Walking up to Kings Cross and seeing only ½ of the promised duo known as Swen, worrying thoughts surfaced. Steven Jacques, a tall Parisian with impressively thick black facial hair paired with a pink tracksuit, gave a welcoming smile and a comforting hug. His soft and melodic French accent apologetically urged we go somewhere warm to wait for Swann Amdéo, who was coming from Homerton and running slightly late.
Steven Jacques and his boyfriend Swann Amdéo teamed up last year to create a new menswear brand for the multicultural metrosexual and somewhat androgynous man. The collection is the perfect marriage of street wear and minimalism.
Crossing the busy road away from the station trying to avoid the busy 10:30 rush of black cabs, we agreed to take shelter in what appeared to be an attic serving over priced tea, coffee and little cream-filled cakes. After selecting English breakfast tea and filling it with four Sweet’N Low sachets, Steven stuck with herbal tea as he was nursing a cold, and conversation flowed smoothly. Chatting leisurely for roughly ten minutes about plans for spring break, which was fast approaching, and about club nights coming up, Steven’s gentle nature became infectious. Just as the hot tea was beginning to become drinkable Swann came panting up the winding staircase, top-knot in perfect form and dressed incredibly dapper.
Off the bat one could tell these two men had very different taste, Swann in a collared oversized crisp white shirt looked very clean and neat, whereas Steven had a very East London underground sportswear flair about him. Steven, who was more confident with his English, cut right to the chase, “So basically we met two years ago in Pairs, and very quickly we talked about having a…” pausing to think about the appropriate word, Steven continues, “not brand, but launching a collection together. Because he studied fashion design in Paris,” nodding at Swann, who was affectionately picking a hair off Steven’s baby pink windbreaker, “and I was studying fashion management – we both had skills that the other one didn’t have. We compliment each other.”
After Steven graduated from London College of Fashion the pair decided it was the perfect time to create a collection. “At first we wanted to do something just for fun, to see how we worked together, and very quickly after we graduated I was like ‘I think we’re ready, I think I’m ready to do it!’ We talked about it a lot, and during my final year in London we were always postponing things, because at the same time I was writing my dissertation and I used to think I could do both, but no,” Steven says laughing.
Graduating in June and then taking a quick holiday or as Steven says “holidays” they began working on their first collection in September, their goal was to showcase it in January. “To speak in English, okay umm, what do I want to say,” starts Swann in a sweet chirping voice, “you want me to translate?” asks Steven. “Yes just the beginning. When we decided to start something, or to launch the first collection, we also wanted to create a brand. What kind of men we want to show… that was a very important part of the work to do? To do!” Swann says in what appears to be perfect English. Steven agreeing adds, “yes, the guy we dressed is someone from a big city – for instance Paris or London – but has roots from somewhere else. There’s this multiculturalism in it, mixed with urban contemporary and traditional Muslim dress, someone from Africa or the Middle East for example.” Swann interrupts excitedly in his irresistible French accent, “because in fact it is, uhh, all about us.”
Born and raised in Paris the two have always been privy to a multicultural environment. Swann, half Portuguese and half Algerian, and Steven, partly French and partly Senegalese, have always been inspired by their parents. Although each brings a different style and skill to the table, their inspiration and goals for the collection come from the same place and are backed with extensive work experience. “I have a lot of different experiences until now,” starts Swann, “and all my experiences have given me a lot of skills?” Questioning his word choice he pauses, “and I try to l’éduquer,” Steven immediately jumps to the rescue, “he teaches me,” “Yes, I teach him.” Steven, smiling takes over the conversation. “I was interning while I was studying fashion in Paris, and interning is where I learned everything: how to take care of a collection, like a-z, and how to sell it. For instance, I was in charge of doing the collection book, the book that shows the key inspirations and fabrics – all the details that make buyers buy. I was also helping in the studio. It was cool because I’ve seen men’s and women’s collections.”
On how they work as a collaborative team, Steven begins with “We share creative direction, obviously he’s more into design and I’m more into management. I’m into the communication and business.” Swann pips in, “I do sewing and pattern cutting,” Steven interrupts, “but at the same time we are teaching each other and learning from one another. I’d love to know how to sew…” Swann laughs, “ but I really, really, really don’t like the business side. It’s interesting for me,” Swann stumbles for the proper words in English, “how it can be created, marketed and targeted to people. When I create something, my ambition is to see someone wearing it in the streets.” Looking to Steven to back up his statement, Steven nodding in agreement began, “he likes to see how something creative can be something wearable but still with his DNA.” Looking down at himself and back at Swann, as if noting what they were wearing and what they were thinking, Steven continues, “The thing is we didn’t start with a business side for the first collection. We just did what we love and what we would actually wear. So it was all about creating our DNA though key pieces.” If looking at their collection, it’s very apparent that they’ve embedded themselves fully within each garment, and their DNA is wildly clear. “The first one was about a new relationship of a guy, what you give and what you receive, essentially the exchange between two people. It’s mainly based on our story, how you help each other. How you can be a threat as well. We translate that through the clothes. We’ve always had an abstract form of inspiration,” Swann says with conviction.
London seeming to match their so-called DNA is a great place for the two young collaborators and lovers. “What we found in London is this kind of freedom and this multiculturalism that is more present than in Paris, where everyone is more conservative, and not just the mentality but the styles as well. To be recognised as an emerging designer is really hard…like people don’t trust you… For instance here you can get people from the first collection.” Swann chimes in, “and everything takes a looong time in Paris. Plus it’s not as dynamic as here. In London you have CSM and the students are more free to show who they are, but in Paris it’s not your own, it’s more the teacher.” Steven intervenes confidently, “they don’t like extravagance, contrary to London. Most of the trends start in Paris, but the multiculturalism is here.” After breaking out in a fit of laughter, for reasons unknown, although frankly anyone would want to be apart of this inside joke, Swann says, “but we mix both cities. In Pairs they asked us ‘are you sure about the insertion from the Muslim or Middle Eastern culture?’ But in London people say, ‘ahh it’s maybe too simple’ or ‘I’m not sure of these fabrics because they’re very classic.’ So you can see the difference. We want to utiliser Londres et Paris, uhh in English, use London and Paris, the best parts, to have something cool.”
Still speaking of London, Swann turns to Steven, “People meet other people more easily – contrarily to Paris. You can’t party with everyone there, it’s different,” Slipping effortlessly into melodic French, Swann looks to Steven for a translation. “So it’s actually through our collection that we bring a lot of people to us, generally they will contact us saying ‘we like what you do,’ and that is good to hear,” Steven paraphrased. Adding to what Swann just said, Steven commences with “everyone wants to be a part of it and that’s our goal. We don’t have a choice now, we work with emerging people but that’s something we want to keep doing. For instance let’s say I’m online and I see a friend of a friend that is a photographer and I like his work, I would trust him, even if he’s a student, because we know how it is to start.”
“We both share a common universe, but we also have our own inspirations. I’m inspired by markets and he’s a very clean-cut minimalist. Sometimes we clash,” says Steven answering the question of how they work together as a team. Swann adds, “sometimes. Plus we don’t need a collection to have arguments!” Both laugh, “It’s a very passionate relationship.”
Swann graciously proceeds, “It’s funny whenever we start out we are not agreeing, but at the end we always want the same things. I want something and he wants something, but those two things are the opposite. For example if I imagine a trouser at first I think very like…” Steven finishing Swann’s sentence says, “he thinks about the style and look, whereas I’m more down to earth as I was the fitting model. I could tell it’s not easy to have a pocket here. I kind of have a customers eye.” Swann interjects kindly paying tribute to Steven’s opinions, “yes, but that’s important.”
The thing about these two that stood out is their contagious love for each other. When creating the collection, Steven had described a jacket to Swann, saying “I want to be closer to you.” Swann then designed the jacket with pockets on the back, so Steven’s hands have a little place to sit when they hug each other. Swann says of Steven, “with his words he gives me the freedom to create.” Talent coupled with an incredibly infectious friendliness, these two young entrepreneurs are making quite a name for themselves here in London, and are rumored to be a part of Fashion East next season. Tweeted about and picked up by Ella Dror PR, and featured on Arabia Style.com, Swen is surely on its way up.
Photos: Courtesy of Swen