Conversation with Benedikt Fries and Niels Holdorf of Shibumi
May 12, 2016
Not sure if it’s the movie that I watched recently that reminiscent to the classic post-war elegance of the 50s, all I have in mind are the impeccable tailoring that looks tall and debonair in the masculine tweed and wool felt, a subtle yet crispy white shirt that makes the patterned twill necktie that stands out from the outfit, a classic look that always look timelessly elegant, stylish and sharp, think about Don Draper of ‘Mad Men’, which is the picture I have in my head lately.
Yet, speaking of necktie, I possibly believe that my reminiscence from the movie is the sign that brings my attention to Shibumi, a stylish and classic mens accessories label which hails from Berlin, founded by two gentlemen, Mr. Benedikt Fries (right) and Mr. Niels Holdorf (left), both are passionate in their work to create tasteful and elegant accessories ranging from neckties, pocket squares to braces and socks, their tasteful creations that speaks their sensitivity and determination to pursue refined elegance in the world of classic menswear, and so as their personal style that intrigues me immensely to find out more about them. I am very honor to have a conversation with both gentlemen about their insight and passion over their creation and mens style:
My Modern Darcy: Can you gentlemen share with us about what motivates you two to found this label and why (men’s) accessories? And how’s the journey come about?
Niels Holdorf: We just had this very strong passion for classic menswear and wanted to do something with it professionally. We enjoy getting the tiniest details right and have great respect for the tradition and hard work that goes into a well-made tie. So that’s where we started! We added a lot of products in the meantime, the newest being a beautifully hand-painted cigar case, made in Florence.
Benedikt Frites: Since we never worked with our hands before, we really wanted to learn something artisanal. So we both took some private lessons with a tailor in Berlin and started to sew ties by ourselves. We practiced a lot, but in the end we had to admit that the Italian mamas in our manufactory with many, many years of experience are just better than us.
MMD: How’s the synergy looks like of you two work together?
NH: We do all the designs and creative choices together, which works really well; my taste is a little more subdued than Benedikt’s, but we agree on 99% of the decisions (and fight passionately about the remaining 1%).
BF: I think we're a bit like a good cop and a bad cop. But it always changes who's the good and who's the bad. Or sometimes we're both bad.
MMD: As I aware that the name of your brand is came from Japanese, can you tell us the reason behind? And how does it tie to your design philosophy, aesthetic, even your root as a German designer brand?
NH: We love Japanese culture, there is a dedication there to quality and craftsmanship that is unrivaled. So when we were looking for a name, I had read about this concept of Japanese Philosophy shortly before, which, in a sartorial context roughly means “understated elegance”. We liked the sound, it’s easy to recognize and pronounce; that was it.
BF: I really love Japan! I mean, there's a reason why I moved there. For me it's the most interesting culture in the whole world and the word Shibumi describes what we are doing perfectly.
MMD: How did the word ‘craftsmanship’ mean to you? What are the significant elements of creating a remarkable piece of product?
NH: Beauty, tradition and function. If these come together, you get a product you can get really excited about. And we do! And that’s what our customers appreciate.
MMD: Can you share with us one of your most memorable experience throughout this creative journey? Have you ever face any challenges and how did you overcome them?
BF: Well, it was a bit difficult in the beginning to find something that would set us apart from the rest while keeping classic taste and not being too modern. But I think we found an aesthetic that suits our characters and company philosophy quite fast and since then it wasn’t really challenging.
MMD: How did you see the classic elegant menswear and style nowadays? And what kind of impact that you gentlemen taking part of in the classic menswear world?
NH: As for most niche cultures, the internet has been fantastic for classic menswear. It was never easier to have access to a great source of inspiration, information and the means to buy the products you see. Our customers are really well-informed and appreciative of the special quality and aesthetic we are doing, and that is great.
MMD: Can you share with us about your personal style, what is (are) your muse(s) that inspires you and what are the key elements to be well-dressed?
NH: Classic menswear, to me, is very much about knowing the rules and traditions and how to best use them for you.
BF: Besides that, I get my color inspirations quite often from Japanese ukiyo-e or the colorful coffered ceilings of renaissance architecture in Florence.
MMD: Apart from the appearance, what are the qualities that a modern day fine gent should have?
NH: I must say I’m not very interested in what defines a gentleman. Nobody seems to agree what makes one anyway (being polite? Having a family seat in the English countryside? Cigars and brandy?), I just like to deal with decent people. If they share my passion for a certain way of dressing, great; if not, that’s not a problem.
BF: Same here. The appearance of other people isn’t important at all to me. What’s important to me are good manners, friendliness, honesty and reliability. If you call that a gentleman, fine, but I don’t care about giving that a name and this whole gentleman construct.
MMD: What advice do you have for young menswear designer or someone who is eager to start their own labels that dedicates to menswear?
BF: Just do what you like the best and do it as good as you can.
NH: Phew, that’s a tough one. You definitely need passion, knowledge of your field and dedication. Also the ability to decide when to listen to advice and when to just do your thing. Much easier said than done. But if you pull it off, it’s very much worth it.
Special thanks to Mr. Benedikt Fries and Mr. Niels Holdorf, image courtesy of Shibumi.