette in menswear from the stages of pop venues and runways to the streets of the mainstream. Last Summer, Brice presented a new project named Satisfy, this time infusing a new cultural elan into the perfect, performance orientated, world of running gear. Inspired by Partouche’s new exciting endeavor, with the second collection in stores at this moment, we gave Brice a skypecall —fresh out of the shower after his evening run— to ask him about his love for running, the differences between starting a brand now and 15 years ago and what his plans are with his subversive new movement in athletic gear.
How was your run? I don’t know why, but I figured you were a morning runner…
I used to be a morning runner, but as we opened a coffeeshop named Ob-La-Di a year ago —which opens at eight o’clock— I really like to start my day there with a coffee. If I would run before then, that’s just too early, I wouldn’t be able to do that.
When did you start running?
Actually, it was only three years ago that my girlfriend introduced me to it. I fell in love with it from that very moment. I was a music guy before that and even though I was going to the gym regularly, I never really liked it. I just thought that I wasn’t a sports person. When you are a teenager you kind of have to choose between doing sports or music and I played music. Therefore was I never a big fan of sports. Especially team sports, which I really hate.
To me running is not really a sport though, it feels more like meditation. Now I regret that I haven’t started earlier in my life.
Next to talking about Satisfy, I really appreciate to be given the chance to talk to you because of the fact that in my mind it really meant something when April77 took the world by storm. I discovered the brand somewhere around 2006, at Traders Pop in Maastricht, which must have been one of the very first retailers in The Netherlands.
I remember that period particularly as my personal interest in fashion came to life with the introduction of the slimmer mens silhouettes, in Raf Simons’ and Hedi Slimane’s collections from the beginning of the century and you guys came right after them, bringing that particular look to the streets. It’s almost unthinkable now that skinny jeans used to be a niche style, which the big fashion corporations didn’t even produce.
After some years the so-called ‘rock era’ in fashion slowly faded away from 2008 on, and what clearly did change since then is that a lot of the young people who used to buy April77 in the early years —you referred to the April77 buyers as ‘someone who loves music’— are replaced by young people that have much less of an intrinsic connection with music. Do you also feel that changed?
Of course. It really did. April77 was a brand of a generation. In 2006 the internet was big, but it was still very different than today. At that time one would still wear a Metallica shirt and actually listen to their music. It was silly if you didn’t. Today that’s obviously completely different. People don’t really care, as long as it looks cool, it’s fine. I respect that of course, I don’t care. But back in 2006 when you would wear skinny jeans it would be just cool, regardless of your body type or whatever, it was just cool because what it represented. That has changed completely. Fashion became more based on hip hop, sampling has become the mode in which people put things together. People appropriate themselves based on different cultures, but the overhauling culture became global through the internet, therefore it’s now all about bricolage, which took away a lot of the representational qualities cloths used to have.
Do we still have subcultures now a days?
The internet killed the underground. That’s also fine of course, but therefore I really don’t think we now a days have relevant subcultures, although some people still seem to think so. In my eyes the essential part of a subculture is that it’s invisible for most people, and everything is about visibility now. And I’m not saying everything was better in the past, don’t get me wrong, I have no intention of being that person. I also can’t deny that I’m not young anymore, having been born in 1977 — when we started with April77 in 2001 it was very important for us to be part of a youth movement. Today is just a completely different context.
The internet killed the underground … I really don’t think we now a days have relevant subcultures, although some people still seem to think so. When we started with April77 in 2001, it was very important for us to be part of a youth movement.
Internet culture is a mashup culture and essentially, as a form of expression, that’s not different from what we did when we were young. Taking corporate logos and twist them into something with an opposite meaning. The difference is that there was always a strong, often political, message behind those earlier mash ups. Today I don’t really see the message behind what people are doing. It just starts and ends with the aesthetic element: as long as its fun and looks good. I don’t see any political message. The only message I can actually read is just a big ‘fuck you’ to the world, but as I’m an old fashioned guy —I still buy my music and films out of respect for the maker— it might just be a new language which I don’t fully understand. It really fascinates me though.
Do you still listen to new music?
The only new music I buy is heavy metal, as I’m a big fan. I also listen to a lot of old stuff, but to be honest, I haven’t listened to all the things you have to listen to according to the blogs: artists like Frank Ocean. That’s just not me. Next to buying vinyls I stream my music on Spotify and iTunes like everybody, just not those new things.
Are there still cool new heavy metal bands coming up?
Yes, definitely. What I like about them is that they often aren’t even on iTunes or Spotify. They have a Bandcamp and their fans support them directly. A lot of great bands are making incredible music today and most of them still put beautiful vinyls out. There is still a lot going on, I feel.
What was your vision for April77 when the so-called ‘rock era’ started to fade away from 2008 onwards?
We were still doing what we had been doing, and still do today. Focus on great jeans and classic items. What I have always wanted to do with April77 and even want to do with Satisfy: I don’t want them to be fashion brands, I want them to be product brands. So if we do jeans, I want it to be classic, timeless jeans, that will be still cool in 10 years. I wanted to stay away from trends. Also with Satisfy I’m aiming to make great products that are beyond trends.
When did the idea for a running brand start to materialize in your mind?
Well, when you are in the middle of a run, you don’t really have much else to do than contemplating and meditating. I basically designed the complete first collection in my head while running. Back home I would draw out some sketches of what I had in my mind and start thinking about practical things, for instance where to integrate some system for your iPhone, so you can listen to music. Little by little it came to life. I knew about fabrics, I knew how to produce clothing, the whole industry and production process.
The hardest part is just to go ahead and do it. Make it happen. Doing a brand now in 2016 is very different than 16 years ago. It is definitely more challenging, as there is just so much more fashion out there, which at the same time makes it more interesting too.
Satisfy is about the individual, as skateboarding is too. It’s about meditation. It’s about expressing your individuality.
With April77 you were an integral part of that mentioned (sub)cultural movement. What about Satisfy, I feel that running has become a stronger, more diverse culture in the last 5 to 10 years. What are your thoughts on this?
Aprill77 was a real street brand, it came from the streets and was made for the streets. It wasn’t digital in any way. That was the reason why we achieved this level of cultural following, I believe. It was real. At the start, when someone would wear our jeans and would see someone on the streets with them, there was that connection. Similar to how it was when wearing a certain band t-shirt.
Looking back at technical things and fabrics, things haven’t changed all that much in the last 10 years. There was some innovation of course, but it’s the context that radically changed. A piece of clothing has to not just feel good, it has to also look good in an Instagram square too. The job of the designer changed a lot because of that.
Running has been a strong cultural element for quite some decades now. Now it represents a healthy athletic life, but at the beginning it was a lot about rebellion: girls, for instance, weren’t even allowed to run in the sixties. They couldn’t wear short shorts or a hoody, they weren’t allowed to race. That’s one of the things I really value in running, for me it still represents rebellion. Similar to skateboarding and surfing. That’s what I want Satisfy to represent. A brand like Nike, which I really respect of course, has strictly a performance ethos. It’s about being in it together, everybody is happy, everyone is an athlete. Satisfy is about the individual, as skateboarding is too. It’s about meditation. It’s about expressing your individuality.
If sports are to be compared with music, running would be heavy metal. Heavy metal is also not a genre of music which you share. You can’t dance to it together with your friends. It’s about the individual. I’m trying to communicate with Satisfy as if it were art, responding to an existing context —in this case running— from my individualistic perspective.
The products are made for performance, of course, you can’t get around that when you are doing running gear, but as a brand I really want to bring something new. Similar to what we did with April77. With Satisfy I want to represent those runners who don’t want to look like their dad, running in weird fluorescent colors. I want it to be cooler than what’s out there.
What did you wear when you started running three years ago, before Satisfy existed?
Nike shoes, vintage short Nike shorts and crooked sleeveless band t-shirts. I used to have glasses and way shorter hair then. When I started to run, having glasses was a pain in the ass, so I had my eyes lasered. That made running a lot easier and that was also the reason why I grew my hair out, as I have it today.
The same as with April77, I don’t really see myself as a fashion designer. I just want to create things which I would wear myself. That’s also what I’m doing with Satisfy. I create, strictly from what I am myself and the things I like. I couldn’t find those things in the world of running brands yet. The cultural roots beyond just performance was missing.
With Satisfy I want to represent those runners who don’t want to look like their dad, running in weird fluorescent colors. I want it to be cooler than what’s out there.
At what point did you feel that you found that perfect balance between culture and performance, already in last Summer’s first or the second collection, which is in stores now?
I think I found this in the third collection, the one that will be out in a couple of months. That’s the best one yet. I really pushed the cultural element to what I want to express, but also the technical elements were taken to the next level. That’s what I want Satisfy to be: combining a super technical pair of shorts with a crappy destroyed cotton t-shirt. I love the authenticity of that image. Seeing people run in a complete Nike ensemble is just too perfect. I like imperfection and I feel that we really achieved this with the third collection.
The fabrics are nicer, the linings are nicer, the practical systems we integrated for your keys or phone are better — I’m really proud of what we created and personally like it a lot. All the fabrics are top of the bill, coming from Switzerland, Japan and Italy and everything is produced in Portugal. We also included some pieces made out of the silver space blankets that are used to warm up marathon runners right after a race.
That’s the direction I want to go. Taking things from the running world and turn them into something beautiful within the Satisfy universe. That is what people like Margiela did, who I really look up to and like. I love that Satisfy gives me the opportunity to explore those directions. We make prototypes at the office in France, working like an atelier. I field test everything myself, even tonight I tried out shorts we are working on for the new collection.
Do you want Satisfy to crossover to lifestyle beyond running at one point?
No, I really want to stay focussed on running. Not everyone buys the products for running naturally, but everything we create is made from the perspective of running or pre- and postrunning. Even the sweatpants or hoodies always have some details which relate to running. We don’t want it to be a athleisure brand, as that feels too soft for what we want it to be. It will always be an activewear brand.
I love that right from the start Satisfy is being sold at high end fashion boutiques, as we don’t want to be part of that fashion world. At this moment we are selling tights at colette. I think that’s quite punk, haha…
In the end we are trying to be available in all the best running stores in the world, but it is still a bit of a challenge to persuade those people to buy shorts with reflective satanistic logos and shirts with moth holes in them. That’s what we are working on right now..
For April77 see here
For Satisfy see here