The morning I’m interviewing the two creative polymaths behind TRATLEHNER, the Amsterdam-based clothing label that had a successful run in 2014, but then fell silent, two things happen: I receive a years-old Facebook-memory that had me quoting a VjezeFur/De Jeugd Van Tegenwoordig lyric and I receive the first mail of the year from the great Walter Van Beirendonck to set up a new work project. My co-workers who are deeply aware of my admiration for both these men deem these coincidences pretty weird, but as someone who on one hand isn’t superstitious at all, I have also learned to accept that when it comes to the people that have provided me with loud laughter, comfort and great art at points in my life when I needed it the most, the universe has a knack for collaborating with me.
The first time I heard Freddy Tratlehner -who obviously lent his last name to the aforementioned brand and who is also known as Vjeze Fur or Vieze Freddy from Dutch hiphop phenom “De Jeugd Van Tegenwoordig”- spout some of the words that Facebook reminded me of, was when I was a member of the small music programming team at TMF Belgium. And I recall all of us just bursting into laughter because we knew we had something really exciting on our hands. To this day, I remain a huge fan of Freddy’s artistry and I consider him to be one of our low countries’ greatest lyrical talents. One other thing about him: just like me, he is a Walter Van Beirendonck admirer often wearing the Belgian Master’s designs at concerts or in videos.
Perre van den Brink, the other founder of TRATLEHNER, I had met once on a press trip. He’s Head of Content at VICE Media Benelux, thus kind of like a big deal, but really friendly. He immediately remembers us meeting when we start our exclusive interview in honour of the Belgian launch and comeback of the free-spirited but polished, sci-fi and brutalism-inspired TRATLEHNER SS17 collection.
PERRE VAN DEN BRINK: How have you been?
KNOTORYUS: Good! It’s a been a while.
PERRE: Yes, remember when we were in London?
KNOTORYUS: On a press trip for Converse, I think.
PERRE: And they took us to that crazy Mexican restaurant that looked like a strip club.
KNOTORYUS: That’s right, and when people introduced me to you saying: “This is Perre, head of content at VICE Benelux.” I went: “You are the other TRATLEHNER guy!”. Because that was even more impressive to me. And when they took us to a concert that night, I made sure I got to share a cab with you because I wanted to badger you with questions about your clothing line. Which I did.
PERRE: (laughs) That’s right, I remember.
FREDDY TRATLEHNER (Joins us after a quick bathroom break and inspects and tugs at my shirt): Walter.
KNOTORYUS: Yes. Walter. He e-mailed me today and I thought: “I’m finally meeting Freddy and then this also happens. What a good day”. You’re also a fan, right?
FREDDY: Yeah, yeah, I’ve met him a few times and I often buy his clothes.
KNOTORYUS: Have you been to one of his Paris Fashion Week shows yet?
FREDDY: No, never. It was about to happen a few times. But I know they’re just steadily good. Always a bit different, but always good.
KNOTORYUS: Exactly, you never know what to expect. And when you receive your invite, which are all posters, I have several hanging in my home, you always start fantasising about what he’s going to do this time. This season he had that Austrian Krampus band performing, playing live music and jingling cow bells and acting scary. It’s always a such a ride. And his designs are just amazing.
FREDDY: So you are saying it’s just really worth the while.
KNOTORYUS: Absolutely, he’s just the best out there. I love wearing his clothes too.
PERRE: I wore his clothes in high school. When he was doing his line Aestheticterrorists by Walter.
KNOTORYUS: I was wearing one of my Aestheticterrorists jumpers that I hadn’t worn in a while out Christmas shopping a couple of months ago. And my friend took me to this little eatery I had never been to and Walter came in and he always gives you the warmest embrace hello. I wanted to say: “What a coincidence I’m wearing this and now I’m bumping into you!” But I can be such an awkward person, so instead I just stood in front of him rubbing my chest and belly, like going: “See, what you did here a while ago!”. Tom Barman was sitting at a table with a frontrow view to all my weirdness. But of course Walter didn’t miss a beat and happily quipped: “Yes, I remember this design!”
Anyway, he’s such a great and inspiring person and I could talk about him for hours, but that’s not why we’re here of course.
Freddy, I was just telling Perre how when he and I met a couple of years ago, I badgered him with questions about TRATLEHNER. That was in the fall of 2014, when the second season should have been out and it wasn’t.
PERRE: So, now you would like to know now what happened.
FREDDY: What happened was that the first season of TRATLEHNER went really well. We basically sold out. But then we balanced the books and discovered that because we had ordered a bunch of stuff from Japan we were still receiving invoices for additional taxes. So it just wasn’t profitable. Then we thought: if we’re going to do this right we need to come up with a solid business plan. We can’t just repeat what we just did, because then it remains this costly hobby and at a certain time you won’t feel like doing it anymore. We just knew we needed to do some more research to make this into a real business, and we did.
KNOTORYUS: Because in the beginning you would do a lot yourself, right?
FREDDY: In the beginning, I made the samples myself, yes. Now, I do the sketches myself and we hired someone to make the patterns and samples.
KNOTORYUS: Like a lot of designers do.
FREDDY: I just figured there are people who are better at that than me. We also wanted to look at new factories and establish those connections.
PERRE: Then we worked out the entire brand- and graphic identity. We looked at every step anew and thought everything through and we just took our time for that.
KNOTORYUS: Aside from the delivery costs that can surprise you afterwards, what are the most important things you’ve learned from that first collection?
FREDDY: The amount of time things take and how exactly this process works. All the different subsequent steps you have to take. The most difficult thing was thinking economically. If I’m making something myself, I can just snip off a little piece of fabric and put it together myself but if I’m designing for a new collection, that little extra piece of fabric can suddenly make the entire garment more expensive by 50 or 100 euros. So in that sense we really thought about the people who like our stuff and want to buy it. The way they experience it and whether that little piece of fabric is really that significant or not. How to make things that are at a good pricing point, but still really qualitative and original, that’s what we learned from that.
KNOTORYUS: I really liked your first collection, but it did feel more ‘of the time’ if you know what I mean. A bit of leaning towards what was already happening in good design. But this collection, to me, is much more forward-thinking. I’ve already had Lina from Avenue put one of the mesh tops aside for me, becauseI wanted one as soon as I laid eyes on them.
FREDDY: That’s great. Well, with the first collection, we were making something for ourselves.
PERRE: That’s still the case.
FREDDY: But this time we worked around a certain theme and colourscape and a certain fit and what goes well together. Those first two collections (ed. note: they nixed the second one) were more like: “I like this and I like that. Okay, we’ve got a collection.”
PERRE: Back then we only focused on the product and not on the branding per se or the communication. We had a really simple Tumblr showing the lookbook images and we didn’t communicate pricings either. We just said: ‘price available upon request’, maybe to act a bit snooty.
KNOTORYUS: I like the new logo type and its little icon.
FREDDY: Oh, thanks!
KNOTORYUS: Yeah, I think it’s really well done. You’ve both been part of a world that deals with graphic designers for a very long time, so was it difficult to get what you need?
PERRE: We’ve got a really good graphic designer who is called Mads Freund Brundse. The firm is called Or Type. They’re a studio in England, founded by a guy from Denmark and a guy from Iceland. During one Christmas holiday Freddy and I just totally fleshed out the brand’s DNA. We also amassed a huge image archive of things we like. Not necessarily in fashion but more in architecture, art, nature, technology and objects. So we eventually just took all that to Mads and he translated everything into a graphic identity that fits with the clothing.
FREDDY: It took a bit of trial and error. (Deadpans) But that’s also because he’s Danish.
PERRE: But eventually he presented something to us and I think the last version, the one we picked in the end, was something we needed to get used to first. And when we look back now, we see how parallel we were working, exactly the way it was supposed to be.
KNOTORYUS: Could we maybe talk about some of the pieces in the TRATLEHNER SS17 collection? Let’s start with the mesh top that I adore. You’ve got a really beautiful logo that you could’ve just stuck on everything, but you did more than that.
FREDDY: That’s exactly what we did first. We had a logo tee with the little icon and it just didn’t look good. We then thought about fencework that you see at construction sites and how when you walk beside it, you see it move. So the logo behind the mesh is just made up of dots that work together with the mesh…
PERRE: So when you move, it looks a bit trippy because we also printed those letters into the mesh.
KNOTORYUS: Maybe I should go for the black on white version then.
PERRE: Yes, the white one has more of an effect. So as Freddy was saying, we first just made a logo tee but we didn’t feel like that looked rich enough.
KNOTORYUS: I think this is what is making you into actual designers, instead of just a duo with a shirt & sweater line.
FREDDY: We might do a logo tee in the future, but it just needs to be good. If it doesn’t feel right, then I don’t want to sell it. I’m someone who speaks in a different tone when I think something looks or feels bad, so interviews would be tricky.
PERRE: Me too. If you wouldn’t wear it yourself, it’s just not cool.
KNOTORYUS: I don’t really understand designers who design for their own gender and don’t wear any of their own stuff. I’m not saying you need to be decked out head to toe in your own label, but if you never wear anything then something is off.
FREDDY: I feel good in our pieces. I also like the way you can combine things too.
KNOTORYUS: That’s another part you clearly put a lot of thought into. It’s a very cohesive collection. It’s small and that’s a remark I heard people make, but for me it’s more than enough. How many pieces are those critics looking to buy anyway?
PERRE: We kept it small on purpose.
FREDDY: We just want to grow steadily and not just blow up and have to panic and hire extra people so that the collection is considered cool. Let Willy Party wear it first, I say. And if we’re talking about products, let’s talk about the coats.
KNOTORYUS: Yeah, I really want to talk about those.
FREDDY: We were thinking about using transparent materials and at a fair we bumped into really cool, old traditional fabrics from waxed cotton.
KNOTORYUS: Was that Première Vision in Paris?
FREDDY: Yes, and it seemed really cool for us to work with this silicone rubber because both fabrics were used for the same purpose but one was ancient and the other super new, from these last years.
KNOTORYUS: And did that immediately work?
FREDDY: We thought: “Either this is going to be great or fucking disastrous”.
PERRE: It was definitely a gamble and the rubber came from a storage facility where they only sell in really big quantities. So we had to buy a pretty big load and if it had failed, we would’ve been stuck there with all this rubber and would’ve probably had to try and sell it to sex shops.
FREDDY: But then we came back and took some things off of the jacket and it looked great. The other cool thing is that you can wear the coat in two ways. You can wear it as is and wear it to work but (looks me up and down) you can also wear it with really cool lil’ sneakers.
PERRE and KNOTORYUS: (laugh)
FREDDY: Like some obscure rapper.
KNOTORYUS: Speaking of well-dressed rappers, we are talking about the coat you brought to your interview with Young Thug. I was able to read the part of it that just dropped online.
FREDDY: Oh, cool!
KNOTORYUS: Can you talk about that moment? Because you’d brought the coat and grey crew neck with you. It’s almost always the other way around for you, where you are the artist and a lot of people probably want to get you to wear their things.
FREDDY: Well it doesn’t happen constantly, but yes indeed, I was on the other side this time and I thought it was exciting and a lot of fun. I was talking to Young Thug’s stylist first because he was doing a pop-up with his merchandise and we hit it off pretty well and then I just showed him our TRATLEHNER collection. I had brought two things with me and the stylist said: “I think he’s wearing it to the show.” It was fantastic, it felt like we were part of his performance.
KNOTORYUS: What stores are you aiming for? Which brands do you want to be side by side with?
FREDDY: In The Netherlands we’re stocked at Margreeth Olsthoorn, which is a super store. I think most high fashion brands, apart from Philipp Plein, are great to be next to.
I think different pieces of our collection can be worn by a diverse group. My mother bought the knitwear jumper for my father.
KNOTORYUS: That is the sweetest.
FREDDY: It just also really works as a dad sweater.
PERRE: That’s the way it is today, it’s not as divided as it used to be.
KNOTORYUS: What kind of feedback are you getting from the buyers?
PERRE: It’s going pretty well so far, they think it’s cool and different. The feedback has been pretty good, but there have also been people who don’t feel it of course. But most people that we approach, they just think it’s great. Getting feedback from the buyers is helpful. Then you know what they want and what I’ve noticed is that: the more outspoken the designs, the better. When we started we assumed that basics were very important, but when people buy they want more pronounced products. So that was a learning for me and one I’m happy about. The fact that you’re being encouraged to go all out.
KNOTORYUS: How do you fit into the aesthetic, Perre? I only know you from seeing you that time, but I can’t tell the artistic side or the little bit crazy side from looking at you, yet. Were you already into fashion at let’s say fifteen, sixteen?
PERRE: Yeah, for sure. In our group of friends we were the dudes who were really into that stuff and when I turned 18 I went into the nightlife scene and organised a lot of parties. I used to wear more out there stuff then.
KNOTORYUS: What were you wearing?
PERRE: Things like Aestheticterrorists by Walter and crazy graphics.
FREDDY: You wore a lot of fluo.
PERRE: I used to wear Jean Paul Gaultier too. I worked for Diesel for five years, but that was more in marketing.
KNOTORYUS: And how did you and Freddy come together to create TRATLEHNER?
PERRE: When we were fifteen, we had already come up with this idea. But at that age it never happened of course. I went off to do my thing, Freddy obviously became very famous all of a sudden and before we knew it, ten years had gone by. But the idea always remained in the back of our heads. Freddy was also still creating garments and messing around with samples and I had been wanting to set up a t-shirt project. So we decided to bring that together.
KNOTORYUS: And now you’re here. You’re both in the next phase of your careers where you are established and also combining all of your passions. Or is there something else you would still like to do?
FREDDY: Yeah, I’d like to open a food joint.
KNOTORYUS: And what can we stop by to eat there?
FREDDY: Mexican! Or South American food, done really well. And if you (points at me) call us, we will make sure to deliver it to your door.
FREDDY: I think it would be dope to do a street food restaurant in a really good way. Not now, of course, but if you ask me if there’s anything else I want to do, then that’s still an itch of mine.
PERRE: I think that would be nice, but that’s really something for later on in life. Combining all of this with VICE is pretty…
FREDDY: This man often needs to get up at five thirty.
PERRE: I’ve really segmented my life and by getting extra work done from 6 AM to 9:30 AM, I can do this too. I don’t have the space now to do something extra.
KNOTORYUS: You’ve both become dads too.
PERRE: And that’s great, I do that in the evenings.
FREDDY: “I do that in the evenings.”
PERRE: You know what I mean! I don’t want to be the guy that can’t put his kid to bed, so that’s why I get up early because I like being able to go home on time. For me that’s enough right now, as well as growing VICE and TRATLEHNER. That’s my plan.
KNOTORYUS: Well good luck to you both. Thanks so much for taking the time out to talk to me. I loved it.
FREDDY & PERRE: Thank you!
Special thanks to Elisabeth Ouni
Special shout out to Willy Party, who observed this entire conversation patiently and didn’t flinch when I finally figured out that -besides being a great DJ, but that I knew- he’s the guy behind two of my favourite Instagram-accounts.