MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
(Free translation from Sabato Magazine, published March 4th, 2017)
Patrick Munsters sold Scotch & Soda to launch a new menswear brand. One without seasons, sale or trendy items. Anti-fashion or genius concept?
‘If it fails, I will have a full wardrobe for the rest of my life.’ Patrick Munsters (52) is definitely not afraid of having too much stock. Neither is he afraid of his wardrobe becoming out-dated, because he breaks the rules of seasons ánd collections with his new menswear brand Salle Privée . Instead of reinventing every 6 months, the Amsterdam-based brand will keep on selling its current collection throughout the next couple of years. ‘As a designer, I was ready to take a different direction. With Salle Privée I sell nothing new. In three years I will still have the same coat hanging in my racks. In fashion, this is like swearing in a church. But it’s something I’m planning on holding on to.’
The ‘church’ in this case is Salle Privée’s showroom in Amsterdam. From the outside it looks like an ordinary building in an industrial area. But inside the building, a modern-day gentleman’s room is built, with elements of marble, brass, coloured Perspex, glossy wood veneers and a broadloom carpet. ‘To me, this is what a perfect room looks like for the Salle Privée man’, states Munsters, an entrepreneur who rarely gives any interviews. He furnished the office all by himself.
Ilse Cornelissens (37) and Tim van Geloven (37) are impressed as well. Their Antwerp-based concept store Graanmarkt 13 will be the only Belgian point of sale for Salle Privée. A few months ago they discovered the brand in a showroom in Paris and today is the first time they are in Amsterdam to buy the collection. ‘This is simply everything a man wants’, Cornelissens calls out enthusiastically while going through the racks. ‘I’ve been searching for a practical jacket like this for years’, Van Geloven adds while spontaneously putting it on. What follows, is a comprehensive fitting session. Van Geloven puts every single thing on and judges the fit and the look. For comparison, Munsters (two heads shorter and a bit more wide than Van Geloven) also starts trying everything on. As never seen before: a fashion designer and retailer in their underpants in a showroom.
‘A terribly beautiful jacket, don’t you think?’ Patrick Munsters pulls a goat leather jacket out of the rack and puts it on. His eyes blink of excitement as he starts telling about it. ‘It’s created with only eight pieces of leather. You don’t find that very often, because that means you need big and expensive pieces.’ The racks of Salle Privée are full of archetypes of a man’s wardrobe: an overcoat (€1250), a chino (€280), a cable knit sweater (€430), a shirt (€260) and so on. All this in just a handful of colours: black, dark blue, khaki, beige and white. This makes it also suitable for men without a fashion sense: everything matches. It’s very clear that Salle Privée is about clothing, about style and about classics. But not about fashion.
What’s striking, is that this man has travelled many miles in fashion: Patrick Munsters has been the creative director of high-street fashion brand Scotch & Soda for 20 years. He was in his graduate year of art school when he got this job. He met Scotch & Soda founder Laurens Hompes in 1990, who was looking for fresh blood for his design team. A few years later he became the head of design.
Around the year 2000 the brand started slacking. Together with two others, Munsters took over the business from the owner for 75%. After re-launching, Scotch & Soda took the world by storm with over 7000 selling points and vertiginous growth numbers. However, Munsters wanted to sell the company. ‘I had a fantastic time at Scotch & Soda. Especially in the early days when we were growing enormously. It felt like we won the Champions League for 10 years in a row. To remain the champion for another 20 years, we needed a breath of fresh air. A big company needs a different approach. And as a designer I also felt like it was time for a new challenge.’ In 2011 the four owners sold Scotch & Soda for 350 million euro to American fashion group Kellwood, a subsidiary of investment company Sun Capital.
The perfect shirt
Salle Privée is different from Scotch & Soda in almost every possible way. Munsters’ new menswear label goes back to the essence, hence the focus on the details. ‘I don’t want to make a pair of chinos, but the ultimate pair of chinos. Just like the ideal shirt, the perfect trench, and so on. I have about 20 coats at home. One has a good length, the other the perfect collar and the next a better cut. But I never found the perfect one, so now I’m making it myself. All clothing is made in Italy, from a to z’, Musters explains. ‘I could never have started Salle Privée in the beginning of my career. You need a lot of experience in order to create such a distilled product.’
During the interview it becomes very clear how well Munsters blends with his brand. With his grey locks, blue cashmere sweater, white jeans and loafers he looks like the perfect showcase for Salle Privée: stylish but without making any (fashion) statements. Same goes for Tim Van Geloven: ‘I could wear a sweater like that every day’, he says.
That’s no coincidence. With Salle Privée, Munsters aims at men between 35 and 100. His brand now mainly appeals to businessmen and creatives. ‘As a creative director I saw many trends passing by, while my own wardrobe barely changed. Neither did those of my friends. We all wore comfortable, stylish, high-quality basics’, Munsters answers when we ask him where he got his idea from. ‘I also noticed how fashion is changing. I think it’s perverse that clothes now have an average durability of 6 months. And then they’re being sold for half the price to make place for a new delivery. Sale devaluates the product’.
Munsters quickly built his new brand; he started a year ago. At that exact same moment – and for the same reasons – Tim Van Geloven and Ilse Cornelissen from Graanmarkt 13 decided to change course. Since last month they only sell brands with timeless collections. They said goodbye to their top selling brands like Marni and Isabel Marant. A store without sale, seasons and big brands, isn’t that commercial suicide? ‘The current fashion system is just not working for us anymore. The fashion seasons don’t match the weather seasons for example. Winter coats are delivered in June and sandals in November’, tells Van Geloven. ‘That’s why the sale arrives too early, basically in the middle of the season. No wonder customers wait until January to buy a new winter coat. But these bargains decimate our profit. That’s why we decided to quit this rat race and chose durability.’
A few hours later the buying is done. All the items Van Geloven and Cornelissens picked are on one rack. It became quite the ‘five-figure’ order. Munsters wants to know if they’re satisfied. ‘Definitely. We rarely buy for such a big amount. But there are also fewer risks involved, since the collection will keep its value’, Cornelissens answers.
To her and Van Geloven it took some getting used to buying men’s clothing again. When opening Graanmarkt 13 in 2010 they also sold menswear, but that quickly ended. ‘We’re going to sell it again because there’s a lot of demand, coming from men. They usually already are in our building: our restaurant downstairs, run by Seppe Nobels, is often used for business lunches. Plus, menswear brands are perfect for our new seasonless approach. The collections change less anyway, and men are much more loyal customers. If they’re satisfied, they keep coming back.’
That’s why men are active online shoppers as well. The digital outlet is very important for Salle Privée and the brand puts a lot of effort into its online store. Renowned webstore Mr. Porter will also sell the collection from September 2017. ‘I have a lot of confidence in online retail’, Munsters says. But it has to be combined with physical stores where you can try on the clothes first. You will probably purchase your first pair of Salle Privée trousers in a store. If you want another one, you will quickly turn to online. This makes sense, but it can be very frustrating for shopkeepers. That’s why I’m working on a special agreement, which will make them profit from online sales as well’, the entrepreneur explains. Eventually, he wants to turn Salle Privée into an IT company. ‘Creation is just a small part of this company, since the collection has already been designed. I will add items every now and then, but I will design those myself – I don’t need a team for that. I would much rather have a team of 50 IT’ers.’
To Munsters, Salle Privée is much more than a brand. It’s a lifestyle. To serve his customers from a to z, he keeps on expanding the collection with items like scented candles, perfume, shoes, socks, ties, sunglasses and belts. He also plans on creating skiwear. Available throughout the year, just like the swim shorts. ‘Our customers mainly live in the city. They travel a lot, and it’s always summer or winter somewhere. So I always want to offer everything’, Munsters explains.
The clothing he designs is immediately produced. This is quite rare: in the fashion industry brands usually create samples first. Based on those samples, boutiques do their buying. The items are produced after that, hanging in the racks half a year later. Because of the direct producing of Salle Privée, Munsters is able to deliver immediately. ‘Your order will arrive in Antwerp in two days’, he ensures Graanmarkt 13.
Producing a collection before it’s been sold is a big investment. Munsters is able to do so thanks to selling Scotch & Soda. ‘I don’t throw my money around, each investment is well considered. With Salle Privée I want to establish a sustainable business. My luck is that I can be my own bank. It’s not easy to get money from banks nowadays. Which is a pity, because a lot of great ideas don’t stand a chance this way.’
Clean drinking water
By selling Scotch & Soda Munsters gained a fortune. But instead of living on his private means, he started a new company: water- and beauty brand Marie-Stella-Maris, with a foundation that is committed to provide clean drinking water worldwide. For each litre sold, 5 cents go to the foundation and for each beauty product 1 euro. ‘The UN declared clean drinking water as a human right’, Munsters tells. ‘The foundation has now supported eight projects in Africa and Asia, providing over 20.000 people with access to clean and safe water.’
Munsters still felt the urge to do something with fashion again. ‘It’s a great time to start something in fashion; there are many exciting developments going on. The rise of online and the downfall of the fashion calendar for instance. With Salle Privée I want to contribute to this new movement’, the serial entrepreneur analyses.
He also enjoys the perks of frequent flying due to his job. ‘To follow the production I’m in Italy all the time. I recently visited a family business that has been making silk ties since 1923. When I spoke to them, I felt the same passion and the same enthusiasm for the product. This made me very happy. My job gives me more energy than it costs me.’ And if he runs out of energy, his closet will be full of timeless clothes that will never be out of fashion. Fair enough, right?