in SWAG high profiles issue 3
interview Alix Koffi
Ted Kipré: Art in a suburb is new to everyone. In the beginning you will suffer prejudices and the mockery of your friends. Either you have enough courage to continue, or you stop at their laughter and hang out in the suburb with them. Roby Kipré: Everyone laughed at us in the beginning, and now everyone validates us. You have to be bold enough to keep going, be disciplined and not be afraid of judgment. In the suburbs, there are many people who are slow on the uptake because they are afraid of judgment. They are already judged 24/7 on the outside; but they don’t want to be judged by the people they hang out with. Ted Kipré: For them it’s inconceivable.
With panache, singularity, determination and style,Ted and Roby Kipré seem to be cut out for fashion. They are twins, originally from Côte d’Ivoire and based in a Paris suburb: it is a dream equation for this post-George Floyd era. But the 23-year-old brothers, strong-minded partners in crime with good manners, do not see themselves as a phenomenon or an alibi; they have the ambition to build an empire.
Between genius and madness, fantasy and lucidity, it is a fine line for these two still flourishing young men, two personalities who act and think almost in unison.
Readers born before 1985 will thank SWAG high profiles for introducing them to the new French as a living language. An unfiltered transcription of an energizing conversation that respect for the Oxford dictionary cannot dampen.
Anna-Alix Koffi: Your childhood photos already bear witness to a certain style, fashionistas in full force.
Roby Kipré: Our old lady used to dress us on point. We were so well dressed and matching that when we went out in Paris, people, often tourists, approached her to take pictures of us. Our mother is our inspiration; to us, she is fashion. Ted Kipré: She is always super conscious of the smallest details, and has always worn designer brands.
Like a real Ivorian…
Roby Kipré: Bété! (laughs) (an ethnic group in Côte d’Ivoire, Ed.)
Do you speak Bété?
Roby Kipré: No, not really Ted Kipré: we understand some words.
Do you often travel back to Côte d’Ivoire?
Roby Kipré: Our last trip was in 2004. Ted Kipré: We were kids, we don’t remember much. But I think the time will come to go back again! Roby Kipré: A radio station contacted us last May or June to suggest that we do a fashion show in Côte d’Ivoire. The day we will do this fashion show in Côte d’Ivoire, it will be at the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro; in its super baroque decor, under the highest dome in the world!
Place de la Paix, surrounded by high-rises in Villejuif, was the set of your first fashion show on March 8. How was it?
Roby Kipré: It was raining that day and it was pre-Covid, it was just taking off. I didn’t expect to see that many people, because of the rain. I thought there’d be 100 but when I put my head out the window there were at least 500, 700 people! The whole suburb was there, friends were there, passers-by stopped. Many media came: France 24, journalists from Japan, Austria, influencers…
How does this improbable enterprise work concretely? In terms of implementation, of funding?
Roby Kipré: It’s not easy but it’s fantastic! (laughs) We were spotted by a Haute Couture atelier: the Renaissance program funded by Kering. They came to set their studio up in Villejuif, on the Vercors estate, our hood. They trained us and we were also paid, which helped fund our collection. Ted, explains the Renaissance story a bit. Ted Kipré: The studio is in the lobby of a building next to ours. One day I was walking past a room and inside I saw a mannequin and a guy who was putting away fabrics. With my brother, we knocked on his door for some information and he told us that the place was going to be a rehabilitation workshop funded by Kering. The guy was Philippe Gilet. He introduced himself as the former Director of Jean-Paul Gaultier. We immediately told him about our work and left our contact details. A month later, Philippe called us: we were selected to participate in the 2019-2020 Renaissance session. Roby Kipré: For real though, if we are credible today, it’s also thanks to Philippe. If it were up to us, we wouldn’t have known which direction to take, we would have left Haute Couture for Streetwear. But Philippe taught us the history of Couture. He spreads the word about us and introduces us to high profile people. We are not blind; we know that it was God who sent him to us.
Ted Kipré: The Villejuif municipality also subsidized us and put facilities at our disposal.
How long did it take to create this first collection?
Roby Kipré: We had 27 different styles. Ted Kipré: And each piece in the collection has a name and a story. Roby Kipré: There were velvet, silk, leather pieces, lace… Ted Kipré: Cashmere pieces, vinyl too.
How do you work?
Roby Kipré: I draw very quickly and lots of styles; then I pass them on to Ted for the technical sketches. Sometimes when he has an idea, he explains to me the styles he has in mind and I draw them. We worked with a tailor from Villejuif who alone assembled the collection from our designs and fabric research.
What are the key pieces of this first collection?
Ted Kipré: The “Best Friend” coat is the collection’s emblematic piece, followed by the black-belt kimono from the men’s collection, as well as the suit.
Roby Kipré: With my brother, we decided to revisit the basic suit. A suit is not asymmetrical and does not have a shirt collar. We added this collar and an asymmetric side. We play with asymmetry a lot, in reference to our astrological sign: Libra. In terms of color, we wanted to represent the shades that appear at dawn and since we were on a theme of day and night we thought that this piece would signify nightfall and daybreak. Ted Kipré: It’s the piece that is self-sufficient as there is no need for a blouse underneath. It’s an 18,000-euro piece.
Do you really get orders with these prices?
Ted Kipré: There are always orders. But this is a piece that we are not selling at the moment. What I like about my brother and me is that we run the business without rushing things. Roby Kipré: We seek to build an empire first before selling our pieces. We are not commercial; it’s really pure fashion! We just create and make the piece iconic. Another of our strong pieces is the Black-Belt Kimono. Ted Kipré: This piece has a direct relationship with God. When you take a good look at the colors and the designs, they represent a tree. At first you see flowers but it’s not the full picture. Here, the kimono tells the story of the different stages of project design or success. In life when you get to a certain social level, people think you have succeeded but we do not think so. We believe that success is invisible and that at the fourth level, it’s heaven and it’s God who has the black belt.
You often talk about God. And twinship, which is said to be mysterious, mystical. Is it true?
Ted Kipré: Yeah, of course. It’s exceptional. Roby Kipré: It’s exceptional and spiritual as well. It’s just beautiful. Ted Kipré: Yeah, that’s it, it’s just beautiful.
Does your Best Friend coat come from your twinship, this unidentified fashion object that is worn by two people at the same time?
Roby Kipré: The Best Friend coat is unity: unity is strength. Alone you go faster but in a group you go far. Ted Kipré: We also designed an oversized T-shirt called the 5K. It’s apple green, in cotton jersey, Kipré Couture is written on it in velvet. Roby Kipré: It’s mad. Ted Kipré: And we sewed a real 5 euro note on it. Roby Kipré: And it’s a 5555-euro T-shirt. But in fact, it’s art and there are only 10 pieces. We sell it to people and celebrities who are worth it.
Do you really select? Kanye West contacts you tomorrow and wants a T-shirt: does he get it or he is out?
Roby Kipré: We will favour a Fally Ipupa, for example, because he is Africa. Ted will properly tell the story of the 5K t-shirt. Ted Kipré: Since it’s green, we could have put a 100 euro note on it, but if we went with that in mind, it doesn’t mean anything to us anymore. We don’t like this idea of showing-off. The 5 euro note is stronger, the 5 euro note is the beginning of beginnings! It’s the note that reminds you of where you came from. We start from nothing with 5 euros and we end up high, that’s why the price is 5555 euros. We started our fashion journey with 5 euros. We went to the call shop, we printed about 20 press releases and gave it to all the journalists willing to listen.
Roby Kipré: We wrote the press release pretending it had been written by a journalist when it was full of typos (laughs). We invented the journalist “Thomas Duval”. Ted Kipré: He exists, bro, except we don’t see him. It’s this press release that got us here, I have mad respect for it.
Roby Kipré: Our old lady knows that when Ted ‘n’ Roby say they are going to do something, they are going to do it. Unless she gets into a negotiation. She gave us metro tickets: “Go hunting kids, and bring a trophey home!” (laughs) The press articles started, the mayor of Villejuif called us. We also sent over 500 emails but no one answered us. Then we targeted studios. We are genuine, we want to come to you as we are, if you don’t want, other doors will open. Ted Kipré: Whether it worked or not, we would have gone on till the end.
Roby Kipré: For us Dior is dope, not Dior itself but Kim Jones. We worship Kim Jones (DA of Dior Homme, Ed.). We had the idea of drawing about 30 sketches and we went to the studio straight up. We introduced ourselves as professionals, we got past the security guards, we got access to the front desk, they called Kim Jones’s office, but he was out of town in London. We were told to come back 4 days later. When we did, we were received by his assistant and shown the sketches. She herself was already lost! (laughs)
Lost by what? By the strength of your proposals, by the daring approach?
Ted Kipré: Already on arrival, the receptionist was laughing when Roby explained to her why we were there. I asked her why and she replied that a move like that had never happened before. They took the time to call Kim Jones’s assistant and spoke about us a bit. But we had no follow-up. Roby Kipré: These kind of people, they are in the know of everything but are not going to make a move, they are waiting to see if we are not just a fad.
To show them that we are not just passing through, we stopped agitating in all directions and devoted ourselves to our creations. That’s when we brought out the “Best Friend” coat, and to make ourselves known we launched the “Best Friend tour”: at the end of each Paris fashion week, we have celebrities try it out. Ted Kipré: The first Best Friend tour was for Couture in January. Our target was Loïc Prigent (journalist, director specializing in fashion, Ed.), he is someone that Ted and I respect a lot. Then we went to the last Couture fashion show by Jean-Paul Gaultier where we also showed the Best Friend to Nicolas Ghesquière. We showed it to Edward Enninful and we also photographed Isabel Marant and her husband Jérôme Dreyfuss wearing the coat.
What is the story behind the pair of Nike with the two swooshes?
Roby Kipré: One day Ted told me: let’s revisit the Jordan One in a Haute Couture version. How? By repositioning the swoosh to have two: TedandRoby; by placing our emblem – the tape mesure – for fashion, Haute Couture. And I had to sign on the right and him on the left. We put the pair on Snapchat and the next day came orders after orders. Ted Kipré: They’re handmade, man! They are Couture sneakers. We priced them at 250 euros and the reactions were that this was not expensive enough.
Do you have Nike endorsement?
Roby Kipré: To attract Nike, you must first make an impact. Take their products, have fun, you show them that your idea works. In this way they will come to sign. At the moment it’s not official, but we’ll make sure they come knocking on our door. From a legal point of view, we have the right to customize a product, it’s like tuning. Ted Kipré: Another of our references is the K Nike 13B27. And why 13B27? Because that’s the doorcode into my building.
Into the lobby of a building in a suburb … that you turned into an art gallery. That’s how you attracted interest. How did the idea come about?
Roby Kipré: We follow a group of artists called PNL and their story matches ours. In listening to PNL we began to have the same inspirations. In April 2019, we started to develop exhibition themes « the street in fashion » for the first one and « freedom » for the second. There we brought the jungle, the bush, cuffs and everything that represented slavery. Ted Kipré: It was a mad thing; it made noise. Our landlord asked why we didn’t leave it! The next lobby exhibition will be in Paris.
How do we get this art form accepted in the suburbs, in the lobby of a building which must be the place most stigmatized by news channels?Ted Kipré: We were asked why we were doing the lobbies. We would tell them we were paid to do this so they would leave us alone. For real though, one day I asked Roby why and he told me he didn’t know, we just had to follow our inner voice. Roby Kipré: That voice that tells you to do things you don’t understand right away, you have to listen to it: it’s your GPS! We do stuff, later we get the meaning of it. (…) Find the full version of the interview in SWAG high profiles issue 3
English text / Keren Lasme