Apart from mindblowing creations shown on fashion week runways, getting in touch with unique brands and concepts who deliver something out of the box you can actually wear (and purchase), is getting harder each passing day. Plus, with the amount of clothing and accessories production increasing on a daily basis there’s no getting around the waste from exceeding stocks or wardrobe purges; so, when I came across Atelier de L’Armée I couldn’t help to be absolutely blown away.
If there’s one thing I believe defines my style is eclectic: I’m as passionate by the craftsmanship and art of tailoring as I am for scouting one of a kind vintage pieces in thrift stores or flea markets. So suddenly, here I am before an atelier that merges craftsmanship, vintage materials and the exclusivity/uniqueness of bespoke…on top of that, they have one of the best curated selections of vintage garments I’ve seen.
After going through their website and placing an order for a 1974 belgian paratrooper jacket and a pair of dutch airlines pants (more on that later), I lost track of time browsing through a neverending list of unique, numbered bags handcrafted with vintage army deadstock such as tents, jackets, pants, linings, denim and rifle handles. I got a chance to talk to Elza & Joost, the minds behind this amazing brand…
Q: Tell us a bit about yourselves and how you came up with this concept?
A: We are partners in life, Elza Wandler & Joost Doeswijk and we started Atelier de l’Armée 1,5 years ago. Having years of experience in the denim industry we wanted to create our own world. We both have a passion for heritage clothing and materials that can create or already have a history. This doesn’t mean that we aim to be environment friendly: it justs happens to be this way for now. We thought of a concept where we do what we love, which is to create an environment where beautiful items come together. Even if we use a lot of old materials, we always try to make products that fit modern society.
Q: Although I’m constantly running into new brands, few have managed to create such an impact as yours. You are able to merge exclusivity, vintage, craftsmanship, aesthetic and recycling into unique items; was this empathy with customers something you were looking for?
A: Thank you for your compliment!! Of course we hope that our customers share the same passion for our products. All our products are created with great care for detailing and with a lot of love. It is a great compliment if other people like your products and wear them.
Q: Why did you decided to go for army stock, any particular reason?
A: Military fabrics are great. For the reason that the quality of these materials is stunning, “they don’t make’m like that anymore”. They are durable, have aged beautifully over time, most of them have stains, repairs, stamps wear etc.. a look that can never be achieved by nowadays washings. But we also love to work with denims, or beautiful leathers. In general we can say we have an passion for durable and well made materials.
Q: Are you sticking to army items or thinking about including others such as navy, special forces, etc?
A:We use any material we can get our hands on, as long as it is beautiful. We have used Airforce bags, US mailbags, Navy bags, Army tents, Sailing boat bags and a lot of deastock fabrics like; chambray, denims and leathers materials.
Q: Where do you get your stock from?
A: Anywhere we can. From local flee markets, to ebay. We always have our eyes open for materials. Even when visiting family. The other day we found that my uncle had been in the royal dutch navy and he gave us his complete personal kit! Of course we have built up a network of connections and addresses which we visit from time to time to restock. There is a warehouse in the Netherlands with a stock of 4x4x4 metres(!) completely filled with duffel bags. Absolutely sick.
For the future, we will probably be looking at other resources as well, like bigger quantity leftovers of durable materials.
Q: Each of your bags and accessories are numbered; although the model itself maybe replicated, is every bag truly one of a kind due to the parts used?
A: We currently have 9 different bag models which will always be the same, it is the materials that make the bag one of a kind.
To give you a few examples :
- We currently stock over 500 military leather rifle sling handles which are all used and show different shades of brown. It is already hard to find two similar colors;
- The military duffel bags used to be part of the soldiers unit kit. These bags are very personal with writings, stamps and all have different signs of wear, repairs and color shading;
- We work with left over / deadstock leathers with scratches, burn marks and other irregularities. These skins are always one-off;
- The new deadstock japanese selvage denims we use can be reproduced, but we always mix them with old materials.
Q: What are your future plans for Atelier de l’Armée?
A: Our concept can be amended on anything, from apparel to lifestyle. In general we want to expand our Atelier de l’Armée world. We have loads of plans. The problem is, as always, time and money.
I am a tall man (6'6") and I find it difficult to proceed stylishly due to the limitations of clothing that fits. Any thoughts?
I guess the easiest answer would be to go with made to measure/bespoke, but a fully customized wardrobe doesn’t come cheap. Are there any particular items you struggle with finding?
There are some garments that might be worth investing in, as the quality on these is superior and if you care for them they can last a lifetime; just make sure to go with timeless models for suiting or blazers. You can get nice made to measure shirts at an affordable price and pants may also pay off (depending on the fabric). Other than that I would recommend a good tailor: my body type is pretty much in tune with off the rack options and even so I get items tailored regularly.