French Sweaters and American Pop: Together At Last
It’s a bit of a pastiche watching Gildas Loaëc adapt his Paris-based clothing and music label Kitsuné to New York. Surrounded by French prep tri-color sweaters and Keds-style shoes marked around $500, Kitsuné is in stark contrast to its new home on 28th and Broadway, an area “famous” for its wholesale jewelry outlets, scaffolding, and eyesore awnings. At one point during our interview, a couple of rough-looking guys in work boots, jeans, and Yankees gear wandered into Kitsuné , apparently looking for someone they knew. Loaëc grew nervous and strayed from our conversation to question them, only to return a little embarrassed. “They are nice guys,” he said, breathing again.
Loaëc, co-founder of Kitsuné and former Daft Punk cohort, has the right to be skittish. Armed with widespread success in Paris and Japan, an American opening is a huge deal for this unusual hybrid business, which features clothing on one side of the store and albums on the other. “Paris is…meh,” Loaëc says, dismissive gestures aplenty. “In New York, it’s like wow. People don’t look at me the same way now.”
Loaëc and his partner Masaya Kuroki opened the new retail shop about a week ago, and on May 22, the music side will drop one of its famous compilations, this time with 100% American musicians.
For years, Kitsuné, which means “fox” in Japanese, has been establishing itself as something of a tastemaker with a distinctly French, bourgeois, neon filter. The music label has a few artists on its permanent roster – Two Door Cinema Club and up-and-comers Housse De Racket are two of them — but since 2002, Kitsuné Maison comps and releases have looped in dozens of big names like Fischerspooner, Hot Chip, Simian Mobile Disco, Crystal Fighters, and Cut Copy. The label’s general aesthetic is, as evidenced, accessible pop for nu raving youth.
To put names together on a for-profit album — along with many unknowns — has been one of Kitsuné’s consistent risks in today’s music economy. Loaëc — who has and lived with, produced, and managed Daft Punk surrounding their Human After All days — acknowledges the gambles, but the comps seem to fill a hole the Internet created, too.
“You don’t have any one place for music to go to anymore,” Loaëc says. “There’s so much music going on everywhere. People aren’t going to the store and saying ‘oh I’m going to the pop section or the hip-hop section.’ The idea of Kitsuné Maison is to make something that is a Kitsuné Maison sound, but not sticking to one genre.”
Kitsuné isn’t new to incorporating tracks by US artists, but Kitsune America is the first stateside-artist-only comp. Endearingly (insultingly? naa), there’s a burger on the cover.
The most famous artist on the tracklist is Childish Gambino, whose song “Heartbeat” has been remixed lounge-style by THEM JEANS. Others like HeartsRevolution and Gigamesh have cropped up on the blogosphere, but for the most part, Loaëc is taking some real chances. Poindexter, one of the highlights on the compilation for Loaëc, is a Portland electronic artist with under 300 Facebook likes…for now.
“We look for the ones who have the potential to get bigger,” Loaëc says. “We’re not right all the time, but we’re trying to figure it out by digging into some artists we feel will come up, will come out with an album, will start to tour, and will become a success….I would say for me, I made it like kind of like a Kitsuné compilation with the same sound, with America as a filter.”
Selebrities wound up on the tracklist when their fans recommended them on Kitsuné’s open Facebook call. Selebs is a new Brooklyn trio with a tight, darkened The Cure vibe, and, despite a fitting pop sound, they seemed surprised as anyone.
“We’ve been fans of all the comps for forever, so it’s really great to be a part of it,” said guitarist/synth player Jer Robert Paulin. “The early Kitsuné comps were what got me into electronic music…Digitalism is one of my favorites.”
For Kitsuné, the decision to branch out to America was a matter of a chance invitation. The brand new, high end, French-vibe NoMad hotel next door asked Kitsuné to join them in a neighboring partnership a few years back, and Loaëc and Kuroki accepted. Unbeknownst to most New Yorkers (who tend to be rabid about neighborhood names) NoMad is the oft-forgotten title of the 28th and Broadway area. The hotel, which now has Kitsuné as a retail arm, is one of the first businesses to truly broadcast the NoMad moniker. It’s as if together, NoMad and Kitsuné are carving out an entirely new, definable neighborhood; perhaps a much-needed French quarter.
But before the inevitable takeover, Kitsuné is lulling everyone into complacency with gorgeous window treatments, wood floors, chic garments, and Kitsuné promo parties across the states, usually featuring Loaec as a DJ — though he’s on the fence about that.
“I love DJing, but really, how old is too old to be doing it?” Loaec asks wryly. “And at Kitsune Maison we are looking for new. For us, America is all about new. New neighborhood, new brand, new business.”
Hear a preview of Kitsuné America below, and read a full review here.
All Photos: MTV Iggy/Sam Schubert