They Have been there for a long time, they always have played a big part in urban streetwear and it is obvious that SBM is one of the Brands who know that there is also a change in time and style. As the announced relaunch happens today stw2d had the pleasure to ask a few questions towards the Design Director, Mr Michel Abraham, so here you go.
Hey Michel, how are you today? Don’t even ask…no just kidding all is great. Life is wonderful.
What’s been your career in this fashion world? It has been an amazing adventure, I met many great people and learnt a lot from them. I was lucky to learn the trade at every level of the chain, worked in retail sales, visual merchandising, carried boxes in a brand’s warehouse, filled out order forms, worked on marketing, merchandising, product management, worked as a graphic designer, as a fashion designer etc… I always approached all these tasks with enthusiasm, always remembering that my great grand father was a taylor in Poland, and that my life was easier than his.
As a teenager, I have been very productive in the graphic arts, I have painted hundreds of murals, designed many posters, CD covers, created art for T-shirts and so on.
I moved to Germany when I was 22, and I didn’t speak the language, therefore I ended up salesman in a streetwear shop, as it was possible to speak english in that environment. I kept on doing a lot of art on the ice, and bought a computer in 96 to be able to do some commissioner graphic work. By that time, the owner of a shop, Mrs Krause, considering I knew what sold, and was skilled in graphic design, asked me to design a denim pant, then a sweatshirt, etc… I then was offered a position in Mr Panzini‘s company, to help with graphics, together with Gonz Maldonado. Working with Mr Panzini, helped me get in touch with the manufacturing side of our business, but mostly with italian vendors. Walking between the production lines and smelling the chemicals of the washing facilities, reminded me of my childhood, when my father was taking me to work with him, in the knitting factory he directed in Caracas, Venezuela. He worked himself, from an early age on, in his father’s knitting factory, called T.I.S.T.R.A., in Strasbourg.
Then around 1997, I was offered a position at Sir Benni Miles, to design the line, and had the opportunity to learn the manufacturing process from the asian point of view, as they were already making their garment in the Far East.
The years went by, and the line became more and more successful. As SBM’s sales grew, the design team grew as well. Mice Gineau (actual head designer of SBM) and Wisaya Rangsy joined the team, then Patrick Rajaonarisina, Vesna Sljivljak and Soon Hwa Lee. My responsibility was to make the whole thing happen, so I decided to manage in a soft way, leaving a lot of freedom to everybody, as long as the work was done and the line was right.
For how long do you work for Sir Benni Miles? From 97 to 2002 and then from 2008 to now. In 2002, I moved to New York City, to join Marc Ecko Enterprises, as Head Designer of International. Since then, I work with M.Alberto Verdi, President of the International Department, on many interesting projects. Alberto is the smartest businessman I have ever met, and his approach is unique. Working with him, I have learnt more in a year, than in the 7 previous years.
Originally my task was to adapt the ecko unltd american line to the different markets in the world, as we sell in Sweden as well as Mexico, Japan and South Africa.
I also had to overview the lines developped by the geographical licensees of ecko unltd, working with their design teams, checking their shops, understanding the specificities of their market. Since 2008, I am back with Sir Benni Miles, now under the MEE flag. I am lucky to be able to work again with Mice and Patrick, from the old-school SBM team. I had the luck to design for many brands as Sir Benni Miles, ecko unltd, Alberto Aspesi, Avirex/Ed Hardy, Zoo York, Chewan, Scott USA, Cut & Sew, Redrum, Notorious…
As Design Director you are responsible for…? What is a typical day in this job? The responsibilities you take in such a position, are in relation with every aspect of the business. You have to make sure the line is well merchandised, that the line has it’s own personality, but still is in sync with the trends. You have to be aware of the needs of every market you sell to, every country having a different climate but also a different culture, they all have their specific needs you have to cover. You have to make sure that the line is well enough balanced, between innovative trending product, and more basic items, so that the distribution can make business. You have to make sure to pick the rights qualities/fabrics, and that the price is right for your target customer. You have to be careful that every designer is free enough to be creative, but aware enough of the limitations implied by the customer’s expectation. You have to make sure the calendar is workable, and that all is done in a timely manner. Therefore, there is no typical day in this job. Maybe there are periods in the season that resemble the previous one, but the whole process is kind of a living monster, it’s always full of surprises.
How do you see the Brand if you look to its history? Sir Benni Miles is all about progression, and authenticity. It always has been authentic, and proud of its street roots, but it is always evolving, challenging yesterday’s aesthetics with today’s moods. We never sleep.
..the whole financial crisis will re-model the retail market totally. So basically, the style in the streets is changing, but so will also be the face of retail.
As we can talk about relaunch, what will be different? The streetwear market has changed, not only the new generation of kids look dramatically different from before, even if they have the same cultural references, but the whole financial crisis will re-model the retail market totally. So basically, the style in the streets is changing, but so will also be the face of retail. The old formula people were relying on doesn’t work anymore. It looks like the time when we started the streetwear thing. Retail and brands didn’t know how to act, nothing was selling, then came streetwear, and changed the rules of the game. It’s a similar situation that is happening. We have re-invented SBM to fit these times of change. Forget the old formulas, they don’t work. We offer the right alternative. That’s what relaunch is all about.
Explain your new line in your own words. Sir Benni Miles has always been the leader streetwear outerwear, so our main goal this season, was to offer the best possible range in this category, but taking in consideration the change in aesthetics and wearability that is taking place. The fits are improves, and our weights are adapted to the climate changes we have been experiencing. A great deal of effort also went into the denim line. We reduced the number of silhouettes to our best, and increased our offer in washes. We worked with one of the leading washing houses in Italy, and a world-renown wash consultant, called Claudio Rossini.
The results are impressive. Beautifully executed washes for an affordable price. Best deal in the market.
We have improved all our fits, and have not been shy on the colors. Chromatic explosion! We have collaborated with graphic designer Matt Tapia from Hawaii, who gave a new twist to our arts. Some of our street artist friends have also worked on our artist series t-shirt line, sharing with us their love of art and their world view.
Will this change the approach on your customer too? Yes and no. Our customer’s look has evolved, and we have as well. We are offering tham what they want the coming season. They have changed, we have changed. We will meet naturally. “The only thing that doesn’t change in this industry is that everything changes all the time” they say…and it’s true. Naturally our marketing strategy and ways of communication are matched with our design approach as one voice.
Any last words you like to give? Don’t fear anything except fear itself.