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In addition to being the co-founder and creative director of OAMC, Luke Meier and his wife Lucie, were recently appointed as creative directors at Jil Sander. OAMC is seen by some as the next step in the evolution of luxury menswear with an ever-increasing following. Behind the label’s sweeping success is a savvy combination of several crucial factors. Despite its relatively recent start, OAMC stands alone in the competitive landscape that is menswear.
This label is about unparalleled craftsmanship, premium materials, and the utmost attention to detail paid throughout the entire process of development and production, which has justifiably earned OAMC the reputation that it has. Digging deeper, it easily becomes apparent why the brand has gained such a significant following in such a short period of time.
Creative director Luke Meier and his partner Arnaud Faeh both come from shared backgrounds in the industry, having made their marks in Supreme and Carhartt WIP respectively. As insiders within the fashion world, it was crucial to them to build a brand that satisfied a need to release products they could connect to. It’s what urged them to create a clothing brand: to offer a new perspective on fashion; a brand that moves away from easy shortcuts; one that is focused on the authenticity of the past, when it was less defined and more fluid.
We had the chance to find out more about the different elements that makeup OAMC with the brand’s creative mind, Luke Meier. He shared with us his own vision of menswear and fashion, how he feels about getting labeled, and OAMC’s disruptive approach.
Tell us more about OAMC conception. How did everything start off?
Arnaud and I met in New York a long time ago through mutual friends. When I left Supreme, I was doing a bit of freelance, but I started traveling and I was in Europe a lot more, so we connected again, which is when we started talking about this project.
I’d always been fascinated by the level that you can make things at over here in Europe. Being in New York, you often look to Italy, to France, or to Japan, where very high-level products are made, and there’s a deep industry. The more I learned about product the more curious I became about making in these places, particularly from my perspective. Brands that are important to me have the perspective I share; brands like Supreme and early Stüssy, for instance. Most of the big luxury brands in Europe didn’t have the same feeling; they made beautiful products but there was no essence. So, Arnaud and I started thinking, what would happen if we made something on that same luxury level but with a real soul behind it? That was sort of the catalyst that got things started. It’s not just about making high-quality products, those were already out there. The idea was to produce high-quality apparel from our own personal perspectives, with references to what we grew up with that made it relatable to people like us.
At the beginning, it took us a while to get going because we didn’t really have access to any of the right places. We didn’t know where to go to make anything. This can be a very secretive industry as far as where you get things done, but once you’re in, you realize it’s a word-of-mouth business… Which is cool as it’s like a natural barrier for people to come in and start making something. It’s interesting because it’s very relationship based. People at the very highest level don’t want any other business and don’t need you in there. We’ve been fortunate to gain access to some of those people and places through the relationships we’ve built over the last couple of years.
Streetwear and fashion seem to be the most abused words these days. What’s going on?
People get obsessive about labelling things, putting them into boxes. What’s funny to me is that this streetwear/fashion thing isn’t anything new – it’s been happening forever. The industry is now trying to confine everything to specific boxes or genres, and a lot of people just want to use these buzzwords to show they’re trendy. I think it’s the wrong way to approach it.
To me fashion, and design in general, is a sort of reflection of what’s in the air, what people think is relevant or interesting. The idea, the music, the culture come first and fashion follows, as it’s a way to express ideas or your own personal perspective.
The word streetwear is very loaded right now. With OAMC the goal wasn’t to try to get labeled. It was to try to make cool shit from cultured and eclectic ideas; it was that simple. Take a guy like Shawn Stüssy. He liked Chanel, London club culture, and music, but he loved surfing too. What he created was very natural as it reflected who he was. There were no rules then; it was all new so it was organic the way that people approached design and product. It was more about developing a great brand that represented some ideas you had that you felt strongly about. It’s weird now that somehow certain rules have been established and now everybody is trying to break them down.
What has changed since then?
The industry asks for rules to deal with products, organize stores and so on. Before it was all about what was around, cool, and interesting. It was much more open.
It’s funny how people freak out when they go to Japan for their first time and say “Oh wow, I would never imagine people wearing certain brands or styles together”. To me, that’s normal, it’s just good shit. And what we’re trying to do with OAMC is to fight a bit against the pre-conceived notions about what brands are supposed to do or make. Why can’t you make legit tailoring with really progressive graphic t-shirts? In Europe, you have a very heavy historical context of what you’re supposed to wear, and when and where you should wear it. You can’t wear a suit along with a t-shirt that looks like it’s from a hip-hop brand. But why not?
How do you feel when OAMC gets associated with one label or another?
I used to care more. Now it feels like trying to explain something to somebody who doesn’t even get it at first. And that’s maybe the same spirit that occurred at the beginning of Supreme and Stüssy. We just do our thing and the people who get it, they get it, and those that don’t, who cares. Not to be disrespectful to anybody, when you talk about these labels, words like streetwear, luxury, and fashion are totally abused. But I believe that the people who are obsessed over those things are those who don’t understand, for the most part. The people I know with the best style can look past a categorization.
Function and aesthetic. What comes first at OAMC?
I guess they should be completely balanced. There’s something nice about function because it works, it usually lasts longer. But let’s say aesthetic comes first, at least that’s what draws me to something first. I think what people don’t understand about what we’re doing is that we’re not about function being technical; there’s a big difference. Functional to me is design with a purpose in mind from the beginning, it’s less about decoration. I want people to understand that OAMC is not functional to the point that everything is waterproof. It’s not that at all, that’s technical. Maybe there are elements or design cues that come from that, but it’s more like creating something for us to wear on an everyday basis.
How’s your creative process when starting a new collection?
In a word, eclectic. At the beginning it’s a broad concept, it’s about “what’s something that’s interesting?”. Then we focus on the different levels that we can go a little bit deeper into and we slowly start doing things a little more precisely. OAMC is a brand that has a very specific approach: deep development into the fabrics we like, the silhouettes, the shapes. The brand is one thing, but when you talk about the seasons, it’s always necessary to focus at least on a point of reference for all the different design work. And it can be something straightforward like the idea of flight from Fall 16, or it can be abstract like the isolation concept from Spring 17. It’s about giving a context to our products. And once we’ve figured this out, it becomes more practical, less conceptual. It’s about finding the techniques that apply well, thinking about the different pieces, and the fabric research.
What do you think about collabs? Have you ever thought about partnering with someone else?
My perspective is that the point of doing collaborations is to create something that you couldn’t do otherwise on your own. That should be the same for both sides. When you talk about Nike and Undercover together, for example, that works well to me because it is something they couldn’t do separately. Collaborations are lame when they are just about coloring, labeling, or branding. That sucks, because there’s no point for those products to exist. It’s commercial, a quick money grab, but it’s not real, it doesn’t resonate.
What’s interesting is when you have a deep, proper partnership and you make something new. We’re totally open to collaborations and we want to work with other people as we also realized there are sort of realistic things we can’t do. We’ve been talking to a lot of people and are considering different projects, but they have to work in a way for us to arrive at a point that matters. It’s not just about branding, because that’s not interesting. There should be a point, there’s too much stuff out there already. We don’t need any more useless collaborations.
How can brands manage to stand out within this noise?
It’s super hard and, unfortunately, the things that dominate now are shallow and pointless hype garbage. We believe that we’re doing something that’s relevant and has a real value. The reality is, no matter how hyped your stuff is, it’ll disappear from the first page of a blog in like 20 minutes. Most of the time, a lot of the things you see online, that’s all it is. If you go and see the piece, it’s crap, really poor quality, a super high price, and poor fabric. It’s empty. But when you ask how we try to stand out, we have something real behind it and it’s something unique.
Biggest challenges across these years with OAMC?
The most difficult part is to get the people that are making the pieces to realize them in the right way.That’s the biggest challenge, more than anything else. Whatever we can control here in our studio, that’s on us, so it’s not that difficult. Of course, sometimes you are more creative or less creative, but we can control a beautiful sketch, or select a nice fabric or make interesting graphics. That’s the easy part, in a way. The hard part is to get it created in the right way. And the reality is that it’s not an art project, so we must be creative when thinking about the finance side also. You need to be conscious of value. We don’t cut any corners, our materials are superior, produced in respectable factories with a high-level workmanship. The challenge is to get the suppliers to do it in the right way, especially when you’re trying to do something slightly different because it’s like you’re trying to break their habits. And for us this is something very simple, it’s our mindset. But a maker who’s been using only a specific kind of fabric or finishing all the time, he might feel lost.
Is accepting compromises part of the game?
We don’t compromise at all, actually. And this goes back to your very first question, as it refers to authenticity. Because if you can’t do it authentically, then you’re wack. Our customers are quite clever about this, and they can see and feel what’s authentic. If you’re trying to do something just because it’s trendy, that’s obviously inauthentic. High fashion should leave skateboarding alone. Don’t do skateboarding! (laughs) Or when you see inauthentic and almost disrespectful appropriation, that doesn’t feel right and I think people can tell too.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity)