Alexandre Elicha’s French family is the creative force behind one of Europe’s coolest designer labels and a cornerstone of Jewish communal life. Ahead of his visit to Australia, Elicha chats with Zelda Cawthorne.
THE three Elicha brothers are like peas in a pod: all lean, bearded, bespectacled and to the fashion world, the epitome of cool. The trio behind Paris-based label, The Kooples, has also proved highly successful in a ruthlessly competitive industry.
Alexandre Elicha, eldest of the brothers and joint artistic director of the upmarket label for men and women that has more than 350 outlets across the globe – two of them opened last year in prime Melbourne locations – is happy to reveal The Kooples’ latest strategy.
“It’s our new vision,” enthuses the affable 41-year-old. “We are now doing a fresh collection every month – new concept, images, colours, fabrics, everything.”
The strategy is bound to ignite lively discussion when Elicha and The Kooples’ CEO, Nicolas Dreyfus, join other international guest speakers at the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival’s business seminar at the Melbourne Museum on March 17.
It’s also likely to succeed, given the track record of the brand launched in 2008 during the global financial crisis by Alexandre and his siblings, Laurent and Raphael. The grim economic climate didn’t deter them.
“We opened in France with 20 stores,” says Alexandre Elicha. “Many people thought this was a crazy risk, but we are now in more than 20 countries and will continue to look for good opportunities to expand. We will be opening more stores in Australia – Sydney, certainly.”
With its seductively offbeat appeal, The Kooples – “that’s how we French pronounce ‘couples’”, explains Elicha – is fed by numerous influences, from the 1960s rock era to Oriental mystique, though mostly it’s about the chemistry between couples.
The Elicha brothers didn’t have to look far for an inspiring pair: their parents, Tony and Georgette – now retired – founded international ready-to-wear label Comptoir des Cotonniers in 1995 and sold it a decade later to Japanese textile giant, Fast Retailing, which also owns Uniqlo.
“Our parents were amazing teachers and through them, we got great experience and contacts,” says Elicha. “They worked with Jean Paul Gaultier, who had a licensing partnership with the Jackson family, and when I was 15, all the Jacksons, including Michael, came to our house in Toulouse. Outside, there was a huge crowd. I had never seen so many journalists!”
To his sons, Tony Elicha was also a profoundly inspiring role model: a hard-working entrepreneur devoted to his family and faith. Indeed, a long-serving leader of the Jewish community in Toulouse, southern France, and for many years, -vice-president of French Jewry’s prime Orthodox body, the Consistoire de Paris.
In late 2013, Alexandre Elicha continued the family tradition when he was appointed administrator of the Consistoire and soon found himself immersed in issues ranging from France’s worryingly high rate of assimilation to threats against brit milah.
None of it is incompatible with his professional life, says the strictly observant father-of-five, who believes “it is possible and even essential to reconcile these two worlds”.
Family solidarity certainly helps. Born and raised in Toulouse, the Elicha brothers – all married, with children – now live within a stone’s throw of each other on Paris’s Right Bank and work closely together.
“We’re a true team. We even go on holidays together with our families,” says Alexandre, who is menswear designer for The Kooples, while co-artistic director Laurent, 40, designs the women’s collections and Raphael, 30 (“a great photographer”), is branding director and does all the fashion shoots.
Backing from private equity firm, LBO France, which took a 20 per cent stake in The Kooples in 2011, has assisted expansion in Europe, the US and more recently, Asia.
Also important have been the rapid growth of the label’s e-commerce operations, its sleek sportswear range and a new creative initiative – a collaboration with hot Indian American designer and actor, Waris Ahluwalia, who has worked with The Kooples to design a collection that reflects a journey through Asia, from India to Japan.
Dominating all is that focus on happy couples – real ones, not professional models – whose complementary Kooples outfits underscore their togetherness.
“Love is really the essence, the philosophy of the brand,” says Elicha. “My wife, Charlotte, is my muse. She has a great instinct for fashion and of course, wears Kooples.”
They met in Israel where, as Elicha is well aware, numerous French Jews have sought sanctuary because of escalating anti-Semitism in France.
“They have this dream of Israel, but many have returned to France because the reality hasn’t matched the dream,” he reflects. “Still, I understand their fears.”
Better than most. Elicha took over the presidency of Toulouse’s Ohr Hatorah (formerly Ozar Hatorah) school after the atrocity that occurred there on March 19, 2012, when a Muslim terrorist shot dead a rabbi, his two small sons and the -eight-year-old-daughter of the school’s principal, Rabbi Yaacov Monsonego.
Remarkably, Rabbi Monsonego chose to remain in Toulouse and continue his work for Jewish education. That is true courage, says his friend, the fashion designer who still believes in the power of love.
The Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival Business Seminar is on Friday, March 17, 12-5pm, Melbourne Museum Touring Hall. Tickets: $450, via Ticketek.