Subversive streetwear

The New York menswear brand remixing art, punk and hip hop
By Cristian Burbano | Fashion | 4 July 2017

Launched in 2011 by friends Laurence Chandler and Joshua Cooper, Rochambeau has become a regular in the NYFWM schedule with its bold and refined take on menswear. But FW17 felt extra special. Inspired by the collaborative energy of music and art, they partnered with composer, visual artist and lead singer of American post-punk band Devo, Mark Mothersbaugh, for a collection inspired by the 70s and 80s punk movement. It was all about a new take on punk: think patches and drip paint motifs, dungarees with chain detailing, and all accessorised with fishnet and wool balaclavas. 

This kind of collaboration is natural for co-founders Laurence and Joshua. Having seen a gap in menswear, they started off with a short run line of t-shirts before developing full collections. Ultimately, it became their outlet for creative expression and artistic collaboration, fusing together their shared love of music, sport, art and design. Early fans were big name athletes, including NBA stars Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade and Andre Iguodala and American football player Odell Beckham even chose one of the key colours for a collection during a showroom visit. And they’ve garnered industry support too: last year, the designer duo took home the US menswear Woolmark award, and were finalists in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize.

With momentum building, co-founder Laurence Chandler here reflects on the journey so far, the evolution of streetwear, and diversity in fashion. 


Cristian Burbano: Tell us a bit about why/how you started the brand?
Laurence Chandler: We were young and crazy enough to think we could start a fashion label, we were best friends and met over a pair of rare sneakers. From there we started designing everything, from a small runs of t-shirts to a magazine, anything to be a part of the worlds we grew up in. As much as we were influenced by what was happening in NYC we always had this interest and aspiration to what was happening in the fashion world at large.

This was around 2006-2008, we were wearing our friend’s streetwear brands but were looking at the fashion shows in Paris. We saw the limits of the NYC brands and saw real fashion as the way to distinguish ourselves and create the Rochambeau brand. We spent a few summers in the Garment District literally learning how a piece of clothing was made and started sourcing things we loved and making our own changes to them.

In 2011 we decided to start our own label, and without any real plan, Rochambeau was born. Thanks to a few great friends like Jus Ske and Jenne Lombardo we got an opportunity to do our first fashion show and became part of the MADE family. In 2014 the CFDA called and invited to join the first NYFWM and since then we have been off and running.

Cristian: How would you describe the Rochambeau aesthetic? Who is the Rochambeau man?
Laurence: We are the Rochambeau men. We grew up immersed in a cross section of worlds that used to be distinct. We listened to hip hop and punk. We played basketball and skated. We were inspired by the art world and the energy of downtown NYC. Rochambeau is the evolution of that energy – it’s that same guy but grown up. There is more of an appreciation for the fit and quality, but also the desire to have something that no one else does.

Recently, we have really honed in on our artist collaborations – each season telling a different story inspired by artists we love and admire. We are continuing to make the things that we want to wear and getting better at it.

“We listened to hip hop and punk. We played basketball and skated. We were inspired by the art world and the energy of downtown NYC. Rochambeau is the evolution of that energy.”

Cristian: Your FW17 line takes inspiration from 70s and early 80s punk, what was it about this movement that resonated with you? How did this translate into the final collection?
Laurence: It was a weird year – we were suddenly thrust into these competitions like CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and Woolmark Prize. So here we were, jumping through all these hoops for different leaders of the industry, but there was still a small hesitation on our part, we felt that we didn’t start this label to be following someone else’s formula, especially when many of the rules within the industry were getting turned over themselves.

I was watching a documentary on John Belushi and how he died and it said that at the time he was the only star to have the number one movie, album and TV show at the same time. He was so on fire that Lorne Michaels of SNL was literally letting him select the musical guests: he chose a band called FEAR to open for Black Flag. There is a clip on YouTube of FEAR’s performance and it is fucking incredible, they open it by screaming, “Fuck New York City!” And a massive mosh pit ensues. At the time, it was exactly how we were feeling.

Cristian: You worked with musician and artist Mark Mothersbaugh on the line, what did he bring into the mix?
Laurence: So Mark came into the mix in a really cool way. Our mood board is late 70s early 80s. Lot of Rollins and badass stuff, but the board felt like things that had been done before. So it shifted, first it was maybe when Rollins was skating and on Thrasher, but it still didn’t feel new, then it became about exploring the subgenres of punk – the art world that was in the punk scene. Suddenly the board was filled with weird colours and performers – Devo appeared a lot and with it (unbeknownst at the time) the art and drawing of Mark Mothersbaugh.

I had a great friend and artist Nathan Carter who had a solo show at the MCA – Mark had recently done his first museum show there too – I told him what I was thinking and he put me in touch with the curator Adam Lerner who introduced me to Mark. We hit it off immediately and the collaboration was born. I knew of Mark’s work leading Devo but was soon immersed in the thinking that was behind the group, the theories of devolution – the planet, politics – issues that are all the more prescient today. I soon discovered what a living legend Mark is – everything from Devo, to working on Pee Wee Herman, scoring Rugrats and all of Wes Anderson’s films.

The drips throughout the collection are part of his recent body of work and represented this idea of devolution, of mutations, he was philosophically leading the development of this season and inspired with in us much much more.

Cristian: What are your favourite pieces from FW17?
Laurence: I love the oversized grandfather jacket with the massive red drip on the back.  The cropped white button ups that we drenched with water for the show to look like the models had just left a punk show. The massively oversized corduroy. Mark’s graphics are embroidered throughout with wild pops of colour.

Cristian: Working as a duo how does your creative relationship work? Do you each have distinct roles in the design/creation process?
Laurence: We are partners on all elements and everything goes through a vetting and conversation before anything proceeds. It’s a relationship that has developed organically almost in an unspoken way.  Where we do differ is the extremes, I will always push for more and Josh will help bring things back to reality, it’s a give and take that allows us to push things creatively but still get them done on time.

Backstage at Rochambeau FW17. Photography Luis Ruiz

Cristian: What’s the biggest changes you’ve seen in the menswear seen since you launched six years ago?
Laurence: Menswear six years ago was the major fashion houses and the small streetwear brands in each city. Now the major fashion houses want to be the small streetwear brands in each city! Ha. It has really been an interesting shift. I remember growing up everyone wanted to be a rapper – now every rapper wants to be a designer.

Cristian: Your last show was one of the most diverse at NYFWM, was this a conscious decision? What do you think about the current conversation surrounding diversity and inclusivity in fashion?
Laurence: It is not a deliberate effort, it’s more natural in terms of how we view the Rochambeau guy.  There is no template, it is someone who has the ability to carry the clothing, not driven by a trend.

This season was even more fun than normal, as cliché as that sounds, we did a lot of casting off Instagram.  The reality is during the Woolmark competition we were trapped in a hotel in Paris for a weekend. We basically trolled Instagram and hit up people we thought would work for the show.

One of those people was @BloodyOsirus he had this crazy style and wearing the wildest shit but was also posing with guns. It was so next level. He came by the studio and we asked if he wanted to walk the show and he was down and he killed it. Our shows are full of friends and soon to be family.

Cristian: Based in NY do you feel the city, and the people there influence your work?
Laurence: No question. New York City is our home and it is also where all the work gets done. We travel the world and come back home and work 20 hour days and then go out all night. This would not be possible if everyone around us wasn’t doing the same.

Cristian: What’s next for you?
Laurence: We are about to drop an insane collaboration with @YungJake – a very dope LA based artist. He’s a friend and has some amazing things going on- he’s recently shown at the MoMa and the MoCa – he merges fine art with the trap world of young rappers. Basically he’s really fucking dope!

We are going to debut the capsule at MADE LA on June 9th and 10th and then during NYFW:M on July 14th in NYC. You’ll be hearing about it very soon.

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