Interview with Mister Freedom's Christophe Loiron

Men’s clothing can often be boiled down to a handful of archetypes: The sailor, the soldier, the cowboy, and the workman. Mister Freedom plays deftly with these archetypes to make inventive designs that can slot into any man's closet. 

Few brands are as inspiring as Mister Freedom. Founded by Christophe Loiron in 2003, Mister Freedom’s eclectic historically-minded designs that have character and surprise beyond simple reproductions. Men’s clothing can often be boiled down to a handful of archetypes: The sailor, the soldier, the cowboy, and the workman. Mister Freedom plays deftly with these archetypes to make inventive designs that can slot into any man’s closet. We had a chance to catch up with Christophe and talk about Mister Freedom’s new collection, where he finds inspiration, his time in the military, and of course his dog Joe Greene.  

Standard & Strange: I wanted to ask you about your dog.

Christophe Loiron: Yes, my new-found dog.

S&S: Joe Greene, right?

CL: Exactly, yeah. This is just really a new thing for me. They used to actually scare me, but this one totally grew on me.

S&S: Well, the reason why I wanted to ask was, you model all your own clothes and the only other person I see in any of your photos is Joe.

CL: The modeling is just because I'm a cheap bastard and so we don't have to hire models. It's way more convenient for me to just put my camera on the stand and the clicker. But I think you know that if we had the proper models, we'dprobably have more of an impact in the fashion world.

S&S: You didn't really have a clear line into fashion as it were. how did you get into starting a men’s brand?

CL: It Kind of all happened organically. I didn't have any kind of a master plan that I wanted to do this. There were things I knew I didn't want to do. But as far as what I wanted to do was, it was very faint. So I just went as I went along. The biggest move was obviously moving from France to the US in 1990. And when I landed, I didn't have many contacts and nor did I have any expertise in anything.

I played a little bit of music so I made my way through some of the roots music crowd here in LA, and became friends with a bunch of musicians. And I've always been into older things as a kid. I remember I used to go dumpster diving if you will. When I lived in Paris in the mid-'70s, going dumpster diving in Paris at the time, you'd find antiques and stuff, although I didn't really know what they were but to me, they had soul. It was stuff that was fun to play with. You know old radios and whatnot. And so I've always been into old stuff. I'm not exactly sure why I was never attracted by the latest thing. And I found more comfort in older things.

There's a funny quote in, I think it's The Hunter with McQueen where his wife is expecting, and he's in his room, this man cave, fixing his old toys. He's got his own collection. And I don't know what she mentions, but he turns to her and says, "Well, new stuff is just no good." I love that. So I applied at a vintage clothing boutique called American Rag. And I lied my way through the application. The only thing I knew is the basics of the clothing and I kind of knew the old stuff and I had some references, some historical references in the clothing that I liked.

I think that was in 1992. Denim had not really hit the fashion here in the US. And the owners of American Rag were into gaberdine suits and Hawaiian shirts, workwear was not exactly their thing. So I kind of brought a little bit of that.

I just remember there was a huge rack of Levi's 501, and I remember seeing Japanese buyers – at the time I didn't know they were Japanese – going around quickly, flipping through all the jeans and like picking specific ones. And then I realized that they were picking through all the red lines. And so I went and told the boss, “well maybe we should adjust the prices.” All the 501s were the same price.

So it went from there. And then they eventually promoted me to a vintage buyer. And I got sent to Texas and other all kinds of different places to buy. At some point, my freedom was kind of itching a little bit, so I figured I'd go on my own. And I did go on my own and started taking stuff in flea markets and whatnot and selling them to Japanese buyers who were bringing it back to Japan. So that's kind of my education. That's the only education in fashion.

S&S: Well, I'm curious, because I've seen some of your sketches that you've done with your designs. Are you all self-taught with your sketches?

CL: I'm not good at anything. I just know a tiny little bit about a lot of stuff. So my doodles eventually make it on Hawaiian shirts and stuff like that. But you can see it, they always kind of look like a child did those drawings because I don't know what I'm doing. But I hate copying, cutting and pasting. So all our tags are kind of hand drawn. And I did lift a few things from old Sears and Roebuck catalogs from the '30s and '40s. But everything we do, usually all the labels, for instance, are always hand drawn.

S&S: You’ve had this long-standing relationship with Sugar Cane Denim and Toyo Enterprise. How did that come about?

CL: When I was on my own at the store, before I started making clothing, I would always mess around with military surplus, you know like dyeing stuff or cutting the sleeves and making bags out of old tents and this and that. I would always alter things. It was not exactly designing, but it was just like reconstructing clothing. And there was a big boom in Japan at the time for what in the US they call “remake.”

And then I got contacted by the Sugar Cane people from Toyo Enterprise. Three of them came to the store, and I knew of the brand because I had worn Sugar Cane Jeans when I was in Japan, and they asked me to design a pair of jeans. And I said, "Of course," but of course I had no idea how to do that. I knew what old jeans looked like from different brands and this and that, but as far as making one from scratch, I didn’t know anything. They gave me a deadline.

Two weeks before the deadline I was like, "Oh-oh." So I deconstructed a bunch of jeans. Actually it was a pair of naval dungarees originally. And again, I knew how to sew, I just didn't know anything about patterns or how to make garments. Also, I did not want them to be stamped as a fashion piece. So the only justification that I could come up with was they had to look like it could have existed. So I came up with this little somewhat historical scenario with the jeans. It was a merchant marine guy who had to scramble and make a pair of work pants for himself. And so I kind of wrote up that little story and the resulting jeans were complete Frankenstein. When I submitted that to the Toyo people, they were like, "Wow, that's kind of interesting. Let's see." They definitely were not a hit but some people liked them.

S&S: Could you maybe say a little bit about your process and what inspires you?

CL: I needed to have a scenario in my head or to have some historical background in order to come up with the design. I just could not come up with something just for the sake of, let's make another pair of jeans. So it had to come from a historical background. That is at the root of everything we make. It comes from either a movie that I see or a book that I read. My fascination with Vietnam, which goes back to my Saigon Cowboy collection in 2015, started when I picked up Neil Sheehan’s Bright Shining Lie. I just fell into a rabbit hole on this one. It was just so fascinating and I started completely obsessing about it. I read a whole bunch of books from the kind of anti-war guys to the gung-ho types and I had all those visuals in my head. And so the clothing kind of came easy with all those.

It was even better than watching movies because as you read, you imagine and have kind of visuals in your head – that also helps not reproduce anything. It helps with the creative process. you do kind of spice it up with actual visuals of old photography and books. What really helped when I was making my first jeans, was an old album from a US Navy sailor that spanned from I think the mid-'40s all the way to the '70s. Those old photos were just such a slice of life that was so fascinating. It illustrated what I was doing, I felt like I was recreating the clothes that those guys could have worn in that album.

S&S: Looking at the whole breadth of your collections, I really feel like they have been progressing through the decades from the 1900s in the beginning through the 1970s now. How do you see where the brand is now and where it's come from, do you think about it as this progression of time?

CL: It's interesting you say that. It's true, now that I'm looking at the order of things. It is somewhat chronological, all these collections. Although I jumped back a little bit when I did this collection based on late 1800s French gangsters in Paris. I didn't mean that to be what I'm doing, but it's interesting that it seems to be going forward a little bit. It is really all over the place because I don't like to be kind of watching the same movie over and over again. I kind of jump around and as fascinating as Apocalypse Now is, I also find that Mutiny on the Bounty is also fascinating. It's hard for me to build a collection around it, but I like to entertain myself with many different things. I'm definitely more interested in '70s stuff now than I was 10 years ago. I really see beauty and genius and designs and the colorways of some '70s stuff that I did not see before. And I even tapped into some '80s kind of nautical visuals for the Skipper collection, which is something that would've never thought I'd do.

S&S: What was your inspiration for your next collection?

CL: I’m tapping into survival, in the sense of the SERE [Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape] program. I wanted to mix orange and olive drab, which is not the first time anyone has done that, but I just had that in my head. That is where this whole military survival concept came from.

S&S: How did you learn about that program?

CL: I'm a big fan of special forces and all those guys do this survival program. I think there's a school in Panama and several of them where astronauts also go. Once you start tapping into a specific military branch or a specific operation, there's always stuff that you take notes of, and I said "I got to go back to that later, it's so fascinating.” I didn't know that existed. Anyway, so the SERE program kept coming up. There is also this series done by LIFE in the ‘60s of astronauts on training in Iceland where they're wearing kind of what looks look like L2Bs and NASA jackets and jeans and red wings and this whole mix of stuff was an inspiration. Also, the astronaut training in the field where they have to make protective clothing out of their white and orange parachutes. I just found that really, really inspiring so I put it all in the mixer of what could have existed and came up with a few rags for this collection.

S&S: I want to ask you about surplus stores. I saw in another interview you gave a while ago that you mentioned you went to surplus stores as a kid. What were surplus stores in France like when you were growing up?

CL: When I was in France, my dad, who was a stylish dude was never into fashion. But he always had style and I remember him taking us to surplus stores. They were so fascinating to me, the surplus stores because there were so many things to play with from shovels and boxes and I was not into clothes at the time, but there were lots of things to play with. He would buy us our jeans from surplus stores. So I had Levi's jacket, but not always Levi's jeans, but there were some European brands like Lois I think, which was a Spanish denim brand. They were all kind of knocking off the Levis and Wranglers, but that's what we were getting from surplus stores. And they were always raw, of course, unwashed denim. I just love that environment because those surplus stores felt like the playground and definitely not a fashion hub of any sort. So it felt good. When I had to organize things at the store, I figured that the surplus store approach or vibe was great because I didn't like to go to fashion stores because it didn't feel comfortable to me. I figured, well how about I recreate what made me feel good, which was that military surplus vibe. To be honest, it was not studied at all, it just came out of a necessity.

S&S: You obviously take a lot of inspiration from military history and designs. You were in the military yourself, right?

CL: Yes, I was. It was mandatory when I was there in France, that is. So you had to do a year. I did two and I chose the Navy because I wanted to travel and I was seeing myself in Tahiti. Kind of missed that boat, no pun. But, I got sent to the Indian Ocean. I was stationed on Réunion Island and my ship was really kind of older model. We actually sailed all the way back to France. I was lucky, timing-wise, I was on the ship at the time. So the military, yeah, I guess I'm not an army brat, but the military was always very present at home. My mom's dad was a colonel in the French army, and my uncle, her brother, was a paratrooper. And I remember seeing all those photos of him in Algeria in his Lizard camouflage. My dad did not like the military. So it was a very interesting mix of things at home. Of course, all that stuff ended up having an impact on what I did later in life. I'm not a gung-ho person at all, but I have the highest respect for the military.

S&S: I love your Instagram and how you are always doing your own R&D and testing – putting your garments through the paces. How did you decide to make that part of the brand, testing out your clothes?

CL: That is all Mickey Mouse out of necessity. So because we sell only raw denim, you kind of eliminate like 95% of the consumers because no one wants to buy raw denim. So the only way of convincing them is if you show them, well those jeans if you wear them, not sitting at the computer, but gardening and doing all that, they will eventually look like this. We don't really believe in advertising. I know it works, but I'd rather have my people get the money instead of advertising on Facebook and whatnot. So we use, and sometimes I overuse Instagram as a platform to promote the stuff, but I try to do it so that it's not shoving products in people's faces because no one needs that. I try to sometimes write something half interesting or just not to take myself too seriously, which I think helps mentally.

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By Charles McFarlane

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