Where men work and how men work are points of debate nowadays, as is what they wear for work, seeing that Zooms in hoodies and pajama bottoms are now, fingers crossed, a thing of the past.
A collection based out of Paris, Officine Générale seems primed for the moment. “Officine” means “workshop” in French, and its creator, the 47-year-old Pierre Mahéo, who started the burgeoning fashion powerhouse in his kitchen 10 years ago, is here to help our post-remote awkward selves find our way back, by zeroing in on qualities handed down from his two grandfathers, in Brittany, whose starkly different vocations showed him there was a stylish way to blend life and work.
“My grandfather on my mother’s side was a tailor, and in his house there was a long corridor. On one side was winter clothes, and on the other, summer—all of it classified by color, with the cotton, the linen all arranged perfectly, and the tuxedos at the end. It was nuts. My other grandfather was an oyster producer. I remember seeing him in his Sebago Docksides and oxfords. The chinos were faded a pink that was reddish, thanks to the sea and the elements. He was never in anything else, except for maybe a navy jacket. When I started Officine Générale, I wanted to mix those two universes—dressed up, but also vintage and dressed down.”
With his four-day-old scruff and an olive-green Officine Générale suit, his gray hair swept back like he was a French Pat Riley, Mahéo looks every bit the part of a smartly tailored workingman. Officine Générale clothes embody that style the French execute so well: relaxed sophistication. And for many sophisticates, whether they are in Los Angeles, Lisbon, or London, Officine Générale is now the uniform of choice.
“I always said a jacket should feel like another shirt. Something that moves when you move. I look at what you wear through the lens of how you live: I’m on the scooter. I go to the office. I take a plane. It’s not working from home. It’s working in the world.”
This inherent flexibility is the opposite of what Mahéo saw firsthand when he worked for decades in the salt mines of major luxury brands, where designers dictated what should be worn and how—even if it had no connection to how a man lived.
Officine Générale clothes embody that style the French execute so well: relaxed sophistication. And for many sophisticates, whether they are in Los Angeles, Lisbon, or London, Officine Générale is now the uniform of choice.
“Why would I want to impose on someone to buy a two-piece suit when he just wants the pants? Or just the blazer? Let’s make it simple. And Officine is also not crazy expensive. Instead of buying a suit for 3,000, buy it for 700 and use the 2,300 to go skiing with your family.”
And Mahéo certainly doesn’t want to hear about the supposed cost benefits of producing goods oceans away or co-branding his line with major labels to gin up sales. He hates that an estimated 20 percent of all clothes produced never see shelves. And please don’t tell him he’s a designer.
“I’m not posh. I don’t do design for design’s sake. It’s always a combination of comfort and look for me. It can’t look good if you don’t feel comfortable.”
In the past year, investors have taken a shine to how Mahéo sees the world and are betting his vision has a potential that hasn’t come close to being tapped. The Untitled Group, a private-equity shop founded by Josh Rowan and Adam Freed, announced it had made a “significant investment” to fuel the company’s expansion, which includes rolling out 10 stores in the next three years. Right now, the company has nine stores in Paris and London, as well as the recently opened outpost in New York. A store in L.A. is slated to open in the Fall of 2022.
The skittering global economy and half-empty office towers don’t phase Mahéo, who often can be spotted inside one of Officine Générale’s three stores on Rue du Dragon, which make up a mini-empire on the block: the men’s store, women’s store (O.G. started a women’s collection in 2017), and one dedicated to a new collection called Daily Classics, which sells unisex products such as sweatshirts and chinos and T-shirts, many of which feature sustainable materials.
The stores are all spitting distance from his apartment, in the Sixth, and the Café de Flore, where he starts his day ritually at eight a.m. with coffee and croissants and a smoke. This adherence to routine is something Mehéo believes comes through eventually in the clothes.
“It’s a way to control whether the look is right. When it comes to the fittings in the studio, it’s me who does all of them. If you’re conscious of your daily routine, you’re conscious of your movements and your style. I believe that.”
This O.C.D. attention to detail has helped Mehéo come up with tiny add-ons a customer may not notice until later, like a double zipper on a jacket that allows the person to open it up from the bottom while sitting at a table or riding a bike; or a button on the neckline for most of his blazers.
“A blazer can be beautiful, but it’s cold by essence because you have all the parts that are open. If you can close it up at the top and put a scarf over, now we are talking. It becomes like armor.”
At his most recent spring-summer show, in June (as one critic wrote, it was so good he ended up “playing fantasy personal shopping”), Mahéo focused on his bell cow, the young Parisian who he believes maintains that nonchalant-fashion sweet spot of being stylish without ever overdoing it. The suits were cut loosely but were well tailored—smartly updated versions of what Alain Delon would have worn in Purple Noon.
The challenge moving forward is whether a brand built on subtle elegance risks becoming too subtle for its own good, to the point it may get overlooked or, worse, cheaply copied. We often underrate the difficulty involved when Jean Prouvé made a chair look like a chair. We confuse something that looks effortless for something that comes easy.
“There’s a good French expression: Pareil n’est pas pareil. Similar isn’t the same.” Making things that look the same but are different takes tons of work. You must fine-tune all the time while at the same time asking yourself, What’s next?”
John von Sothen is a writer based in Paris, a frequent contributor to Air Mail, and the author of Monsieur Mediocre