When Pierre Mahéo launched Officine Generale in 2012, he drew from his own past while simultaneously crafting his own future. That’s because the brand—known for its mix of fine tailoring with workwear influences, all executed in premium Japanese, Italian, and English fabrics—pulls together influences from Mahéo’s storied family history and is comprised solely of pieces the designer himself would like to wear.
So when Pierre invited The Window into his family home in Paris for an inside look at his space and process, we knew that we’d be seeing a great blend of reference from both past and present. And while the modern touches we saw there rang true to the minimalist aesthetic we’ve seen in his clothes, what we didn’t initially realize was the true sense of history rooting the space: the building was constructed in the 1480s and is one of the oldest buildings in this quiet section of the 6th arrondissement.
Read on for insight into how this sense of longevity plays into Mahéo’s process, the role oystering has put on the collection, and one adorable dog. Then, head to Barneys for a closer look at the Officine Generale collection itself.
The Window: How would you describe the DNA of Officine Genrale?
Pierre Mahéo: When I launched Officine Generale, it was because, first and foremost, I wanted to do the pieces that I wanted to do and that I wanted to wear. I used to design for other companies, and there was always a cahier de charge [specification] as far as color groups or other factors. I wanted to be able to use the fabrics that I wanted to use. When I designed my oxford shirts, I decided to use a Japanese selvedge, which is a narrower fabric and means that you use more fabric and the shirt becomes more expensive. But it’s been one of my top sellers.
The formula was to bring the best fabrics at the sharpest price, and then to create a line that men want to wear. I don’t sit around in the morning and think that next summer men will want to wear a running short every day—I know they won’t. It’s about putting together a wardrobe that’s fully actualized, using references from the past, adding a modern signature, and in fabrics that will last in the future: that’s Officine Generale.
After working for other brands, how did you decide it was time to strike out on your own?
When you go to the office and you take your head off like a helmet and set it on the desk next to you, and you just start working like a robot without any passion anymore, you know that the time has come to do something else. When your work doesn’t make you happy anymore, it’s a wakeup call. At one point, my best friend died, and it came as a shock—it made me stop and take two months off to decide what I wanted to do. I knew I wouldn’t wake up and decide that tomorrow I would be a painter—I don’t paint well! The only thing I knew how to do well was make clothes, so I told myself I was going to create what I wanted to wear. It was about getting back to what makes you work and advance in your life—your passion. It’s a lot of work to create a brand from scratch, but I never feel like it’s a job I have to do. It’s so beautiful to be able to make your job from your passion.
So now you get to design on your own terms.
Well, I put a lot of myself into the collection. An article came out after the last show, and journalists were saying, “Pierre designed for him. But he knows really well what men want to wear.” I don’t know if I know what men want to wear, but I know what I want to wear. And I also know what I really don’t want to wear! It’s simple and evident to me to do what I like.
Beyond yourself, who do you see wearing the collection? Do you have a muse in mind when you design?
One of the things I’m most proud of is that I didn’t design the collection thinking that it’s only for a specific group of guys. This isn’t just for guys who are between 22 and 30, go out, live in the city, and listen to a certain music. When you design, the best compliment is to have a nice variety, and I always say Officine Generale is trans-generational. My father-in-law is 75, but he wears the collection, loves it, and looks great in it. And I have friends who are 23, 28, 30, 40, 45… They all look good when they wear it, and they all look different. The younger guys will appropriate the clothes by dressing them down, sometimes in a trashy way—which I love. The more conservative guys, my generation, will wear it differently. But what I love is that, when you design something, you give it away. When there’s an apple in the store, you don’t know if it’s going to be a pie or a fruit salad or just an apple. It’s the same with my clothes. You have to take them and make them your own.
Your aesthetic has been described as tailoring-meets-workwear, drawing the best from both. Where does this point of view come from?
It was natural for me. I was born in Brittany, where my grandfather was a tailor but my father was an oysterman. So I saw my grandfather, every day of the week, wearing a three-piece suit. Even if he was working in the garden with his employees, he was still in a dress shirt and vest. On the other side, my father was always in old chinos—in vintage blue or that true fisherman red—paired with a workwear jacket with patch pockets. The colors of everything would fade out beautifully from the sea water and the salt. So when I started to design and put together the DNA of what would become Officine Generale, I couldn’t choose just one side. It was my roots, so it had to mix both. The two go well together.
Can you talk us through your design process? Where does an idea originate and how does it proceed from there to something we’ll see on the racks at Barneys?
I draw a lot of inspiration from old movies, books, and old photographs. I work a lot with images, and I draw from womenswear, too. The way women mix and match things is sometimes stronger than how men do. I also write a lot. I sketch very roughly, and then I write. That gives me the canvas of the collection—all the ideas—then comes color inspirations. Lastly, comes the fabric and what will work for each shape. It’s like a puzzle. I go to a fabrics fair in Paris or Milan knowing what I need and I start to hunt for it. I go in knowing 60-70% of what I know I want to find. Then comes the magical moment when I find a fabric that wows me. That’s a gift, when you find what you didn’t even know you wanted. The materials are so important in the process. That’s what brings the pieces of the puzzle together.
How is your space a reflection of your aesthetic and the same creative process we see in your collection?
It’s a mix of modern things with older pieces. Sometimes, it’s the pieces that are old and slouchy and have a patina that look much better. The shelves in the living room, I designed and drew them according to the space so that there was balance. When you design a collection or product, you look at silhouettes and adjust to make something slimmer or more generous. When you have a space, you have the same kind of rules. Like, I like things that work in pairs—two portraits, two lamps, two chairs. I think pairing things makes them look stronger and in balance. I really like the mix of vintage furniture with modern touches. It’s really easy to enter a furniture showroom and start pointing to things, and you’ll end up with a space that’s modern and sleek, but you don’t put a lot of yourself into it when you do that. But when you like a tortoise shell and pair it with an 80-year-old bistro table where the marble is totally washed out, you bring a sense of history.
Lastly, where does the name Officine Generale come from?
“Officine,” in French, can be used to mean an apothecary—where you prepare the medicine. It’s not usually used that way anymore, but in the past, it meant the place where they were mixing and making the recipe. Then “Generale” because, in the future I want to do both men’s and womenswear, but also if tomorrow I want to design a table, sofa, or chair, I want to be able to include it in a world. And that world is Officine Generale. It gives me the freedom to work outside the world of fashion, but still reinforce the world of the brand. It also helps that the name is the same in different languages—some people pronounce it like it’s Italian or English. But for me, it’s all one brand.