Thomas Tistounet : The principle of independence

Thomas Tistounet : The principle of independence

Category: Interviews
Publication date:
Showroom Market

While it is true that young designers currently have the possibility to promote themselves on many digital platforms, allowing them to talk directly to their audience and find their potential clients, the reality is that few independent brands will manage to take off and grow a tangible business, especially today.

© Sarah Levy

This is something Thomas Tistounet fully understands. Growing-up in a retail environment and eventually taking over the buying for United Legend -the company that was founded by his father- Tistounet has solid experience in handling designer fashion, as well as understanding what stores expect from young independent brands.

After moving to Paris with his wife, Tistounet decided to launch Untitled in 2021, his own showroom and independent agency selling emerging and contemporary designers. He was part of the jury for the Belgian Fashion Awards last November and we caught up with him in Antwerp to discuss a life in retail, his favorite Belgian designers, and how Untitled stands for some of his most important values.

Showroom Market © Thomas Tistounet
You started working in fashion at an early age. Can you tell me a bit more about your background?

My grandparents worked in retail and so did my parents. I started working in their fashion stores at the age of 16. I’m originally from Mulhouse in Alsace, which is not the most fashionable or affluent town in the region, but I’ve been into fashion and clothes for a very long time. Eventually, I started going with my parents to Paris on buying trips and worked with them for several years.

Did this happen naturally to you or did you have to get into it?

It was a bit of both. I wasn’t a happy teenager, to be honest, and fashion seemed like a good opportunity for me. Perhaps my parents would have liked me to study further and go to university, but that’s not what I wanted.

Thomas Cyril et Thomas Tistounet
Being a fashion buyer is an incredibly tough and stressful job.

It is. You see so many collections within a few days and need to make decisions fast. What I did with United Legend was to develop their assortment of brands and make that environment more high-end, while remaining independent. I wanted to combine luxury brands with more streetwear -and emerging- names. I therefore moved from Mulhouse to Strasbourg and opened a new store with my sister there. My wife ended up working with us later, so fashion has always been quite a personal thing for me.

Was Belgian fashion important to you at the time?

Of course. I’ve always loved Belgian designers, starting with Raf Simons whose clothes I love wearing, even though the label is no longer active. Belgian fashion is so inspiring and individualistic. I also love Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester. I recently discovered Cyril Bourez’s work and got to know him while he was working in Raf’s studio. He’s a great guy, and we are selling his eponymous brand within our Paris showroom. We also represent Belgian designer Sarah Levy, who won the Accessory Designer of the Year at the Belgian Fashion Awards tonight.

Sarah Levy © Fille Roelants
How did you transition from buying to selling?

Once we had opened a second shop in Strasbourg and established our identity as retailers, we started getting invited to international fashion weeks, such as Seoul for instance. I think the first time I went there was 2005 or 2006. We met other buyers on those trips and started to build our own network. When my wife and I decided to move to Paris, we felt like it would be the right time to perhaps launch something. Then the pandemic happened, which was very worrying for us.

Some stores didn’t recover from it and had to close down.

Strangely enough, I often feel that the current recession is even tougher for stores. During the first lockdown, people still shopped online, because they were bored and felt frustrated. Now there’s a lot of fear around shopping, as well as spending money on emerging brands.

Untitled Showroom
When did you launch Untitled?

In 2021. The pandemic gave me more time to refine my concept and work on the selection of brands. For next season, we found a new space within le Marais, which is bigger than the one we had before. We will be showcasing men’s and women’s collections in Paris during the official calendar dates, four times a year.

What are the challenges faced by independent businesses and showrooms like yours today?

As you know fashion has become increasingly corporate and we still have to fight to do what we really want to do, which is promoting and growing young independent brands. In many ways, they are the lifeblood of this industry. The big groups are extremely powerful now and this makes independence a daily challenge, whether you’re a store, a designer or a showroom. Having Untitled run every season is a fight, but it’s also something I strongly believe in.

Untitled Team © Thomas Tistounet
How do you find new designers and what makes you choose them?

Word of mouth is important in my field. I use my instincts a lot, too. You need someone who comes with the right proposal at the right time. You also have to bear your buyers in mind and offer them enough variety.

Do you think young designers are more at risk today than 10 years ago?

This is a very difficult time for emerging talents, because we live in a society where many choices are in fact imposed by corporations, which control most of the fashion media. People are brainwashed to consume certain brands, and nothing else matters for those groups except increasing their profits. What we offer as an alternative is substance and real creativity. It’s about quality and plurality, not numbers.

Despite the industry becoming more corporate, there are still independent names that manage to build successful careers.

Promoting Creative Minds

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