Interview with Tenue de Nîmes Co-owner Rene Strolenberg
By Samuel Trotman

Stylesight had the chance to sit down with Tenue de Nimes co-founder Rene Strolenberg for a chat about denim.

Nov 29, 2012
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This Fall, Amsterdam denim specialist Tenue de Nîmes celebrates their 4th anniversary and the opening of their second retail outlet. We stopped by to speak with co-owner Rene Strolenberg to discuss Amsterdam’s denim scene, inspirations behind the store, and what future ambitions he has for the Tenue de Nîmes brand.

For four years, denim duo Menno van Meurs and Rene Strolenberg have been showcasing their view of modern and traditional denim at their award winning boutique Tenue de Nîmes. In this short amount of time, they have opened two locations in Amsterdam and established an international presence through their highly acclaimed blog and quarterly published paper, Journal de Nîmes. As a result, they have become widely accepted as one of the most promising voices in the retail industry. In fact, these new media efforts earned the duo the prestigious ING Retail Jaarpris Best Innovation retail award in 2011 for their innovative approach to managing traditional retail laws in the challenges of the New World. As the judging panel expressed, “Tenue de Nîmes is a true heaven for ‘jeans believers’ from all over the world, whether they are from Amsterdam, Paris, Tokyo, or New York.”

While visiting Amsterdam in September, we sat down with Strolenberg for a conversation on all things denim – from his love affair with raw selvedge to his frustration with the industry and the forthcoming Tenue de Nîmes line.

What makes Amsterdam so key for denim?

There’s a lot of denim minded people around the city which has helped the scene grow – G-star and Scotch & Soda are both Dutch brands, and brands like Tommy Hilfiger, LVC, and Denham that have relocated their design offices here. The only difference between Amsterdam and all the other big cities in the world is that here, it’s really compact. It shows that we have a lot of denim. But to be honest, in London, there’s a Scotch & Soda, Tommy Hilfiger, and premium offerings like Son of a Stag, but it’s all spread out.

What inspired you to open your store in Amsterdam?

Out of frustration. The crazy thing is that if you look in the average man’s closet, there is a max of three suits. For those three suits he got measured up, his sleeves and buttons are adjust, and perhaps made shorter. It is completely tailored. The average man has maybe six or seven jeans in his closet and there isn’t any tailoring at all. There isn’t anybody that provides you with the services that you need. If you think about it, today, the average pair of jeans is €150 and if you spent that amount, you should expect very little service. I’ve been really fanatic about buying denim and when I come into a shop and the assistants haven’t advised me, or shared my passion, then I get frustrated. So this is the result. We wanted to provide denim for teenage kids through to the 40 to 50 year-old. We offer jeans from €100 to €2,000, so there is something for everyone. We don’t sell customers jeans because it’s a big brand, but because it’s denim that suits them.

As a denim specialist store, how have you seen the scene progress?

People are better informed. It’s now easier to sell to the average guy than it was four to five years ago because they can read about it and there is more exposure for denim in general.

What started your obsession with denim? How do you continue to fulfill it today?

For me, it’s one really simple thing. If you look back to the late 1800s, when the first pair of denim was born, until now, nothing has changed. It’s still the same denim from the working class people through to President Obama. It’s the same merchandise and that’s surprising us everyday. It’s my passion to buy a dry denim – at first it may be shitty to put on, and hurts your leg, but after a year you never want to take it off again. It’s growing on you. I always say to my girlfriend: I have two relationships, one with my dry denim, and one with you.

In your new store you have an extended women’s space. Do you feel women are becoming more interested in denim?

I think it’s really important with hobbies or with your own improvement that you keep on teaching yourself. Menno and I could easily say that we could open a menswear-only store and it will be a huge success, but it’s also a nice adventure for us to trigger the interest in women. We feel the same about our shop, and over the past four years the market has completely changed and we have to adjust our process from the original concept. Here we only have eight straight meters of women’s collection and women often ask why we don’t stock equivalents of the men’s collections. So we thought, let’s do it. We understand that women think completely different than men, so our interior and fits in the new store will be Tenue de Nîmes, but with a female flavor over it.

Are you offering the same brands at Haarlemmerstraatthat as you offer in Elandsgracht?

I learned something really key from my time at G-Star, and that is that your relationships are the most important asset you can have for your business, and we’re really true to the brands we sell. So everything we have here, we have there as well. Tenue de Nimes has grown because these brands gave me that opportunity. I open a new shop and I offer them an opportunity to be in my new store. That’s the way I like to work.

What’s your favorite piece in the store?

It would have to be Tellason. They work really, really hard and they’re a small brand. They’ve gone from buying fabric from stock to cone mills where they now make their own fabric. It’s a 16 oz. denim and it feels fantastic. We talked about passion before and those guys have passion and they’ve been working and selling their jeans until they came to the moment and said, “now we make enough numbers to make our own quality.” And that for me is fighting against your own passion and getting it done. That makes it the best product in the shop right now.

What is inspiring you in the denim industry right now?

There are more things irritating me then making it positive. People are so into what’s the new big thing, what shall we develop and more people are starting to make denim because its such a hot topic. People are making jeans for the wrong reason. That makes me a little bit tired. The whole thing about jeans is that you have a certain kind of body and you need a certain kind of jeans. G-Star is getting back to it again, they’re really grabbing back to an old piece of history. I think that’s fantastic to see what the people are doing there.

However, this month the Centraal Museum in Utrecht are launching, Blue Jeans, the first denim exhibition in the world. This will really open your eyes and it will be fantastic. We are friends with the organizers and we will be contributing with an open discussion about denim.

What’s your involvement with the denim school?

We have had talks and knowledge sharing with the lecturers at the store and I have also presented a talk on how denim is made. Menno has been into the school to present guest lectures to students. When I was 16 and selling jeans in a shop, it was a myth and you had to find out about the technical details. I think with concepts like this you can inspire young guys and girls to see the urgency of denim history and why we need to keep that alive. That’s beautiful and you need to help with those kinds of things.

Apart from Tenue de Nîmes, where else do you like to shop for denim?

The Rose Bowl, eBay, and I always like to check out flea markets or vintage stores when I’m abroad.

Can you tell us more about the Tenue de Nimes denim line you will be launching?

Like I said about the store, it starts with frustration. It’s just a way of fulfilling our own dreams and passions, and what’s nicer than to have your own. We get so many different types of denims that pass through the store, and Menno and I have always said from the beginning that we are going to make our own dry denim – one that everyone can wear. The one problem in the whole story is ourselves, as we see so many nice jeans that we want to have the best rivets and the best quality denim, etc. So we are now looking into the whole process. We have already gotten quite far; we have buttons and rivets all done. We are now looking into fabric and leather patches. Hopefully between now and six months, we will have our first prototypes ready. In the beginning, it’s not for distribution or other shops; it’s just for us.

Images courtesy of Ill-Click 

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