It is a small world in which we live. That's what I thought when I met Jessica and Jean Joseph invited by Lahi, a friend, at a friendly starting pot. A few minutes later and a brief introduction Jessica spoke about her clothing brand Petit Pont. This name seemed very familiar to me and what's funny is that earlier that day, I came across a Facebook event they were organizing. Out of curiosity, I clicked, took the time to look at their website and realized that I stumbled on it last year. I decided to met them and discuss about the birth, growth, development of their brand.
à Paris : une discussion avec Jean-Joseph & Jessica : Petit Pont.
Interview & Photography Farade Nicolas
Can you tell a little bit about your past?
Jean-Joseph: Born in Paris and grew up in the suburbs (94). I had a classical school education. At 19 I went to the United States, more precisely New York then Boston after graduating because I really needed a break from Paris. It was by missing the plane that I wondered what I intended to do, what projects I wanted to undertake. I started to draw shoes for women & practicing my drawing skills. I built a solid portfolio and joined an Art prep in Paris, it was then that I met Jessica. After one year of prep, I went to Les Beaux Arts De Cergy.
Jessica: I was born in Créteil. I will not be able to really tell you how this artistic fiber appeared, nevertheless, my father is a cabinet maker, perhaps it has influenced me in a way. I was attracted by architecture and design but I did not know which way to go. So I tried an Art prep. When Joseph began his studies in Cergy I went to Saint Etienne.
Why did you decide to move to Saint Etienne?
Jessica: Because I was torn between studying architecture or furniture design. The school I was applying to in Saint Etienne was more oriented in Art & Design with a very specialized section in object design. I stayed for 4 years.
Did your parents support your decision?
Jean-Joseph: I did not talk about it at first.
Jessica: I think they wanted me to do something more serious than Art studies. There was no real problem in living in Saint Etienne, the rent was not high, it was a very cool experience.
What exactly have you studied there?
Jessica: I mostly studied scenography & graphic design. The only problem for me was being in the same comfort zone during all my studies, I needed something else. I applied to Les Arts Décoratifs school in Paris. And since I had time before going back to Paris I thought it would be cool to do something else in between so I went to Stockholm and did an internship in a publishing house (Library Man*).
Going to Stockholm was a Plan B?
Jessica: Somehow, because I was not sure I was going to be accepted to Les Arts Décoratifs. I tried several schools including one in New York.
Jean-Joseph: What you do not know is that New York is waiting for her.
Jessica: Well, we went there 5 years ago and it is true that I really love this city!
And Joseph, how was your studies in Les Beaux-Arts de Cergy, did you enjoy your time spent there?
Jean-Joseph: Yes, sort of, everything went great & smoothly. I spent 4 years there and I had the chance to travel a lot during those years.
Oh, where to?
Jean-Joseph: China, Sweden, and Morocco, but unlike Jessica, I did not have the opportunity to do a lot of internships. I finished school with more sensitivity for aesthetics. Indeed I can talk about my work and theorize my thoughts.
So you did not see yourself going further in this direction, becoming a teacher or even thinking about working in a gallery?
Jean-Joseph: Not really. I wondered what I could do with my degree. I had to find a way to be financially self-sufficient, so why not do it through a commercial project? Having a great sensitivity towards streetwear gave me plenty of ideas to start something new.
Did you grow up with this culture?
Jean-Joseph: Indeed, it started with the French streetwear with the emergence of internet you discover the American one and ultimately the Japanese one (since Americans draw their inspiration in this specific scene: Pharell Williams with Bape & BBC for example).
Having this strong attraction to the street culture, why did not you launch your brand and try your luck in the United States when you were there?
Jean-Joseph: It's true, I could have done it back then but at the time I do not really think it could become something serious. Nevertheless, at the same period, I created a blog called "Hasbeeners" where I talked about streetwear, street culture alongside, I was throwing electronic parties all over France.
So, Petit Pont was this commercial project that you were always considering?
Jean-Joseph: Yes, I wanted to start by developing underwear. To talk about the style I think you have to go in the entirety of the wardrobe. I began with the underwear, found a parallel with architecture. I stumbled on this text -which in my opinion totally defines what Petit Pont is- from Henri Focillon on his theory on
the difference between sculpture and architecture. I also made football at a young age so it was obvious to me to combine all these things into one. Combine the aesthetics of sport throughout clothing and vice versa.
What did you mean by "style infrastructure"?
Jessica: Making underwear turns out to be the first step in this project, no more, no less. We think in a global approach when we are dealing with clothing. Do you start by putting an undergarment right? Then, you are thinking about the other layers afterward. It's logical.
How did you hear about this Jessica project?
Jessica: It was complicated because Joseph has interesting ideas all the time, every day there's a new project coming up so it is sometimes hard to keep up with him.
Jean-Joseph: That's one of my many flaws that is true.
Jessica: I may be a little down to earth in the sense that my role is to calm his ardor, therefore, It is true that at first, I did not really believe in Petit Pont, but seeing that he didn’t quit, I started to help little by little, starting with the logo.
You then built everything from A to Z.
Jean-Joseph: It all really began when I went to Egypt. I had a friend who gave me a piece of fabric he brought back from his trip. By seeing the quality of the fabric I decided to go.
How did you choose your fabrics?
Jean-Joseph: It wasn’t easy, it took time. I had two weeks to find something with a certain amount of money and without any solid contact there. You can imagine how difficult it could be. I finally found a company that made what we wanted.
Jessica: Which was pretty tricky since we are a small structure. It was difficult to find the contact and to be taken seriously. You must know that we had not made any real training in fashion whatsoever even if Joseph had some basic training, we didn’t really know how to draw & produce things on our own.
Once the fabric find what’s next? Are you then looking for factories, working on prototypes?
Jessica: In between, we went to Vietnam for a short stay to see my family, we took the opportunity to try to produce a prototype there.
Jean-Joseph: The first piece, the Balard* jersey was actually made in Vietnam.
So, this is the first item in your collection?
Jean-Joseph: Yes, we made underpants but we were not satisfied while the jersey we made was very satisfying.
So you found a factory in France afterward?
Jessica: During my stay in Stockholm, I was doing research on possible factories. I finally found a one and reached out to the people in charge. The discussion we had seemed convincing and I felt a solid interest from them.
Where is the workshop?
Jessica: Lille (north of France) We quickly built a good relationship with the women working there and it is a good thing because the business conversation we have is clearly easier that way.
Once the factory found, could you tell me how was the manufacturing process like?
Jessica: We started designing new prototypes knowing that Joseph did not produce them for large-scale production.
You wanted to do something really elaborate.
Jessica: We certainly want to create products that you cannot see everywhere, that are specially made to a certain extent.
Jean-Joseph: Once the material found, we had to find the right cut, that was the hardest part.
How many tries before finding the right formula?
Jean-Joseph: I could not tell you, plenty, and we obviously spent a lot of money...
Despite all this, you didn’t quit and kept going further.
Jean-Joseph: I had to materialize my ideas. This project had to be alive. The first underpants model is called « the original* ». It is the brand’s signature. Oh and yes, there is a quite small detail, the belt is reversible.
Jessica: It is specially thought for women.
Jean-Joseph: In this perspective, underpants become a unisex product.
Jessica: Yes and we added another value to the product by making the reversible belt it allows you to see our logo but particularly to readjust the sizing.
By creating « l’original », did you originally thought about making two more?
Jean-Joseph: Underpants are not really trendy. I wanted to make them attractive again. I produced three different underpants because I could express my ideas through a wider choice while remaining consistent aesthetically.
How did you know that the product was going to please people, di you show them to your friend beforehand?
Jean-Joseph: At first I tried on myself and then yes, eventually I gave some to a few friends.
Jessica: All our relatives were giving us details to improve the product.
So, Jessica are you doing all the Art Direction for Petit Pont?
Jessica: Indeed, I’m in charge of the graphic design part and we've got a fairly large circle of creative friends around us that helps us from time to time.
Working for you and not for others, it is slightly different, how so?
Jessica: Yes, I guess I am even more addicted to work nowadays, it is a 24hours job.
Is not it too hard to have to manage your business and your relationship?
Jessica: There are not really any complications.
Jean-Joseph: At first it was more difficult I think because she was not thoroughly involved in the project. I had to make her understand that it was important to me.
You launched your first Pop Up last year, how was the experience like?
Jessica: Last May we rented a space 3 days in a raw. My father did all the pedestals. It was a wonderful experience, we simply loved it. Seeing the people that support us was really stimulating.
You are now four people involved in this project, right?
Jessica: Yes. My friends Lundja and Marie are now working with us. They were studying at the same school in Saint Etienne. We worked on several projects together and they were really dedicated to make this project work.
Jean-Joseph: At first I wanted to do it alone. Once Jessica became part of the project it changed because it became more serious. When she introduced me to her friends I thought that if they joined our team it would give more strength to the whole project. There is definitely some benefit coming from this.
Is it not hard to let other people be in charge?
Jessica: No because since we started Petit Pont we trusted a lot of people. It's true that once we let people join our team, we do not want to be disappointed. People do not realize the investment we put...
What's next then?
Jean Joseph: I do not only think about making underpants as I said before but, I want to focus on the entirety of the undergarments. The idea would be to redefine the masculine wardrobe through my aesthetic. Ralph Lauren pays tribute to polo, Lacoste to tennis by consolidating their luxury image, football would have a top-notch brand called Petit Pont simple as that!
Jessica: It is important to be aware of what we can do and cannot do.
What kind of audience are you targetting?
Jean-Joseph: What we would like to be. Today we can not say that we are there yet but, we eventually will.
Jessica: I would say people of a similar age range to ours. People who are ready to invest in quality. We don't make a product that you are going to throw away immediately.
Jean-Joseph: Yes, we try to make products that will last long. Our relationship to time is essential because we are not trying to follow seasons release. When the product is done and we are happy with it, we are selling it.
Maybe not yet, however, you can imagine that in a few years if everything goes as you wish and there is a significant financial contribution, everything could possibly change.
Jean-Joseph: Yes indeed, everything will depend on our evolution.
If you had the opportunity to access high-end materials, would you change your methods of creation and production?
Jean-Joseph: I do not really know, I never really had the opportunity to do what I want with more substantial means.
Jessica: Of course, for my case, I will hire photographers of a certain standard -even if all the photographers with whom we worked are very talented- the packaging would have been different etc…
Jean-Joseph: Even if our product looks minimalist we tend to make them stand out with the quality and detail work.
Jean-Joseph took one of the undergarments boxes out from their bags and put it on the table.
Beautiful! Oh and you perfumed the box?
Jessica: Yes, for us every detail are important!
Did you create the perfume as well?
Jean-Joseph: In fact, the first steps of the project was to create the brand's olfactory identity before focusing on any garment creation.
That is a wonderful idea! Do you have moments when you feel ultra creative?
Jean-Joseph: Permanently and that's the problem. Of course, you have to take into consideration the financial aspect because if we had that kind of money, you can guess that we would have much more impact, like other well known Parisian brands...
Do you look at what is happening in the fashion world steadily?
Does that frustrate you sometimes? In a sense that not looking at the competition allows you to focus on your project.
Jessica: Personally, I try to not pay attention to what is happening around because I am a bit scared to be influenced by things I will stumble on.
Jean-Joseph: I usually take the time to look at what people are doing, even if it’s good or bad. Just because I enjoy analyzing everything that has been done. It allows you to understand the trends, what to do and what you need to avoid. I think we are living one of the worst time in fashion.
Why do you think so?
Jean-Joseph: It is quite difficult to determine what are the fashion trends of those recent years when you look at how people are dressing nowadays. In the 70s you could almost distinguish the stylistic tendency that took place, likewise in the 80s and 2000s.
So, you think there are no codes anymore?
Jean-Joseph: Indeed, some people think this is a good thing but in my opinion when you take a look at what certain designers are doing, I just think they are lost...
What is necessary today when you are a brand, to make you successful?
Jean-Joseph: The same recipe, find someone to wear your shit, a star, for example, many stars. However, for a brand like us, I think it's the discovery, if you discover a brand by yourself, it will have much more impact and will generate more interest.