CHRISTOPHE LOIRON INTERVIEW

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-WHERE DOES THE NAME MISTER FREEDOM COME FROM?

“Mister Freedom” is the title of a 1969 movie by photographer William Klein, a satire/spoof about American imperialism. This, in the midst of the Vietnam conflict.
I never finished the movie, but the name stuck.

-HOW DID THE PROJECT MR. FREEDOM START?

I never liked the pressure of being told what to do, so eventually doing my own thing was a matter of survival for me. Never had a business plan, just figure everything required hard work.
I’ve always like the feel of old Army/Navy surplus stores my Dad used to take me to in the 1970’s.
I basically wanted to recreate that vibe and shopping experience. A store for dudes who can’t be bothered by fads and trends, but still dig style and know their classics.
I wasn’t sure exactly what Mister Freedom® was going to be about at first. I just knew it wouldn’t be about ‘metrosexual’ fashion, cheap imports and cashing-in on consumerism.

Around 2004, I opened the original “Mister Freedom®” store in Los Angeles, California. It was filled with used and vintage clothing.

-WHAT’S THE PROJECT MR. FREEDOM CONSISTING OF?

To me, Mister Freedom® is its HQ in LA, and everyone in it. Everything is under one roof: the design studio, atelier, archives, fabric stock, office, and the 3200 sq feet of retail space. The shopping section is an evolving mixture of vintage clothing, textiles and accessories from the late 1800’s to 1970’s, along with all the MF® originals we come up with every year.

-CAN YOU EXPLAIN TO US HOW MR.FREEDOM EVOLVED IN THE YEARS?

After a retail stint with a partner in Kyoto, Japan, I started from scratch in my garage. Piles of vintage clothing and textiles I would collect from flea markets and other junk piles in the US, France and Japan. Designers would come and find inspiration. Japan had been on the vintage craze since the early 1990’s, but most of the collected pieces had to New Old Stock or pristine to be of interest. Around 1995, I was hunting for sun faded, patched-up and beat-up stuff. Designers would buy that for fade patterns, color palettes, wash target samples. Embarrassingly enough, I guess I indirectly participated in that unfortunate factory-distressed ‘lived in’ look that is still plaguing the garment industry today…
When vintage clothing started drying out and I didn’t get my fix of adrenaline in fleas anymore, I started customizing things to turn them into pieces I would love to find. I experimented with stencils, adding pockets, cropping, modifying, printing. Designers bought those too, which persuaded me to stay the course.

-HOW MANY PEOPLE WORK FOR MR. FREEDOM?
A very small and tight group of hard-working competent and efficient people. We can’t hide here, so things get done.

-DO A MISS FREEDOM BRAND EXIST?
In general, Ladies fashion is too ephemeral for me to tap into. I road-test everything I make, so it’s better I stay away from it anyways!
I’ve seen quite a few stylish women wear Mister Freedom® men’s clothes, my girlfriend for one. These fine ladies make it look feminine, and tend to find Jean Seberg sexier than a skewer of Kardashians.
It’s a matter of sizing, styling, mixing it right, and confidence.

-CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR VINTAGE SHOP?
The vintage section of the store is about 50% of the downstairs space today. It is our inspiration board for the new clothes we manufacture, sharing the other half of the real estate. One feeds the other, the Mister Freedom® osmosis.
When I’m looking for a pocket pattern, collar shape or shade of green, I browse the racks for inspiration. What I buy in vintage clothing is always a reflection of the mood and vibe of the on-going or future collection, so our vintage selection is pretty eclectic.
Groups of everything that inspired what we make is available in the vintage section. From our 1900’s French gangster “Les Apaches” collection to our current 1960’s-70’s hi-tech “Sea Hunt” venture, there are thousands of vintage pieces in our ol’ pile o’ rags.

-CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT MOVING FROM FRANCE TO LOS ANGELES (WHEN-WHY)

I moved to California in 1990, after doing my mandatory time in the Marine Nationale (French Navy), touring in the Indian Ocean for 1½ year. I lived in Africa as a kid, moving around is addictive.
America was the promised land for the dreamer I was, Hollywood had sold it to me well. This was where most things that fascinated me were born, from Rock and Roll to GI Joe, so I’m still here exploring and digging it after 25 years.

-WHAT WAS THE FIRST GARMENT PRODUCED FROM YOU, THAT MADE SUCCESS?

Nothing I’ve done was ever ‘successful’, by garment industry standards. I’m in a niche, just glad our customers allow us to do what we do. The first pair of jeans I designed around 2007, the weirdly obscure “7161 Utility Trousers”, raised a bit of curiosity at a time when every blue jeans were a reiteration of the Levi’s 501.

-DO YOU COME FROM THE FASHION WORLD…OR MAYBE DO YOU HAVE SOME “SARTORIAL” ORIGIN BEFORE MR.FREEDOM FOUNDATION?

No fashion school for me, my education with clothes was gradually done through record covers and old movies. I concluded early on that it was easier to have Elvis’ shirt than his talent, and that Cool Hand Luke looked much cooler than my classmates. I started altering my clothes at 15, even if ‘tailoring’ was the last thing I saw myself doing…
I pay great attention to details and have a pretty descent photographic memory of colors and shapes. When I eventually started making clothes for a living, I used all these influences. I’m no technician, no expert at anything. I just know a little bit about a lot of things, and have a big mouth.

-WHICH ARE THE MAIN STEPS IN YOUR VINTAGE RESEARCH? -WHICH ARE THE THEMATICS (BASEMENTS – HOW DO THE COLLECTION STARTS) TO CREATE EACH COLLECTION?

An interview, an old photo, a documentary, a book I read can all spark a sudden interest and turn it into a full collection. What I’m working on usually turns into an obsession, and I am so eager to learn all I can about it that the clothes often take the back seat! I also love sharing what I’ve learned when comes time to release and introducing each piece of a collection.
I spend more time in Research and Development than I should, but this gives me a sense of fulfillment and usefulness that working in the fashion industry does not provide.

-WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT HISTORICAL PERIOD FOR YOUR INSPIRATION? IS THERE A SPECIFIC WAR THAT HAS INSPIRED YOU? AND A SPECIFIC SPECIAL MILITARY UNIT?

I am not inspired by wars. They are all sad. Unfortunately, only the dead have seen the end of them. Some conflicts are more glamorized than others. Your Granpa was a WW2 pilot? Cool! Got any war stories? Your Uncle was a grunt in ‘Nam? Oh, sorry about that.
It is usually about how a war is ‘marketed’ by those needing the support the public opinion to wage them. I don’t fall for it anymore, the years have made me a bit skeptical.
What fascinates me is what Man can do, what we’re capable of. The good, the bad. When I see someone doing something really stupid, what comes to my mind is “Mmm, same human genome that went to the moon, all is well”.
Men at war are capable of both admirable and despicable things. I don’t judge because I was never in combat, but these dudes are more interesting to study than any sofa PlayStation wizard.
Right now Indochina and Vietnam are periods I find interesting, realizing how delusional it is to have  a firm opinion on current affairs.

-WHICH ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT ICON IN THE CLOTHING WORLD? -WHICH BRAND DO YOU TAKE INSPIRATION FROM (OLD AND NEW ONES)?

No offense, but I do not look at what anyone else is doing. I am really not well-versed in contemporary menswear. You’d think I would tend to appreciate all the old labels instead. But brands that have been around for ages are not immune to junk manufacturing, off shoring to satisfy the profit-driven stock holders, or falling for embarrassing trends. I’m sure there are great people making clothes out there, but I’m more interested in their ethics than collections.

– WHAT’S YOUR POINT OF VIEW ABOUT COLLABORATION COLLECTIONS?
When the match makes sense, I assume the product make sense. When the collaboration is a pure networking maneuver, I assume that shows.

-FROM 2006 YOU’RE COLLABORATING WITH SUGAR CANE… CAN YOU TELL US MORE?

Unbeknown to me, an ‘undercover’ team from Toyo Enterprises (Sugar Cane Co) had been coming to the store for years, purchasing vintage clothing for inspiration. One day around 2006, Mr. Tanaka (sales division) and Mr. Fukutomi (pattern maker) introduced themselves and mentioned a potential collaboration: I would design a pair of jeans, they would manufacture them in Japan, under the MFxSC label. We shook hands.
To convince myself that the World needed another pair of jeans from an amateur, I invented the short scenario of a US naval worker in the late 30’s who had to jerry-rig from scratch a pair of work dungarees, using whatever scraps of fabric were laying around the house, no sewing skills whatsoever… I today refer to these “7161 Utility Trousers” as Franken-jeans.
In 2006, Sugar Cane felt it was time for them to come out of the constraints of replicas, and thought my background of vintage clothing would make a viable collaboration. I was honored they even knew who I was.
We now have two full collections a year.

-DENIM SURE ISN’T MISSING IN YOUR COLLECTIONS… WHICH FABRIC DO YOU PREFER (JAPANESE – AMERICAN – EUROPEAN)? -WHICH ARE THE DETAILS THAT YOU PREFER THE MOST IN A DENIM (RAW OR WASHED)?
I am no shuttle-loom expert. I am actually quite uncomfortable when the discussion gets too emotionally involved with warp/weft/whiskers. I stopped staring at my crotch daily, documenting the fading process on social medias.

I do believe denim evolution is a pleasant side effect of wearing comfortable sturdy trousers.
But the pleasure for me is in owning a well-made garment, that I worked hard to afford, and that was ethically manufactured by a company I respect.

We made a classic five-pocket in 2009, the Mister Freedom® “Californian”, an obvious take on the iconic 1950’s 501®, available since then in different denim.
I always thought wearing jeans was a neutral fashion statement, a no-brainer when you pick your clothes in the morning, or pack for a trip. My “Californian” follow me when I travel.

There is today an avalanche of labels, models, cuts. Back pocket glitter, stitching competitions, ‘vintage’ washes, branding ornaments…You even get invited by new brands to sponsor their new five pocket on kickstarter…

So yes, there is denim in our collections, but Mister Freedom® was never a denim brand.

– AND FINALLY, WHAT’S THE GARMENT THAT OBSESS YOU THE MOST? AND THE GARMENT THAT CAN’T BE MISSING IN A MAN WARDROBE?
An original 10-button USN Peacoat seems to never make anyone look silly, which should be a decisive step in the selection of one’s wardrobe.
Having said that, people should wear what they want, as long as the manufacturing of what they want follows respectable ethics.