Structural Analysis

Into the Streamlined World of Tim Coppens

Words by Isa Tousignant
Photos by Felix Wong

If comic book speed lines spring to mind when you hear the name Tim Coppens, it might be because the New York-based Belgian designer built up his eponymous line in a mere couple of years. But it might also be because he’s a sporty kind of guy. He spent his formative years designing luxury skiwear for Bogner before leading the conceptual development of the high-end men’s performance division at Adidas. Three years at Ralph Lauren, as design director for RLX, added a touch of ready-to-wear to his activewear chops. The result? A line launched in 2011 that’s defined by sleek construction, athletic influences, and a sophisticated sense of play.

You specialize in deconstructed classics – trench coats, perfectos, jackets. Is that something you inherited from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts? Preserving tradition, but turning it on its head?

I think so, in a way. The school, at least when I was there, was pretty conceptual. It’s not about “how do you become the best tailor,” but you actually have to be a good tailor. The focus then is about how you package it. If you look at the year’s end collections, they’re always very free, but you’ll see that there are references and that the collections are very well-built and very well-considered. Then, of course, it’s up to the designer what comes out of that.

You’re based in New York now. Why the move from a European fashion capital to an American one?

I’ve always wanted to live here, and for a young brand, New York is the best city to be in. You have the factories here, you have the support system – we’re part of the Vogue Fashion Fund finalists right now. A lot of stylists live here, magazines are based here, photographers, so it’s super convenient.

Has New York influenced your work, in terms of its energy?

Yes, totally. There’s always been that urban vibe in my work. And I’ve always had an interest in graffiti, from when I was very, very young. Even though I had never actually seen graffiti in Belgium, I got to know it through some weird gallery in Brussels that had an exhibit with 80s graffiti artists from New York. It was natural to move over here, to be close to that – it’s a different time, of course, but for me it’s still New York.

You didn’t grow up in Antwerp proper, right? You were more in a rural setting?

I was in a very rural setting. In a small village – like when I looked out of my window I could see cows and everything.

Did you always want to be a designer? Was that your ticket out?

No, because when you grow up in a village like that, you don’t really know about such things. To my parents being creative meant you were going to be a painter and die poor. But that’s not all that’s out there – there’s architects and graphic designers and all that. I didn’t know all that existed.

I started in fashion design after high school because I knew somebody that lived in Antwerp. I think I was always into making stuff, but whether that was a jacket or a bookcase… it was more the construction part of it that was interesting to me.

Do you feel you lean towards industrial design?

I like industrial design. In fashion – the zippers, the snaps, the way you build a jacket – there’s a lot of construction going on. As a fashion designer you start with a sketch, with a pencil and a piece of paper, but then you start working three-dimensionally.

You’ve been called a minimalist, but you do some quite flamboyant work with patterns, as well as texture contrasts and geometric detailing. Is there a better word than “minimalism” to describe your practice?

I think that “minimalism” is a funny word. I don’t know – a white piece of paper is probably pretty minimalistic, but what we do, I don’t think it is. Of course we don’t do checks and then combine them with flowers and then combine them with, like, brown and red. We’re definitely not minimalistic, though; there’s a lot going on.

The collection always has to be one whole. I think if you look at a lot of fashion lines, like Ralph Lauren, for example, when you look at the men’s show you see it’s five different worlds put together. Maybe for many people it’s interesting to look at, but we like to keep our collection more streamlined.

Maybe it’s “structured” people are thinking of. Your lines are very pure, very straight.

It is very constructed. We do look at shape a lot, it has to be very precise; a line has to be a certain way and a corner has to fit, so there’s not a lot of room for wrinkled fabric. Maybe there’ll be pieces like that in the future, a collection that’s all draping, but at the moment it’s very constructed.

Now that you’ve entered the world of womenswear, with SS14, has that been something that’s come up? In terms of softening your line a bit, to adapt it to women?

It definitely opens up a whole different world in terms of shape. It’s a lot easier to use pleats and drapes and all that than in menswear, so it will open us up to explore other shapes and volumes, definitely.

The first three silhouettes for women we did were added in the last couple of weeks, because we were part of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Finalists and there was a question from a couple of judges, if I was ever going to do womenswear. I said “Yes, I will definitely do that.” So we decided to just do it now so they can see it. So in the November Vogue issue, we have the womenswear silhouette and the menswear silhouette. It’s the perfect launch, and now we can’t stop it! We definitely have to keep on doing it. It’s a big push for us. I’m super excited because creatively, it can go a lot further.

We heard a quote from you where you said that you yourself would probably buy your own brand one piece at a time and mix it with t-shirts and Levi’s. I find it speaks to the practicality that’s really present in your work.

Yes. When you do a show, and there are photo shoots and stylists involved, you tell a story, and I don’t really think of the individual pieces. But it’s always funny backstage when the model is in a t-shirt with one of our jackets over it. Once you take fashion out of its context it should easily go on the street and be translatable to that world.

Of course there are always pieces that you make just for a show. And its always fun because you never know what will take. We made these boiler suits for the latest collection, and Barneys will sell them. There have been a couple of private requests – so there’s definitely people who are into that.

We could see one of those on Kanye, for sure.

Ha! We’ll see. We definitely know people in that world that would be interested.

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Structural Analysis