In 2011, after several years cultivating her craft in the art of knitwear at Balmain, Kenzo and Hermès, Garance Broca decided to launch her own designer brand for men, infusing her collections with know-how, unique details, humour and refinement. The brand owes its inspiration to Pierre-Francois Lacenaire, a 19th century legendary bourgeois romantic criminal whose cultivated mind and deadpan sense of humour is at the soul of each collection.

Ever since its first collection, Monsieur Lacenaire has found its place in renowned stores around the world such as Colette and Le Bon Marché in Paris, Soto in Berlin, Carson Street Clothiers in New York, and Beams, Isetan and Edifice in Japan. In 2014, we opened our first store in the heart of Le Marais, 57 rue Charlot, Paris.

What did you dream of becoming when you were a kid?

G: I’ve always enjoyed telling stories from very early on. And using fashion, more specifically knitwear, seemed like a good canvas.

There were also the fashion show I used to watch late at night on Paris Première TV channel (there was no internet at that time).

I used to fall asleep with all of these images in my head, which must in some way have shaped my personality, and my will to create my own clothes.

How did you start?

G: As soon as I started my studies (business law) I completed a number of internships in fashion studios such as Chloé, Balmain, Kenzo... I simply adored my internship at Galliera Museum and my final internship turned into a full-time job.
Then I worked at Hermès for 4 years, at Joseph in knitwear product development… then I created Monsieur Lacenaire.

B: For me the story is more recent.
I was doing creative work in an advertising agency, accompanying Garance in her reflections in terms of strategy, branding and communications as she was launching the brand in 2011. But also at Pitti Uomo and other tradeshows. At first I must say I was mostly doing it for fun. A sort of side project which we were doing in a very spontaneous sort of way, but still very seriously of course.

How would you describe yourselves?

G: I am a hard worker, I’m always questioning what I do to go forward and grow. I always pay a lot of attention to the people who surround me, and the advice that I get. But I am not influenced that easily. I always do things with the utmost conviction.
Almost anything can be an inspiration. I like things to be authentic, and I’m always looking for that subtle balance between artistic expression and elegance.

B: I tend to be rather curious about things, and I like to work by associating ideas. I like linking together several disciplines, projects which often may seem disconnected, and come up with new stories, experiences, moments…

A quel point êtes vous conscient d'être considérés cool ?

G: Ah ah ! Je ne me considère pas du tout cool. J'aime ce que je fais je le fais de mon mieux je me concentre sur ma créativité et sur le goût de mes clients.

B: Moi je trouve ça cool d’être cool ! Hahaha !

How do you work as a team?

G: My husband first took an interest in my project from a distance, helping me with the communications aspects since that was his job.Then he gradually grew a passion for fashion, and for that project in particular. And he decided to work on it full time. We love working together. Our personalities are quite different, which is why we enjoy leveraging each other’s qualities.

B: We really are a team. The secret is having very well-defined responsibilities, and listening to each other. I might help Garance on a design or the collection plan, but she will always have the final cut. Just as when she helps me on a photo-shoot I will always have the last word.

What’s your take on fashion? What would you like your products to say?

G: I make a product for a laidback man. A product with a certain sense of humor and wit. I want men to feel handsome wearing my clothes, and at the same time express the personality of a smart, witty character.

Who or what inspires you? What moves you?

G & B: Bill Murray, Jean Rochefort. These men are classy and self-deprecation at the same time. They are intellectuals with a dry sense of humor, both caustic and compassionate. Or people such as Sébastien Tellier, Alain Chabat or Quentin Dupieux (Mr Oizo). Highly creative and productive guys who live for irony and lightness, but with the utmost rigor in everything they do. And of course, there’s king James Murphy.

How would you describe your brand?

B: Monsieur Lacenaire is a contemporary brand with true know-how in knitwear. Knitwear is really at the heart of our collections, and the main canvas for our stories. Thanks to her vast technical and sourcing skills, Garance is able to work on that canvas as a painter would do, creating jacquard patterns and playing with knitting techniques to create 3D patterns. Beyond the clothes, we consider ourselves as a creative label developing side projects to make the brand grow. I would name the SS16 collection which pays tribute to Red Miles, a US graphic designer from the second half of the 20th century, who designed most of the Blue Note jazz label album covers. At the time his work was very graphic, modern and handcrafted. The presentation took place in Paris’ oldest recording studio. As models were going around the studio, a quintet was playing jazz. We recorded this session to make a very exclusive vinyl, pressed at only 200 copies.

What part of your life influences your designs the most?

G: Almost everything. I have image bulimia. I accumulate astronomical quantities even before having an idea in mind. I allow my mind to wander in this ocean of photographs, paintings, graphic designs and images… until I naturally find a binder and a story.

B: A certain lifestyle, one that is very light, where games, leisure and team spirit have an important place.

Is travelling regularly also an important aspect of your creative process?

G: Travel allows me to disconnect, reenergize, take a global view. It’s the best breath of fresh air to be creative. Nevertheless it is not what I see in my trips that inspires me, it’s simply the change of air.

What was the last place that really fascinated you?

B: Discland Jaro, à Tokyo ! It’s a mini disc shop in Shibuya which is 5 square metres at the most, where the discs are piled up all over the place wherever possible. This shop is legendary. It has existed for over 50 years… and its founder Jaro San still keeps it today.

Has the attitude towards your work in the public space changed how you design?

G: It’s very hard to confront one’s work to other people’s eyes, and sometimes also rewarding. I seek to protect myself from outside opinion in order to keep an authentic approach. As far as I know I am very critical of my work and I try to bounce back from the way people perceive what I am trying to do.

Would you say that you created your brand by following your instinct rather than just pursuing success or money for its own sake?

G: That is certain. My instinct is my magic word. I am not sure whether one can be a fashion designer for money. The business dimension is necessary for survival, but we nonetheless approach these products with a personal touch.

B : The idea is to share a little of ourselves with others. To share an experience, a passion, a joke, an emotion.

What is the main challenge that your brand is facing today?

B: Staying very close to our kids, even if we have more and more of work to do, more and more travelling. For us, this is very what family business means.

What was the IFM diagnostic on the management of your brand?

G & B: We need to focus on our strength which is knitwear. In mean while, we’ll develop our collection with more products and accessories.

Also, we have to plan better our marketing and retail plan to keep the fire during the whole season!

How and on what aspects did the IFM helped you?

G & B: Lots of things !! Understanding our weaknesses, building and enlarging our supply, extending our communication tools, asserting our brand image.

What is the next step for your brand?

B: Better monitored sales development, with resellers considered ever more as partners than as clients. To develop the brand with them.

Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?

G + B : Boutiques in Paris, Tokyo and perhaps New York. To benefit from our catwalk shows to create cross-disciplinary and popular experiences. To turn Monsieur Lacenaire into a lifestyle concept that is both laid back and highly inspired, open to the world, but whose essence and mood remains essentially French. A global brand, present all over the world, that cultivates its niche and its community.

Would you ever consider working for other brands?

G: Yes, but preferably remaining a twosome with Benoist. He manages image and I manage style.

Any advice you can share with young designers who dream of starting their own brand?

G: To surround yourself with professionals who understand your vision and who have experience in your brand’s positioning.
B: It really is a story about a passion. Because it is only through passion that one can endure such humiliation. To have one’s own brand is one of the most difficult entrepreneurial experiences. There are so many subjects in addition to design that are inevitable and not necessarily exciting, that you need to find enjoyment in creating. And in being proud of what you do ! It’s a religion. You have to be assiduous, have faith and be creatively sincere with yourself and others.

Any last words or message to potential investors or buyers you would like to express?

G & B : We are both super cool and hard workers!

Raphaëlla Riboud