For the new Francon brand, the starting point is not seasons, but buildings

Kaan Architects’ office is on the second floor of a building on the Nieuwe Maas in Rotterdam. The tall windows offer a view of the stately houses on Maaskade, the Erasmus Bridge and the glass towers behind. May Kaan, founder of the fashion brand Francon, gives a tour of the spacious halls together with partner and architect Kees Kaan. In a black dress she made herself, she swings past concrete pillars and tables with models. The office used to be Francon’s temporary home base, she says. The new headquarters is located elsewhere in the city, which was still under construction until recently.

There is always something building around May and Kees Kaan. As a top architect, Kees is associated with international construction projects such as Amsterdam Court and the renovation of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. He also drew their country house on the water in Zeeland. A year and a half ago, in that lake house laid the first figurative stone for another project: Francon, a fashion brand based on architecture.

Thursday is the brand’s first show at Amsterdam Fashion Week, in the brand new depot at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam – not coincidentally also an architectural masterpiece. FashionUnited talks to May Kaan about the relationship between fashion and architecture, and about the lead-up to the show.

May Kane. Photo via May Kaan

Francon is showing this year for the first time at AFW. What does it mean to you?

“Well, pretty much. We only started Francon a year and a half ago, it still feels really fresh. For us, AFW is an opportunity to raise awareness among the general public. A lot of people have never seen us live.”

How long had the idea been there for Francon?

“We played with the idea two or three years ago. I’ve always been into fashion: I studied fashion and then worked for a while in PR and marketing, including at Yves Saint Laurent. I did that from London, but at some point I wanted to go back to Rotterdam. There weren’t many big fashion brands there at the time, so I started to focus on art, design and architecture. In the long run, I also became a bit crazy about PR and marketing. My work was appreciated, that wasn’t the problem – I just never really built anything long term and I wanted to. Plus: In PR you usually work for others, and I also wanted to do something for myself. Then you can set it up however you want. It motivates me enormously.”

You started during the pandemic. How was it?

“Of course it wasn’t the most ideal moment. On the other hand, there are always circumstances that affect your process and you have to start somewhere. We have a clear goal in mind: We want a strong brand with many points of sale. We now selling in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland, and would like to add more countries. But we have a long breath, it doesn’t have to be tomorrow. We prefer to build calmly and solidly.”

“Francon has also been one great learning school until now. I of course have a background in fashion, but primarily in branding and concept development, not so much in design or production. We now have a team of people with different expertise. Among them are a number of colleagues from Kees, from the architectural firm.”

What is your role distribution?

“I really do the day-to-day work, from creative management to production and marketing, together with the team and a group of freelancers. Kees is mainly involved conceptually, strategically and commercially. He is a good sparring partner for me.”

Francon is named after the literary character Dominique Francon from the novel The Fountainhead I read elsewhere. She is also an architect partner. Is that the reason for the referral?

“The name Francon is indeed a nod to the literary character Dominique Francon. On the one hand because she enters the world of architecture as a non-architect, but above all because she has a very strong personality. She makes her own decisions and choices, is non-conformist and independent. She is like a muse to us.”

Francon is based on building types rather than seasons. Can you explain that?

“Actually, it’s crazy that fashion is based on seasons. There must be something new every season. Why? For us, it makes more sense to think about where you wear something and how, rather than what season. That’s how we came up with the idea of ​​applying architectural thinking to fashion. I am not an architect, but through Kees I learn a lot. This is how we worked together on our own development lake house in Zeeland. Kees designed it, I was closely involved in it. I thought it might be interesting to come up with clothes for the house too. I dress in it lake house in Zeeland very different from Rotterdam: we often have guests there, but I never have to go anywhere myself – it doesn’t have to be practical. For example, I came up with a kind of kimono, a bit pajama-like, but luxurious.”

“That’s how Francon was born, med lake house as a starting point for the first collection. Not only did I look at the house itself, but I also delved into Zeeland’s archives with designer Fira Rietveld to see what else the place had to offer us, for example in terms of fashion heritage. We came across special knitting patterns for fisherman’s sweaters, which we have incorporated into the collection. These elements connect the collection to the specific context, because there are also lake houses in America or on Lago di Como. But that’s how we see it.”

Campaign image of lake housecollection. Image: Francon

“The other archetypes are Towerthat cabin, the hut and the palace. We think about the places, how you live there, how you behave there. It helps us put together a sort of program of requirements for a collection. Just to be clear: We do not want to dictate with the housing archetypes what we should wear and where. They are actually primarily there for us, for inspiration. They help us think. Internally, it works well to have a concept or story that everyone we work with understands. After all, you never do a fundraiser alone.

Do you have a specific building or an abstract concept in mind when you design?

“Essentially an abstract concept, but it helps to keep a specific place in mind. My brother has a farm in Friesland, which is the inspiration cabincollection. We recently made the first garments for this: they are more workwear inspired. These are clothes that are easy to maintain and that don’t have to go to the dry cleaners once in a while, because that’s not possible. The clothes are quite primitive and practical.”

You say you want to let go of the seasons, but the lake housethe collection was mainly summery, the current one Towercollection is predominantly winter, and on social media there is also a seasonal indication: AW22. How do you explain that?

“That’s right. It’s primarily connected to the fact that we work with showrooms. We do this because we want customers to come into contact with Francon in physical stores, so that they can feel the fabrics and try on the clothes. But showrooms have seasons, and they found ours lake housecollection, for example already too wintry for the summer season. I’m not at all concerned with seasons, but we’re kind of forced to. The same applies to shops: They prefer not to buy thick sweaters for the summer. But I sometimes wear a thick sweater in the summer, and by the way, the summer collection is not even in the stores in the summer, but already in the winter. It’s a strange system and it’s quite a challenge to counter it.”

How do you keep Francon interesting to customers without constantly innovating, something that customers are used to these days?

“We see all lines together as a kind of oeuvre, a unified collection. We will continue to add elements to it. But we also continue to develop the existing pieces. Over time, we can adjust a detail, such as the location of a zipper, or further improve wearing comfort, but the basics remain.”

Kaan Architecten is known for cross-fertilization between disciplines. How architecture feeds fashion is now clear, but how does fashion feed architecture for you?

“It’s very specific: we did our photoshoots in and around Kaan Architecten’s buildings. They also always photograph their own projects, but it turned out to work well to place people with clothes in a building, to see the scale, the mood. It’s help to form an image of the building.”

On Thursday, fashion and architecture meet in the Boijmans depot. Why there?

“It was really the very first place I thought of. It is of course a very beautiful location, and the concept is also wonderful: you can see behind the scenes, at the stored collection and restoration processes, things you don’t normally see in a museum. On Thursday, the models go up the stairs in the atrium and mingle with the works of art and with the building, which is of course also a kind of work of art.”

“Within the last editions of AFW led by Danie Bles, shows and presentations have been organized every year outside of Amsterdam: with Kassl in the Museum Voorlinden in Wassenaar, with Humanoid in the Kröller-Müller Museum in Arnhem. This year we are the excursion. We will show a combination of our first three collections.”

If you now look at the Boijmans depot, do you also see a collection in front of you?

“Maybe.” Musing: “An art collection that you take to museums and galleries. And then… All in silver?”

Campaign image of Towercollection. Image: Francon

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