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Introducing: Les TienThe LA label talks “perfect basics” alongside an exclusive shoot of its AW19 edit.
Les Tien founder Courtney Ogilvie is a can-do kinda gal. Not content with helping influential American brands Fear of God, Golf Wang and Yeezy bring their vision to life (more on that later), she’s now on a mission to build the ultimate casualwear wardrobe. Launching here in the UK, and exclusive to Harvey Nichols until October, her no-logo label fuses perfect fits, premium fabrics and unparalleled craftsmanship – each piece is made in-house at Les Tien's LA workshop.
We caught up with Ogilvie to discuss all the above and were also treated to an exclusive shoot of our AW19 edit.
You live and work in LA, but has it always been home?
I actually grew up in San Diego. My parents didn’t want us to be “LA kids” preferring us to be a little bit more grounded and humbler. My dad had a factory in Tijuana, so it was also to be closer to our roots and his work. He’d started out in fashion working for Brooks Brothers but then went to the Vietnam War. When he came back there was a recession, so he went into furniture for necessity. But I was always super into fashion because of him.
When did you know fashion was what you wanted to do?
I just loved the idea of silhouettes. I used to sit in school and would bend my arm over and over to see the different shapes it would create in my sweatshirt. Growing up around surfing and skateboarding culture, I would study how people moved and became kind of obsessed with the way a garment could change with the movement of the body. I wanted to make clothes that move with you.
I started out working for DC, Osiris, Alphanumeric and Zero Skateboards. I would turn and burn fashion through my silk screen facility for all the big skateboard companies. Then I learnt product development and made my way to LA. I was like a kid in a candy store up here, because we didn't have seamstresses down in San Diego. I started walking into sewing facilities and just introducing myself. I’d be like “I just want to watch you guys work and cut samples off patterns to learn how to make more silhouettes.”
Is this around the time you set up Fit & Supply?
That’s right. When I got to the point where I was able to bring any design I had in my head to life, I realised there must be a million people out there who had sick ideas but felt limited on the technical side of things. So, I launched Fit & Supply, which was a freelance product-development management company for people with no experience in the industry.
That’s how I ended up meeting Jerry Lorenzo, who had a really great idea that became Fear of God. He's an amazing curator and I know how to construct and develop beautiful things, so together we were a good team. I also worked with Johnny Cupcakes, Will Fry, Odd Future and Golf Wang at the early stages – so many companies I can't even list them all. It got to the point where I was employing all the high-end sewers in LA and the only thing left were the cheap, fast-fashion factories, which I couldn’t use because the quality was nowhere near my level.
“I go through three stages in garment dye alone to get those rich colours, so that you can wear it forever. It's not just pink – it’s mauve and it takes time.”
That’s when I opened my own sewing facility, LA Makers. What made it different was that I opened the doors to the public, meaning you didn't have to be a Fit & Supply client on retainer to use the facility. That's how I was able to work with new brands but in a different way, people like Buck Mason, Diamond Supply Co., Yeezy and plenty of others. All I did was give them the service that had my eye for quality and attention to detail at the construction stage.
With all those amazing projects on your books, what made you start Les Tien?
The concept was driven by my experience. I always felt the market was missing a really good basics line. Everybody that tried to do it never stuck to the blueprint. They got so excited that they were doing well that they started designing collections and lost the base customer who got them there in the first place. That's why we all wear vintage tees and are digging into our closets for old s**t that we can be like “this could be dope again.” Les Tien's ‘White Label’ is basics and will always be just that. The same perfect silhouettes modified seasonally and in colours that are so good they’re too hard to copy.
Originally the name was EOTB, which stands for ‘Education of the Basics’. I was going to do it in Greek lettering but then it felt cheesy and lame. So, I sat down and asked myself, “What is this for?” The answer was it should make people feel special, sexy, dope whatever their body shape, gender or demographic. That’s why there’s no shoulder seams and everything is cut with a laser – so that a skinny guy and a bigger girl can buy the same medium piece.
The next step was to raise the quality to the level of a Balenciaga or a Celine but gear it towards wardrobe essentials. Hence why everything is sewn with French or flat seams that are so clean you can wear the piece inside and out. The name came out of my association of luxury with French and Italian clothing. I googled “Yours” in Italian and French, but it sounded cooler in French, so I opted for Les Tien.
What’s the secret to making the ‘perfect basics’?
Colour and saturation matter. You know when your favourite pair of black jeans start to go grey, but they don’t look as dope as grey jeans they just look dirty and worn out? We dye things and treat them in a very luxurious way – I go through three stages in garment dye alone to get those rich colours, so that you can wear it forever. It's not just pink – it’s mauve and it takes time.
In my opinion, the perfect sweatshirt or hoodie comes down to the shoulder line. That's where the body is the widest. If you can drape something over your shoulders perfectly, it makes your waist look skinnier but doesn’t make the rest of your frame too tall and dangly. There is a tolerance in the fashion industry when it comes to the fit – a percentage in which it’s widely accepted to have a slight indifference. Some designers have the attitude that you can be a quarter of an inch off here and there, but to me that’s just lazy.
Every roll of fabric I get, I cut a square out and run a test to see how much it shrinks. If I can only get 20 pieces out of it, I make a pattern for those 20 pieces and then I do it again and again and again for each roll. One time our shrink test was out, meaning everything was off by an inch. Those pieces are now in my damage room as I refused to ship them. I lost a lot of money, but if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be sticking to my principle of creating the perfect piece.
“Les Tien's ‘White Label’ is basics and will always be just that. The same perfect silhouettes modified seasonally and in colours that are so good they’re too hard to copy.”