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"Meet me at Kinfolk," can mean a lot of things. There's Kinfolk Studios, where DJs and tattoo artists work second shifts pulling espresso and mixing cocktails; 94 Wythe, a nightclub-slash-art-gallery housed inside a geodesic, cedar wood dome; and now, Kinfolk's menswear shop—the latest addition to the Tokyo lifestyle brand's Williamsburg mini-empire.
"With the café and the nightclub, there was already a Kinfolk community built. And now they come visit me at the store," Jey Perie, Kinfolk's creative director told Racked. "They don't all automatically become customers. I still need to convince them."
Jey, who frequently travels to Tokyo and his native France to source Kinfolk's goods, believes that men don't actually need much: "A few books, those bands that influenced your youth, a few essential pieces of clothing, and that's it." Which is why everything in the store—from the vintage Playboys and selvedge denim to the Japanese, turmeric-based hangover-prevention drinks (which Jey swears by)—is so carefully chosen.
The store's just-launched in-house label is, as Jay puts it, American sportswear for guys who "like to party but also appreciate a slow day." It's not exactly streetwear (some of the logo-emblazoned pieces come close), and not quite heritage (though emphasis is placed on craftsmanship and quality), but it meets the creative director's criteria for authenticity —a quality he values above all else.
"If you dress like a biker, you should be a biker. If you have a beard and tattoos and a flannel shirt, you should be about that life, too." Those could be considered fighting words in this particular corner of Brooklyn, but Jey's love of the borough runs deep. "I think this is going to be the base of the new Kinfolk," he says.
Quick! Give us a rundown of everything Kinfolk has going on in Williamsburg right now. You guys kind of own this block.
Kinfolk started in Tokyo in 2008, with a small bar in Nakameguro and a custom bicycle shop. In 2011, two of the owners moved to New York, where they had been living before, and opened Kinfolk Studios on the corner of Wythe and North 11th. It's a café in the morning—we do lunch and dinner—and then on the weekends it turns into a party venue. It's open 20 hours a day.
We just opened a new club next door, behind the men's shop. That's where all the parties are going to be, all the events. The older Kinfolk space is going to be more mellow, more food-oriented. There will be music, but more ambience. The madness will be next door.
So you could spend your whole day within this Kinfolk sphere.
Yes, the new lounge is open from 4pm to 4am. And the store is open from noon to eight.
Tell me about your role at Kinfolk.
I'm the creative director of the store. I do the buying and curate the entire space, and also give the direction for our clothing brand.
What direction are you trying to take the clothing brand in?
We do only menswear right now. We're trying to do classic American sportswear. The vision of the brand includes the vision of the Kinfolk lifestyle that we're trying to embody at the bar and the restaurant, and also where we come from.
What is that lifestyle?
The Kinfolk man likes to party, but also appreciates a slow day. There are certain books that inspire him, certain albums. He travels a lot. We, the owners and I, all met in Tokyo. I'm trying to draw from our past fifteen years of traveling and mix it into a new line.
This is the first-ever season for Kinfolk's menswear line. Any pieces that have been doing particularly well?
We had some crewneck sweatshirts that we had made in Canada, and we have printed shirts made in Italy that me and a tattoo artist, Thomas Wayne, who also works at the bar, designed. We have a Ventile cotton lightweight jacket for the summer that's going to be great. It's going to be released in about two weeks in the store.
What are your price points?
A Kinfolk shirt will be $180. The Japanese brands we carry are a bit more pricey. The quality of the fabrics is amazing, and the conversion of the yen and the shipping makes the price a bit higher.
How do you pick other lines to complement your in-house label?
I'm trying to offer a selection that will represent everything we like about menswear. I try not to get pigeonholed into one style and go deep into it and be too gimmicky about it. For myself, I don't like to be labeled heritage, or streetwear, or sportswear. I like to mix it up.
There are brands that I've worked with in the past on different projects, and I wanted to give them a chance in New York. I want a diverse group of men to come and find something for them. I don't want one type of customer. I want a European tourist family to come into the store and find something good for them, and I want fashionable young men from Manhattan to come and find something.
Can you name a few labels that are exclusive to Kinfolk?
Bedwin & The Heartbreakers, the brand I've been working for for five years, is in the store. We're the only ones in New York who carry it right now. Lewis Leathers has, I think, only two accounts in New York: Dover Street Market and us. Bleu De Paname is the same, only Dover Street Market and us have it. It's a Parisian streetwear brand, and everything is made in France. We have a small obscure brand from Los Angeles called Shanana Mills, which is vintage-oriented, French military-inspired clothing.
We opened three months ago, and my first selections were really based on my relationships and the people I wanted to give a shout to in New York. Some have been very successful, and some are still too obscure for the US market. I want to try to balance that.
What is too experimental for the typical New York customer?
For menswear, the American customer is still conservative. In Japan, men will go for prints or funny-shaped pockets. The average Japanese guy is not afraid to wear those things. But here, the customer for that is an artist. I want those guys in the store, but they're not the neighborhood target.
Do you get a lot of people from the Wythe?
Yes, the whole neighborhood is changing so fast. It brings new blood every day. We have a lot of tourists because Williamsburg is in every guide. So tourists from Europe are spending one day in Williamsburg. They come to the Wythe and then they come to our shop. The New York Times article also helped the Manhattan crowd get interested in what we do.
You sell grooming products too. How do you source them?
I try to carry all American-made products. So most are still obscure, but they're not unique to us. We have this brand called Portland General from Portland, Maine with whiskey and tobacco-based fragrances and shaving foams. We also carry fragrance from this Toyko brand called retaW. A lot of women like them.
Do a lot of women come into the store?
Yes, a lot of women like to shop for men's clothes.
To wear themselves?
Yeah, now I'm trying to understand the market. They come to us for men's shirts, and I want to carry the sizes that fit them the most. Sometimes a girl will come in and buy a sweatshirt, or a button-down shirt, and wear it herself. I find that very exciting and cool. Women are more likely to take risks. They're more curious. A man won't come in unless he sees something he wants in the window.
You carry sneaker spray! What is the importance of owning sneaker spray?
It's also retaW, it's just a unique product. When I approached retaW to work with us, I thought that with America being such a sneakers-oriented country, you know every man in this neighborhood wears sneakers, it was a good product for us.
Is it scented?
So, it's sneaker cologne.
Yeah. I think it's a cool idea! And we have the same thing for denim. A lot of guys who are into selvedge denim never wash their jeans, they want to keep the roughness. But after a year of not washing the denim it might smell bad. So we have a spray that erases the scent of the denim without having to wash it.
Do you put your jeans in the freezer? I heard that works.
I don't, but I've heard of it. I'm not a big selvedge denim guy. I have one pair that I never wash, and I use the spray. It works. And sometimes a good New York rain can wash them.
What do guys in Williamsburg get right, style-wise?
It's hard to speak for the neighborhood itself. There are a lot of stylish people here, but like everywhere, there are a lot of people who are tired and cliché.
Ooh, let's talk about that then. What is the local cliché?
Well, the hipster cliché is what? Some people are really about that life, and I want to support them, and that's great. Sometimes it's like a uniform. It's all about authenticity. If you dress like a biker, you should be a biker. If you have a beard and tattoos and a flannel shirt, you should be about that life, too.
Those guys probably aren't off chopping wood.
Exactly. It's all about authenticity. I see customers coming to our store and buying the piece that they really need, and that they find functional for their lifestyle. And I really like that. I support all lifestyles, and if you can find a piece for your outfit that really helps to express who you are, that's great.
But yeah, I work in this neighborhood but I live in Fort Greene. And I have a studio on Canal Street. So I travel a lot within New York to understand every demographic. Brooklyn can be a microcosm, especially this neighborhood.
What's up next for Kinfolk?
We're expanding in Los Angeles in September or October. It's going to be a bar with a karaoke room. The Ace Hotel invited us to open a Kinfolk in downtown L.A. I think they're trying to bring a lot of cool New York businesses around them. We've been working on that project for the past six months.
Wow, you're taking over the world.
The Kinfolk man is someone who is well-traveled. He's been in all of the places we've been.
So, Japan, France…?
Japan, yes. France is only me. But I'm trying to understand the aspects of French culture that the Japanese respect. Tokyo has been influenced by French culture, especially La Nouvelle Vague and film noir and French electro in the '90s. If you were an American living in Tokyo in the '90s or in 2000, you'd get influenced by French culture also.
The things that the owners of Kinfolk love about French culture are surprising to me, but they're the things I love as well. They may have never been to France but they know about this movement, or this artist. Once I understand it, and I know we're on the same page, I try to showcase it.
New York is where we are now, and I think that's going to be the base of the new Kinfolk. We're not trying to be a factory for materialism. We're trying to curate the best of men's needs. And a man doesn't need too much. A few books, those few bands that influenced your youth, a few essential pieces of clothing, and that's it.
Ok, time for the lightning round!
8am or 8pm?
Beer or wine?
Whiskey or tequila?
Beach or mountains?
Cats or dogs?
Favorite vacation destination?
Favorite neighborhood lunch spot?
Favorite happy hour spot?