The rise of the Kooples, a clothing brand that is somehow both quintessentially Parisian and a sleek reflection of how young, sophisticated people dress in every global capital, has been quiet but steep. In the 10 years since brothers Alexandre, Laurent, and Raphaël Elicha founded the label, it has swelled to 400 freestanding stores, making its name with dark, stick-skinny, Mod-inflected basics. “The trouble with success is that you think you have to follow that same path every season,” says Alexandre, 42, who designs the men’s line. (Laurent, 41, presides over the women’s collection, and Raphaël, 31, handles the image of the brand.) “But the world changes, and you need to change with it.”
The Kooples’s name is Americanized French argot for “couples,” and although there has always been a men’s and a women’s line, a unisex aesthetic prevails: Imagine a pair of lovers who met at a club the night before, waking up and getting dressed in each other’s clothing. These are garments to be worn with the unabashed intention of turning someone on, and perhaps it’s for that reason that the company’s campaigns have mostly centered around real-life couples—men and women, men and men, women and women. The brothers like to say that when you wear the Kooples, you won’t be single for long.
Tireless travelers, the Elichas enjoy nothing better than to settle into a coffee shop in Tokyo or London or Los Angeles and watch the passersby, then sift through the racks at nearby thrift stores. Last year, they decided to roll out a new collection every month. “This is meant to be an answer to the see-now-buy-now phenomenon,” Alexandre explains. “To surprise your customer, you need to offer something fresh, and offer it now.” They have also teamed up with tastemakers, most notably the model-actress and street-style icon Emily Ratajkowski, with whom the label has released surprisingly conservative, vintage-inspired handbags—though, in true Kooples fashion, they are available in leopard print or fire-engine red. “We wanted to work with somebody seductive,” Raphaël says. “We’re not interested in people who are warm, in the middle. We prefer someone whose style you either love or hate. That’s where something’s really happening.”
The Elichas grew up in a close-knit Jewish community in Toulouse, in the South of France, but their childhood was shot through with fashion. Their parents ran several clothing companies, including a license with the Jackson family in the early 1980s (the brothers remember getting an impromptu guitar lesson from Tito Jackson in their living room). They also produced the Gaultier Jeans line. “We have a lovely memory of Jean Paul and our mother in the kitchen choosing fabrics,” Raphaël recalls.
The brothers’ own styles are a cheeky subversion of orthodox Jewish garb: black hats and long, woolen coats with open shirts, chains, and big rings. For them, designing sexy clothing and living a traditional Jewish life is not a paradox but rather a tension worth mining. “For us, nothing is in conflict,” says Alexandre. “We like to disrupt the idea of the uniform, to combine rock ’n’ roll and folk and British classicism. We define our own look as punk Hasidic. Above all, we like the story to be a mix.”