Brut is an interesting French brand, and store. Since it was founded by Paul Ben Chemhoun (below) in 2012, it has evolved from a vintage shop, into a home for rescued and reworked clothing, and now its own brand.
When I visited earlier this year with Alex Natt and Tony Sylvester, on a warm Thursday afternoon, the place was buzzing. It’s not exactly in a fashion location – the 3rd arrondissement, but a few blocks north of the Marais – yet there were seven or eight customers in the small shop, plus five staff.
“We’ve acquired this reputation for being quite affordable and quite forward-thinking, which seems to bring people in,” said Paul. “This used to a wholesale jewellery store, but there’s more and more retail around us now – a skate shop just opened down the road.”
That reputation has largely been driven by Brut’s ‘Rework’ programme, where they take old vintage clothes that no one wants, and turn them into something new.
“The best example is probably the 1950s French chinos,” says Paul. “We had hundreds of pairs, but all size 36. The material was so great, and so was the hardware, so we cut them down and both gave them a modern fit and created a range of sizes.”
Quite a lot of the Rework pieces are too streetwear, or perhaps just too unusual, for me.
The gilets made out of old made-in-USA blankets, for example (below), are a random patchwork of red, yellow and blue stripes. And their most recent release is a range of trousers made out of US Mint coin bags – each featuring descriptions of their original contents.
But resizing the French chinos makes complete sense (second image below). Material like that is really hard to find today, and vintage examples are often in unwearable conditions or sizes. It’s also a step deeper into sustainability – not just reselling clothes, but remaking ones that won’t sell.
Brut’s most popular project was reworking unwanted Barbour jackets into shorter versions – more of a fishing-jacket length (third image). And some ranges have been closer to intensive repairs, like the ones Ben at Hang-Up Vintage (sadly now only online) has done over the years. These included French workwear trousers made out of cutting down overalls.
Let’s briefly go back to that evolution of the brand though.
Paul grew up around vintage, and early on began collecting vintage clothing and then selling it. Eventually this grew to the point where – as often seems to happen with vintage dealers – his collection was something designers and researchers would want to examine and borrow from.
This was separated off into Brut Vintage Archives, and today has its own showroom (top image below).
Then three years ago a team of three of them opened the shop, mostly selling vintage. Over time the Rework programme grew, taking over rails in the shop until now, when you visit, almost half of what you see on Rue Réaumur is reworked pieces.
But it’s about to be changed again, with the vintage clothing moving downstairs and the ground floor becoming entirely Rework and Brut-branded clothing. They’ve also increasingly done collaborations with brands.
This is all reflected in the website, which has been redesigned since we were in Paris. There are now separate areas for ‘Brut Collection’ and ‘Rework’, as well as for Vintage and a specific area for Army surplus (though some areas do overlap).
“It hasn’t been easy for the website to keep up, as we’ve expanded and changed,” says Paul. “We were three people when we opened the shop, and now there’s a staff of seven. But hopefully the new site makes everything easier to understand.”
Personally I think it’s really refreshing to see a brand evolve in this way. Vintage shops in particular can get into a bit of a rut of dealing with the same ageing customers and going down rabbit holes of rarity.
It’s great that the vintage side remains at Brut (I picked up an orange down gilet when I was there – the vintage selection is a little more modern and broader than somewhere like Le Vif) but the team is branching in different directions every few years too.
Whether it’s driven by financial necessity or a restless creativity doesn’t really matter. Given the state of retail at the moment, I think it just pays to remain flexible and open-minded. It might mean selling some vintage clothing as well as new, or hosting a particular set of trunk shows, but it’s the attitude that matters.
It’s particularly easy for menswear stores to get locked into a certain approach and a mindset, given their fairly narrow range of styles and categories of clothing. As a customer and a commentator, its energising to see something other than new collections change.
Thank you to Paul, Clement and the team for their hospitality.
Clement (pictured above, far left) runs his own brand content business, Crafted Paris, which is responsible for a lot of the great imagery Brut has produced. Some examples I particularly like below.
Photography elsewhere: Alex Natt @adnatt