The Pantalones sits down with Montreal’s Dolbeau:
I recently snagged a linen tie from Canadian menswear company Dolbeau. When I got the tie, I was intrigued by both the quality of the product, as well as the brand itself; I had to do a little research.
I was lucky enough to chat with David Gross, chief designer at Dolbeau, for some details and behind the scenes information about one of Canada’s finest menswear labels. Enjoy.
David, how long has Dolbeau been in existence?
Dolbeau’s been kicking it since early 2010. David Caplan and I started the business when we were still in college. Caplan was studying Biochemistry, and I was studying Accounting. We started working on Dolbeau full-time just 6 months ago (January 2012). Since then, we completely changed the site and all the products. We’ve learned a ton about business and manufacturing since we started. It’s been a hell of a roller coaster ride… Fun times!
Give me the rundown, how and why was Dolbeau created?
Caplan and I have a history of starting small web-based businesses over the years. We’re startup guys, and we love the challenge of business, but we also love good design and aspire to create a business based on design. Before Dolbeau, we never really sold physical products. One day I approached Caplan with the challenge of starting Dolbeau. At this point in time I was going crazy following about 300 menswear blogs and was getting really into the idea of personal design (i.e. fashion).
It dawned on me that online was great for a few things, including universal access to exclusive items and direct-to-consumer sales. We noticed a lot of custom suit and shirt makers popping up everywhere. We thought that the challenge of fit and construction would be too much of a headache, and we probably couldn’t compete on price if we were going to be making everything in Montreal. That’s when we decided to focus on accessories, which are usually one-size-fits-all. We first offered them bespoke and customizable and with fabrics and finishes no one else was offering at the time.
What kind of goods does Dolbeau produce?
Our core products are unique accessories: ties, bow ties, scarves, pocket squares, and now bracelets. Every single product is handmade right in our studio in Montreal. Each item is cut and sewn individually, the old-fashion way, which really allows us to produce an incredibly high quality product every time.
We also do just about everything else in-house, including the web design and development, which is a huge part of our business. Caplan is a web developer by trade, and I’m a visual designer. Together we’re able to really produce a high quality web experience.
I don’t think there are many other small companies like ours that put as much care and attention to detail into their online store and physical products as we do.
Is there a certain type of guy that would wear Dolbeau?
The guys that wear Dolbeau typically have a good idea about their own personal style. Accessories are the finishing touches to a man’s outfit and these guys are well aware. Anyone that wants to stand out and own something unique would be attracted to our product considering they are limited edition and made of awesome materials.
Everyday when you wake up you have an opportunity to design yourself. At Dolbeau we take that to heart, and I think a lot of our customers do too!
Most people would think that the world of neckwear leaves no room for creativity, but Dolbeau creates products that defy both boring neckwear and played out trends. Where does the inspiration and vision come from in creating a piece that is unique and on point?
We get that all the time from traditional old-school business people in the fashion world. “A tie is a tie!” … “You can’t design it”
I think that’s BS. You can make anything better. When our team decides to do something, it’s going to be the best or we aren’t going to do it at all. We don’t screw around. We reversed engineered the top ties in the world and designed our custom patterns, with which we cut our ties based on them. We built each product from the ground up. If you don’t have a good blueprint, you’re not going to have a good tie.
We base most of our fabric selections on what we see online… No medium of information dispersal is as fast as the internet. No magazine or trend can travel faster then the net. I scour hundreds of #menswear blogs like yours and I see what the real tastemakers are doing and wearing. This, in addition to what real people on the street are wearing, is what inspires me.
You brought up the fabrics, and in my opinion, they are one of the most interesting and impressive parts of your ties. What goes into researching and ultimately choosing a fabric?
We have spent countless hours picking and choosing our suppliers, and we work with them very closely. We contact them daily with ideas and new things that we’re looking for. We mostly work with Japanese mills directly, because they dominate in good quality, unique fabrics. Their fabrics also have that “Free & Easy” look and feel to them, which we love. The Italian and British mills we work with have amazingly long and cherished histories, some going as far back as nine generations. I feel that each product should have an amazing story. Where did it come from and why does it exist? That’s what goes into each of our fabric selections and designs.
Dolbeau gives me the feel of an extremely personalized company. What makes your relationship with your customer different than the other brands?
Well, first of all, we’re a tiny team of passionate guys and girls. Dave and I do all the customer service, which always seems to surprise people, and Carina (my girlfriend) does most of the PR. We’re always looking out for our customers and doing the best we can for them, because we know how good it feels to have a personal relationship with any brand. We’re big fans of other businesses known for their service (like Zappos) and brands that have a similar passion, and we try and emulate them as much as possible. It goes further than just service though. Our products have that same value. We design in a way that our garments should last a lifetime, instead of making disposable crap. It’s like the difference between a pair of Red Wings or a pair of cheap boots you picked up at Walmart. A lot goes into making a product that will last and age well with the owner.
Your ties are made-to-order. What are the steps in the birth of a tie?
Made-to-order is real luxury. It means that the tie you get in the mail is made fresh for you, only after you order it.
- Step 1. We mark the pattern onto the fabric. This is done the old school way with a piece of fabric chalk. Just like on Savile Row.
- Step 2. We cut the fabric by hand with a pair of incredibly sharp shears, which can take a while depending on the fabric and the shape of the finished tie.
- Step 3. We sew the pieces together (blades, neck piece, and tips) on a nice old sewing machine with the highest quality Gütermann thread.
- Step 4. We meticulously fold and lightly, very lightly, steam the tie into its finished shape.
- Step 5. Next, the back of the tie is closed up with the slip stitch, which is all done by hand. It has to be one continuous thread going up the whole length of the tie.
- Step 6. After the slip stitch is complete we can further shape the tie by applying steam.
- Step 7. Finally, all that’s left is to admire the tie, pack it, and ship it!
Your team seems to be a closely knit group of creative people. Is it all work at Dolbeau, or is there some play?
I’d say that it’s mostly play at Dolbeau. We’re just a bunch of young people working together in a room, all kinds of fun things happen during the day! We try and have as much fun as possible when designing and working with others. I think we take our work as seriously as possible, but we are having a great time doing it.
Last question, what can we expect from Dolbeau, in terms of product and inspiration, for the coming season?
I think we will be trying to introduce more eccentric pieces, some more unexpected, weird products. Stuff you’d never see anywhere else. I’m thinking more colour, more print, and unique fabrics and textures. We also want to get more competitive with the price point… to give people something that’s high quality, but at a price they can have fun with! So look for remarkable design and exclusivity at seriously awesome prices.