As one half of French duo Kitsuné, Gildas Loaëc and his partner Masaya Kuroki have done a remarkable job of balancing what is essentially two-full fledged businesses under one roof. Depending on who you ask, the brand is known for both its fashion and its music. While the start came within music and was helped by several extremely well-received compilation albums, Kitsuné’s eye for sourcing up and coming brands with long lasting potential transcended not only music but into fashion as while. And while Gildas and Masaya both focus on the music and the fashion respectively, the foundation of their brand has created a brand with appeal through two major arteries of culture.
On a recent stop in Hong Kong, we spoke with Gildas Loaëc about the balancing act of fashion and music for Kitsuné and how a music label must work to succeed based on the current musical environment. Their most recent compilation, Kitsuné Maison 10 was recently released and is available through select retailers worldwide.
Interview: Eugene Kan
Photography: Louis Lau
Interview with Gildas Loaëc
What brings you to Hong Kong this time around?
I’ve been around DJing. I recently came from Shanghai where was I DJing for a CLOT party. It’s been a good excuse to travel.
And meet people?
Yes to meet people and talk about what we do with Kitsuné and with the brand.
I assume for any person that travels a lot, vibrant city landscapes contribute to your inspirations. Are there any particular things you look for or admire in each city you visit?
Yes of course. When I go around I really like to see what people like and what they’re into with their own respective culture. When I mean culture I’m most interested in food and their relationship with their surroundings.
Do the inspirations of these foreign cultures incorporate into your artistic work?
I think maybe more on an unconscious level. These exotic locations really interest me and provide new insights and a first hand learning experience. For myself whether I’m in Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai or the US, it’s great for us to be able to interact and express to these different people our message of Kitsuné.
What would you say is the message of Kitsuné? Is there an overall message?
It’s simple to me. Kitsuné is a good quality brand [laughs].
So neither of you are from a fashion background.
So was the transition into fashion a difficult one?
We’re just trying to do a good clothing line. We aren’t designers but we do want to do a good quality timeless collection. We’re not advancing fashion, we’re a more of a classic brand that works with good quality fabrics and strong collaborations.
Looking back on your past, you have a strong mix of different collaborations. How do you usually approach these projects?
Kitsuné is a super young brand relative to some of the brands we work with. We’re learning every day to perfect our trade. There are some other aspects to collaborations like marketing. But when we work with a company like Petit Bateau, we get to see a 100 year old company at work. This means you get to see their factory and their operations. This allows us to learn immensely whereas working with shoemaker like J.M. Weston allows us to see the production of footwear. The 30-step process and the extended time taken to produce one pair of shoes is fascinating.
So all this accrued knowledge gets put back into what you do as a brand with Kitsuné?
Well some of it does. But for the projects engage in, the brands we work with represent something that we could never do. With shoes or with a respected raincoat company like Mackintosh, these are crafts we can never master. It’s more about the savoir faire. It’s never about doing collaborations for the sake of doing it. It’s more of a sort of research.
You mentioned that Kitsuné tries to make classic fashion. Does this philosophy fall in line with what you try to achieve with your music and the music you try to promote?
We don’t want to do a clothing line that’s an accessory to the music line.
Yes and the clothing isn’t like the merchandise to the music. We focus on the cut and fabric for the fashion and for the music we’re working on promoting artists. We’re properly working as a music label. One isn’t an excuse to do the other, they both exist in their own realm.
When you go about creating clothes and music, are your creative mindsets similar? Could you be working on music and all of a sudden have an idea for fashion?
The common ground between the two is the fact we achieve to have the best product between the two and something lasting. The grail for our music is to release songs that become classics that can last several generations. We want to evoke some sort of emotion with the music we promote. It could be 5 years after a certain experience and the music could remind you of a certain experience. Kitsuné’s clothing is similar. You could forget about something and then all of a sudden you find it in your closet several years down the line and you can begin wearing it again.
Between yourself and Masaya, do you often have disagreements more so on fashion or music-based decisions?
The way it works, I take care of the music label and do all the “A&R” work and Masaya takes care of the fashion, styling and product.
So you kind of let each other do their own thing?
Yes, what Masaya does with the clothes line is really working so I don’t really have much I need to say [laughs].
Amongst your Parisian crew are a lot of well-established personalities including fashion and music. What effect does this have on your own work seeing their own success?
It’s a good thing, there is a bit of a Paris scene and it helps feed off each other. We make more and more noise and it helps make the local scene a better place.
Before you mentioned about making classics. However how do you balance commercialism and creativity? For example if you have something with an unorthodox sound, how do you assess whether or not it’s a good fit for Kitsuné?
When you listen to a band, you have to assess the economy of the music. For example what’s the current landscape? That is a key point. If there’s not a particular level of success I think I can achieve with an artist, then I might not feel compelled to invest my efforts into it. As music sells less and less, you have to be very careful about the overall investment.
With the Internet now, how important is it as a tool to help you discover new artists?
It’s huge. When we work with our compilation which is now on Maison Kitsuné 10, we now get a lot of different submissions from around the world who most likely heard about us via the Internet in some shape or form.
You previously spoke about how it’s more difficult to sell music now. As a music label, how do you approach the business model and plan for running a music label now due to the Internet, piracy etc?
While there’s more piracy, more people are listening to music and there’s more channels than ever to promote music. While marketing was once focused only on radio and then maybe TV. Now there are blogs, Internet radio, Youtube, Vimeo, you have to revisit where you put your efforts. You have to be more creative and ultimately it’s more fun. Music can’t necessarily spread by itself and it needs a push at times.
I think I remember reading that you saying that Kitsuné’s music is most popular outside of France and in Japan, does that still hold true?
Our main market historically is Japan because the kids and fans were among the first to follow us. As we got bigger with more and more partners, the United Kingdom is becoming our largest markets. We started to work more in the US now.
How do you gauge the market of the music in Asia? It’s not traditionally known as a market with a wide mix?
That’s what’s challenging about the region. But I meet more and more people who are curious. With the blogs and the Internet, you can get a lot of different people involved in Kitsuné whether its Indonesia, Seoul or Singapore. They’ll talk with their friends about music and it snowballs.
To close things off, you’re currently on this tour DJing by yourself. What’s it like doing it alone since you’ve traditionally had a partner?
It’s like a part of me that is gone. But I’ve been DJing a lot by myself as he’s busy traveling for factory visits which is a bit of fun in itself [laughs].