Words: Kazeem Kuteyi Photography: Kahlil Hernandez, Nefertiti Hernandez
Tinashe is blaring from Colette’s speakers. We’re in the store browsing before we head over to Printemps de la Maison to meet with Yoni and Loic who run streetwear brand Marche Noir. It’s hard to move around the store with so many people but by the time we leave, we’ve checked out the magazine section on the main floor as well as the second floor where expensive brands like Off White, Hood by Air and Saint Laurent are stocked. You’d think Colette would carry Marche Noir but it doesn’t. It’s surprising but perhaps it’s deliberate since Marche Noir is French for “Black Market,” and its affordability coupled with its exclusivity has garnered a cult following.
You’ll find youth around New York, Los Angeles, Toronto and even Tokyo wearing the brand. The brand has received co-signs from Internet proclaimed youth stars Luka Sabbat and Ian Connor. Wiz Khalifa, A$AP Rocky and street style goddess, Aleali May are also fans. The team behind Marche Noir have worked hard to get to this point-from budgeting to travel to festivals like Art Basel where the who’s of who of culture gather. The brand has even voyaged to Tokyo to launch at Nubian. But every milestone of their success came at a cost. Staying true to their vision is what’s driving the brand.
Why did you want to do clothing?
Yoni: I always loved clothing. My big sister was a stylist for a music company and so we used to make clothes by order for French artists and we opened a store with a couple of brands and we stocked some underground clothing brands, brands from the US. It was not enough so I said, “Let’s start my own brand,” and now it’s gotten bigger and bigger. And through this I’ve met people like Ian Connor. He suggested we collaborate and now the movement has spread and here we are. But that wasn’t the plan. The plan was to stock different brands and represent the street wear culture in Paris.
Is it challenging to have a brand in Paris?
It’s not a big problem to sell the products in a city like Paris, we know the youth, we can throw an event but the biggest challenge is to sell the product around the world and have it stocked in the best stores. You know, when I created my own store, I had some inspiration from stores I love, like FourTwoFour on Fairfax…VFILES. Having my brand stocked in those stores is the biggest thing that ever happened to us.
“You can have a team of five friends, which is cool, but you will work alone because everybody wants to be on the team just to get some free drinks.”
Why the name Marche Noir?
I never went to a bank to get a loan to start this brand. It was just my own funds and I wanted to create something with the youth from Paris. I didn’t have the budget to open a store in the nice areas in Paris like St. Honore or Soho in London. I found a small retail place in a quiet neighbourhood and I said “Yeah, let’s do it here,” so we decided to create the store. And with the store, you’d have to know the store is there.
So it’s kind of underground?
Yeah, it’s really underground. You gotta be into the culture because our clothing line and other brands we stock are not really commercial.
“People who you meet in fashion will judge you in the first minute and can tell whether you’re serious or not and the people who think you’re serious will work with you.”
What motivates you?
My motivation is to create my own brand and give it to the people and the icons I like. Ian Connor was one of the first people I showed my brand and he thought it was cool. At first, it was just a capsule for my store and he’s like, “You’re good, let’s do a collaboration.” But really I want to dress the people of culture, like the youth from New York, L.A and Tokyo.
Yeah, I know guys like Luka Sabbat and Ian Connor wear your stuff. Your brand is really youth-oriented. How did you come in contact with these guys? I see them wearing your brand all the time.
I met Ian randomly in London. I went to a party and he saw what I was wearing and I said it was my own brand. I saw him in Paris again, we planned a shoot and he introduced me to Rocky and his team. When these kinds of people come to Paris, they come by the store or we meet together and with that I feel like the brand came to be something.
How did you learn about design?
I didn’t go to school. My cousin went to school so I learned from her by observing. I always liked clothing and I loved touching the materials. At some point I want to make cut and sew clothing and not just have fruit of the loom t-shirts with prints on them, even though I respect that because that’s the root of streetwear culture. For me, I love to choose my materials. It takes a lot of time to develop our samples because we want to use the best materials. It’s not easy to find a good manufacturer and to find the people who are willing to stand by you especially when you’re not producing large quantities.
Is your stuff made in Paris?
I only have some stuff made in Paris that’s in my own store but I outsource the rest because I don’t want to make the stuff expensive, like I really want to stay streetwear. I know there are a lot of brands that are more expensive every year and I don’t want to follow this move. The brand has to stay exclusive in a sense where you can’t find it easily not because it’s expensive. When I did the collaboration with Ian Connor, he said, “We have to make it affordable,” because a lot of people who follow him are young and he wants them to have access to it.
Yeah, you guys had a party called ‘Fuck Off’, I saw the pictures, how was that?
It was super cool. It’s difficult to run an event in Paris, especially when you don’t want to pay the club. But it was cool because randomly, Ian brought Theophilus London to sing, Virgil Abloh and Skepta. Yeah, it was cool.
Do you think everybody is born with creativity?
There are some people who have it. I don’t wanna mention names, but when you meet some people, you can tell they’re really born to do this, they talk to you so confidently. There’s not one minute where they pause. But then there’s another part of the population; normal people like me, who just have to learn. If you are interested in fashion…you don’t make money immediately, you need a lot of time and you have to be focused. We travel a lot, we meet a lot of people and we keep the buzz going. It’s an investment, travel is not free, and it costs a lot.
Have you been to the U.S. already?
Yeah, we went to Los Angeles to shoot stuff with Dexter Navy and we also met with Uzi. Uzi actually introduced me to Wiz Khalifa to his tour and we turned up with him.
It seems like you get more support from America than Paris.
Yeah, it’s the truth.
So you guys don’t have anybody you can look up to for inspiration because it seems like everyone looks up to American icons, it’s like, “I wanna be like Pharell, I wanna be like Kanye,” but there’s nobody in France except for Stephen Ashpool who owns Pigalle.
Yeah, but the truth is, streetwear is from the US and it’s new here. It’s like when you want to make jazz music, you have to look at those big jazz musicians from the U.S. Or if you wanna make high fashion, you look at brands like Dior and what not and you know Paris is the capital of fashion.
But don’t you think streetwear and fashion are merging? We just came from Colette and we saw the OFF-WHITE prices, and you know it’s expensive and the materials are luxe but then you see the graphics that makes it streetwear. Do you guys ever want to get up to that level?
I think of the thing Kanye says or Rocky says, “We are the new rockstars of the generation.” And you know, the new designer or the new creative of the big brands like Dior, Givenchy, Balenciaga; these people are young, they grew up with the hip-hop culture, they look up to hip-hop artists as well, so there is a mix that is natural and there are people from hip-hop culture who want to make high fashion. You know, people like Virgil Abloh are very streetwear but the stockists set those prices high and he travels a lot. He has the best showroom and his stuff is made in Italy and the best parties, the product has to be expensive.
But do you ever want to do that in the future?
I see Virgil at events and he hangs out with some people from high fashion. I want my brand to be successful and I want to make millions. If the fashion game is like a restaurant, I want to have my own table with my own people, I don’t want to buy a chair to eat with people who are already in the game; I don’t give a fuck. I don’t want to hang out with rich people or models. My priority is not to hang out with these people and if they want to buy my clothes cool; my clothes are for everybody. My goal is not to sell expensive [clothes] but if you want to put the clothes in high-end stores you have no choice. They will tell you it’s too cheap for us so you have to find the middle. I respect Virgil. For me in street culture, he’s the guy who works the hardest. The work he does is crazy, he’s in his showroom, after that he’s at the fashion shows, then at night he has to DJ, then the day after he’s on a plane to Tokyo.
So you have to work for what you want right?
Yeah, nothing comes easy. When people bring t-shirts to my store, and sometimes I say it doesn’t work for my store they say “Okay, I can do what you want,” and I say, “No, it’s not about what I want, it’s about what you want.” You can create and collaborate but you have to stick to your vision.
What would you say to someone who wants to get into fashion like you?
You have to choose what you want to do in your life. If you are in college and you’re there for followers, or to say “I got hoes,” stop. Go to school and learn. Just because you see guys like Virgil sell lots of clothes or make millions, that doesn’t come easy. These people are focused; it’s work and it’s not a joke. It’s not going into Photoshop, making a logo, putting it on t-shirt and becoming a big millionaire. People who you meet in fashion will judge you in the first minute and can tell whether you’re serious or not and the people who think you’re serious will work with you. Naturally, it’s easier that way. And don’t follow your friends to do a project because you want to work with your friends. You can have a team of five friends, which is cool, but you will work alone because everybody wants to be on the team just to get some free drinks. Sometimes it’s difficult to do stuff without your friends but the team is very important, you have to choose the best person to work with. Don’t follow the trends, have your own vision, just because OFF WHITE uses lines doesn’t mean you have to use lines. You have to find your voice.