Exclusive Interview – Simon Wahl, Store Manager of Tate + Yoko
Spanning three brands, countless fabrics, and a retail store in Montreal, Naked & Famous has grown to become one of the most prominent names in raw denim today. Tate + Yoko represents not only brick and mortar retail for N&F, the Montreal store also contains a curated selection of Canadian and Japanese heritage brands.
We sat down with store manager Simon Wahl to chat about his work at T+Y, the direction of raw denim today, and his opinions on French rockabilly.
RD (David Shuck): Hey, how’s it going, Simon?
SW: Pretty good man, thanks for asking. How about yourself ?
RD: Not too bad, just getting hit with another snowstorm down here, but the power and internet are still on so it could be worse.
SW: Well, it’s funny, every time I hear about power outage and cities freaking out on snowstorm. Montreal is snowy 5 months of the year so we’re pretty well prepared.
RD: Lucky for you guys then! Did you grow up in Montreal as well?
SW: 5,500km from there actually, in Paris, France.
RD: Wow, what brought you over to Canada then?
SW: The cold! Alright, just kidding. A while back I decided that I wanted to leave the city a bit and study abroad so since Montreal is French and my English wasn’t that good at the time, Montreal looked like the right choice. That was about 4 years ago.
RD: When/how did you become passionate about raw denim? Was this while you were still in France?
SW: I actually kind of grew up in textiles. My grandma was (still is) a textile artist so I got to see and appreciate looms, yarns and shuttles since my childhood, I remember exploring this massive manual loom she had. Then I got involved in Rockabilly, Kustom and punk rock and other subcultures whose common denominator always was heavy, crispy raw denim.
RD: What kinds of brands were you exposed to in those subcultures? Do you remember your first pair of raw?
SW: I actually got my first of raws at a vintage store called Killiwatch. I really had no idea whether they were selvedge or not. Then I moved on to APC Petit Standard which I literally destroyed skateboarding, moving on to FH3001 after.
RD: What did wearing raws mean in the Rockabilly and punk scenes in France and what did it mean to you?
SW: Well, I guess the biggest point of Rockabilly culture is its obsession with the past. In that way, wearing raw/selvedge denim jeans makes perfect sense. It’s really about reproducing the look but also the values: the “everyman” aspect, the method of production, etc. Raw denim always has been for me the common denominator between every subcultures I have been into. If you like Hot Rods and 50′s diners, it kind of makes sense.
RD: Does raw denim still mean the same thing to you today, after you’ve spent so much more time around it and the people involved in making it?
SW: Yep, still does 100%. Still is about Music, Motorcycles and pretty rockabilly girls, hahaha.
RD: How did you become involved with the store?
SW: When I arrived in Montreal there were very few companies I wanted to be involved with. Naked & Famous was obviously my top priority so I sent over a few emails, when I say a few, I mean 10. The internship was great, lots of work for sure. General help with the N&F team, helping in the showroom, etc. I felt useful and welcomed which is exactly what you should expect from an internship.
Then, our old store manager left just about a month after which lead me to what I’m doing now. I guess I was here at the right moment!
RD: How have you seen Tate+Yoko and Naked & Famous change as raw denim has grown over the past few years?
SW: Raw denim has become so popular in the last few years that for Tate + Yoko it for sure means more traffic. But it’s mostly a vintage timeless looking store so nothing changed too much recently except the jeans we got into. We still have amazing heavy industrial shelves from the 60′s, vintage Japanese “porn” posters and Habu Shu. The whole store is a museum in itself!
RD: What’s big with the Montreal denim crowd–does N&F reign supreme in its hometown?
SW: Naked & Famous kills it in Montreal for sure, no question about it. But on the other brands (Studio D’Artisan, Kamikaze Attack, Viberg, etc.) I guess it really is a matter of personal taste. Having a brand such as Flat Head was for sure mandatory for us but it is also a matter of personal taste.
I also like Kamikaze Attack a lot to be fair. They have those super cool midweight Loopwheeled t-shirt with a very evil-y badass back print. We also have the N&F collab jeans which look amazing; 14.5oz overdyed indigo with some pretty cool details.
RD: I take it you’re still a big Flat Head fan then?
SW: Is anyone not fan of the Flat Head?
RD: What jeans are you working on right now?
SW: A limited edition 24oz jeans with Kamikaze Attack but shh that’s a secret.
RD: Haha, you’re telling the wrong person about secret denim releases!
SW: Haha, I know. Busted!
RD: So you guys just did a major overhaul of your website as well, what prompted that and what do you think of the new version?
SW: Well, it was pretty due. After a few years of the old website we felt like it was time for us to move on and introduce more lifestyle in the actual website. Since the store is so much of a museum, it was crucial that we had a website that reflected all of the branding. Website and UX (user experience) are amazing if you ask me, but the best would be to ask our loyal customers!
RD: Are you running the blog and other lifestyle sections of the site?
SW: Absolutely including merchandising, product pictures, etc. Got a little help though! Which is amazing since I got to do a bit everything with Tate + Yoko.
RD: Do you have any interesting stories about ways customers have worn their jeans?
SW: Oh, so many that it’s hard to choose from which. Well, we have a good friend in common with N&F, Chris. He works at Duck Unlimited out there in Manitoba and has been a heavyweight denim wearer for quite a while. He recently sent us back his pair of Super Heavyweight 32oz denim for repair but we almost couldn’t do it because of the weight. All the repair had to be done manually since our Vintage Union 43200G wouldn’t work with it. Everything by hand!
RD: I can’t imagine someone breaking those jeans before the jeans broke them.
SW: Well, you know what the guys at N&F like to say: “Guaranteed uncomfortable or you money back.”
RD: What are you looking forward to most in the spring season at T+Y?
SW: Warmer weather? Hahaha. Anyway, we’re getting in some great collabs jeans from Flat Head which I’m quite excited about. Early next year, Big John will have a few good things with a MA1 Jacket for example.
RD: So what’s the story behind the name “Tate + Yoko”? Who are Tate and Yoko?
SW: Tate + Yoko actually means Warp + Weft in Japanese. Which are, as you know, the two direction of yarns that weave denim.
RD: So Yoko Ono is actually “Weft” Ono?
SW: HAHAHA, yeah, well I guess the term can have different signification whether it’s an adjective or an actual name.
RD: Great, well thanks so much for your time, Simon!
SW: Thanks for having me man, always a pleasure talking to you!
RD: Same to you! I’ll be sure to stop by if I make it up to Montreal.
SW: Anytime–we’ll feed you with some Japanese candy and Habu Shu.
Tate + Yoko is located at 9096 Boulevard St-Laurent in Montreal, Quebec.