It was 10 AM on a dreary Vancouver morning as I got ready to call Pierre Boiselle, the founder of Reception, the least dreary brand on the menswear scene right now. As the rain pounded on the windows, Pierre picked up.
“Hey man! Sorry I kind of forgot about our call, I was at the park with my daughter.”
I don’t think there could be a more wholesome reason for a missed call. Apparently, the sun was finally shining in Lyon, where the lockdown had just been lifted the previous week.
“The week we were finally allowed to go back to our lives it was horrible weather! But it changed over the weekend so now it’s like 25 degrees outside, feels like summer.”
We chatted for a bit about how lovely his hometown of Lyon is: big enough to be interesting, small enough to walk around, and only a couple hours away from Paris, the French Alps, or the Mediterranean, depending on which direction you go. It also happens to be one of the food capitals of the world, a fitting headquarters for a clothing brand inspired by restaurants. Reception is truly a one-of-a-kind brand at the moment, so I might as well let Pierre do the talking…
Let’s start at the beginning. How did Reception start and how did you get the idea for this clothing brand?
Well, in October 2016 I was in New York for a long weekend with my wife. We were there to just chill out, see the city, go to good restaurants, and by then I had quit my job and we had just had a kid. I was really desperate to start something of my own, but I couldn’t find an angle. I have a skateboarding background, so my first bit of inspiration was to do something that felt like skateboarding but was a bit more mature, and also more premium because I was really into fabrics. But I haven’t been skateboarding in years and I was never really good at it, so it didn’t feel very legit. I was at the Fanelli Cafe, and after a few drinks I asked myself what the most inspiring things were that I was doing in my life, and I realized it was travelling and sitting in that bar, just enjoying it and meeting people. I had been travelling a lot for my job in the last ten years, and I met friends in many great cities. I was also quite into merch by then, so it was the idea of merch, skateboarding, and my realization that I should be paying tribute to places where I’ve got good memories. Not specifically for the food, but just for the memory shared with someone.
When we went back to France, I called Clement, a graphic designer who’s now my art director, and said, “look I’ve got this idea in mind and maybe we should do something about it.” He didn’t have many jobs at that point, so he was like, “fuck it lets do it.” I had two restaurants I really wanted to pay tribute to, one in Florence and one in Tokyo, so I briefed Clement about the places and it started like that. It was a very genuine idea and it was also a way to start something without spending too much. I knew a guy who could print them in Lyon, so we bought a hundred Gildan white long sleeve t-shirts and we did fifty of each graphic. Because of my experience in working in fashion I had some friends who were buying for some good stores in Europe, so I sent them some t-shirts as gifts. I was fortunate because the buyers liked it, and their reaction has been fast and pretty good. My wife and I always wanted to start our own brand, but we lacked the confidence to do it, so starting to sell t-shirts made us say “let’s do what we always wanted to do.” Of course, the investment of locally printed Gildan t-shirts is nothing compared to a cut-and-sew line, so it was a major move. The first two t-shirts were released early 2018, and over the next few months we decided that we should move forward with this brand. I knew a few factories in Portugal from past experience, so we traveled to Portugal, met some people I knew, and they were happy to do it even though we were so small, and we had no millions to start something.
We launched our first collection for FW19, and this is when we met Max and Matt [from Wallace Mercantile] for the first time. So SS20 is our second collection. Our third collection for FW20 is in production right now. We had quite a big jump in terms of buyers, and it’s a bit better quality, but what’s unfortunate is that everything has now been fucked up by COVID-19. Small indie brands like us got cancelled by many buyers, but even saying that, it’s still cool. Now we’re working on SS21, and it’s a shame cause its miles away the best cut-and-sew line we’ve ever done, but unfortunately none of our clients will be able to see it physically. Also, in early January we started a new relationship with an agency in Portugal that works with really good brands that are very much in our market. It’s a production agency, so it’s really helped us with sourcing facilities and product design development. They’re expensive, but they’ll be able to help us create a much better product. So yeah, we have quite massive plans. We want to stop doing so much seasonality and start doing drops more like we were with our t-shirts, but because of the crisis we had to shrink this down which is frustrating, cause the product we were starting to receive is a lot more evolved but not much more expensive.
Man, that’s a bummer. I’m really excited to see next season, cause when I came into Wallace for the first time, I saw Reception and I was like, “wow this brand is so different.” It’s so much more interesting to me personally than your average streetwear brand. With how great the graphics were, I figured you guys had been around for a while.
Yeah (laughs) we have not, but it’s good to hear. You’re not the first to say that. I never really understand anymore what the word “streetwear” means, it’s such a huge box of good brands and a lot of bullshit. From the beginning we could have started a brand being super minimalistic, probably would have done it if I could. I could wear Margaret Howell every day. But we have a lot of graphical elements, and it was impossible to make the perfect cut because if you start to be very minimal then you need to be super on-point with the manufacturing process, and we were well aware that that was not our case. We knew our strength was the graphic part, so we felt we needed to be very playful in what we were doing. I guess the fact that I’ve been in this industry for ten years helped us reach what we wanted from the very beginning.
Yeah totally. I was looking at your stockist list and I was really impressed, you’re in Galeries Lafayette, Union LA, Goodhood. These are some serious stores, and to be in these stores right off the bat as a new brand is pretty impressive.
Yeah, its super lucky. I think our idea and concept must be strong somehow, but honestly, I’ve been lucky. With Goodhood, I knew Joe a little bit before, and those guys thought it was cool. I think part of the luck is that we were selling t-shirts. It’s a lot easier for a buyer to try a t-shirt than to really engage into a main line collection. When you talk about Union in Los Angeles, I mean this was SUPER lucky. I was at Pitti in Florence two years ago for the summer show doing some freelance, and I bumped into [Union owner] Chris Gibbs, kind of through coincidence. His son was at the booth I was showing, and I didn’t realize it was his son. Chris stopped by and I knew it was him obviously, and we started to talk. He was the most down-to-earth guy. When he was about to leave, I told him I was starting to do something, so he left me his email. That evening I sent him an email and two days later he was like “yeah, I’m gonna place an order.”
Yeah that was very very lucky. And once you start to be in great stores you have other stores that come, but the hardest thing is to stay in the great stores. For me, one of the most important points was to try to build relationships with the people that buy my brand. I’m always excited when I travel and see some of my customers. I feel like we’ve got a chance to be friends because we like the same shit, basically. Maybe we can exchange and build something bigger together, you know. It was such a key for me to start with good wholesalers all around the globe, because those people have their own audience in their respective cities.
It makes sense that that’s how you want to do business, considering how Reception started. Socializing and traveling around the world is what initially inspired you, but the shirts are also about restaurants. Is food and drink something that was an inspiring factor for you?
Yeah for sure, I think a good meal always brings more joy to anything you do. I love food. Something I really respect and that I’m inspired by is a good chef. A chef is someone who is going to be about quality and probably going to be quite refined. I’ve been educated by my mom who was a good cook and was always cooking at home, and I was always going to pretty good restaurants, so that’s something in my DNA. I’m often in bars and cafes, as we do in France, but we never want to be a food critic in anything we do. We’re not rating anyone, you know what I mean? That’s never really the point. Like, we did a t-shirt about a place where I don’t think the food is very good to be honest. It’s just that I’ve got such a good memory of it. But I also never want to just make t-shirt tributes about anti-trendy places. Trendy places are easy to criticize but some are good. It’s really about our feeling, and not just my feeling. Once I was talking to an illustrator and he said, “you don’t know the place that I want to pay tribute to,” and he was a bit surprised cause I said, “it’s not just about my vision, it’s also about you, I trust you.” I want to create this community. It’s cool to pass it on to someone else and we can still celebrate a good design and talk to our audience.
Absolutely, and that actually leads me to a question I had about your graphics. On your website some of the graphics don’t have an artist credit and some of them do. If they don’t have an artist credit is that your art director’s design?
Yeah, its Clement Bertrand, everything that’s not credited is by him. I told him we could credit him if he wanted but he said, “I don’t need that.” He’s a very good friend and we work very closely, but he’s got a lot of freedom with what he does, that’s for sure.
That’s cool, his work is awesome. When I look at your graphics, they seem very symbolic, almost like code for the memory you have at the restaurant. How do you decide what the graphic is going to be? For example, on the Fanelli shirt you have the snake.
Yeah it always comes with a certain memory. We can take the Fanelli one for example, the one with the snake. Clement was never in New York so he never knew the place. It’s been around for a long time, so I was trying to brief him on the history. It hasn’t got a huge mafia background but its linked to it somehow, at least in my fantasy world, and the old owner was also a famous boxer. If you think about the graphic there’s a mug, then there’s the snake and the tabletop with the red and white check, and napkins, which are the original napkins from Fanelli. I gave him several elements and then we researched, but he came up with the idea of the snake. I thought it was so relevant, cause to me it has this feeling of old New York and Prohibition, and the boxing side. We thought this animal reference worked out pretty well. Another shirt that’s not released yet has a seagull on it. Clement asked me about this place, and I told him I got so pissed off because we went out for dinner and a seagull shit on me (laughs). We had a joke about it, and when he came back with the artwork it was actually really good. So, it can be very stupid sometimes and sometimes it has a bit more sense, but he usually gets inspired by a small detail I’ve been telling him about the place. That’s the way we work for the graphic t-shirts for Reception SC. For the main line, every season we try to come up with a sentence. That’s how I do my creative process: I come up with a sentence that inspires me, I look at all the fabric swatches I have, and from there I tend to build a story. I come to Clement and he does a lot of research cause he’s a geek, he’s got a lot of old magazines and a huge database of research and ideas, and we put it all together.
I really love the idea of starting with sentences.
Yeah, it’s basically sentences and fabric swatches. I love fabrics, so I find it very easy to get inspired from one to the other. The sentences can come from a music album, or an interview I’ve read, many different things. There’s always a good quote, and sometimes we take a famous quote and change it to something a bit more…I don’t know, that’s how we start.
This is part one of our two-part conversation with Pierre.