Laurence Chandler

Menswear Designer

You learn very quickly from any mistakes that you might make, and in that sense, you’re held accountable to what you do, to go through and to produce the best product that you can.
Gay Talese once said that dressing well “extols my sense of self, and helps define me as a man to whom details matter.” These words ring true when speaking to Rochambeau co-founder Laurence Chandler, to whom the smallest flairs and touches are integral to forming an identity through fabric.

Laurence can easily draw you a sketch of his ideal client. He sums up his company’s target audience so smoothly and succinctly, it sounds like one of Don Draper’s best pitch meetings: “The Rochambeau guy is not always at the center of attention in the room, but he’s always in the right place.”

Rochambeau, a rapidly rising men’s fashion brand, was founded by Laurence and his longtime friend, Josh Grouper, in 2007. The name is a playful wink at the game Rock, Paper, Scissors (sometimes called roshambo). That game represents the decision-making strategy Laurence and Josh often resort to when ending a “stalemate.” The 1, 2, 3 hand gesture battle of wits doesn’t just decide important questions over business tactics or design strategy, either—it’s even used to determine who has to meet the pizza guy at the door when they work late.

Growing up, Laurence was interested in creating art you could hold and feel—making something tangible. “I’ve always been drawn to the idea of a physical product,” he said. 

He and Josh began their careers by designing a couple dozen t-shirts, which were sold in their friend’s shop. Fast forward to 2016, and the duo saw their work featured in the men’s portion of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)’s Fashion Week in New York City.

Laurence, whose influences include Helmut Lang and Raf Simons, has no formal training. In fact, under “Education” in his LinkedIn profile is a tongue-in-cheek entry for the “School of Hard Knocks” from 2000-2004. But the lack of a design degree may have been integral in pushing him to try new things.

“You learn very quickly from any mistakes that you might make, and in that sense, you’re held accountable to what you do, to go through and to produce the best product that you can.”
On the job, Laurence tends to be inspired by his environment, and whenever he’s in a new city setting up a show, he takes the time to go to local art galleries and absorb the vibrant hum of the other creators working busily around him. In NYC and LA both, he said, “there’s never a shortage of things to see. And I think that’s definitely something that I take advantage of.”

When building a collection, Laurence uses a mixture of material pulled from screenshots, websites and references from books, which adds to the points of reference within the “story” of the show. 

The fashion shows touch on a wide variety of topics. For example, French philosopher Michel Foucault. Or Rochambeau’s fall/winter collection for 2016 [NOTE: HE SAID THIS YEAR, SO WOULD CLARIFY THE YEAR] that pays tribute to Tupac, drawing from the fashions expressed in the 1992 film “Juice.”

Laurence makes mood boards on his phone on the fly, dropping screenshots of materials or concepts he likes into various folders to sort out later. He says it’s important to never let good ideas go, and he always keeps notes whenever something lights up in his mind. These mood boards are “visually driven,” and “abstract … in terms of color, language, film references.” The boards then become the template for all of the specifics that follow. 

Laurence’s advice to those getting into the business is to find the right balance between following through on commitments and solidifying partnerships—which might mean saying no to some opportunities, even when, on paper, they seem like they’d be great. There isn’t “any pragmatic way to describe it except this feels like the right choice,” he said. 

Some of these lessons have been hard. Laurence recounts how a factory once returned “misproduced” pieces for one of their seasonal lines, causing them to freak out and question whether the whole project had a chance to succeed. With the fate of their entire season hanging in the balance, he and Grouper sprang into action.
“That caused us to kind of become resourceful. And, through that, we hit the pavement, went into the Garment District and were going almost door-to-door and talking to factories to see if they’d take on this small order in a small amount of time. And, through that, we were able to find still one of our long-standing New York production partners.”

While they focus on “taking men’s fashion to new heights,” Rochambeau has garnered quite a few notable fans. Among the famous faces who sport their designs are Kanye West and model/actress Cara Delevingne.

“In many ways, the traditional field has been disrupted and the playing field has been opened up in a way it’s never been before, where younger brands can gain exposure,” Laurence says. But, by the same token, those traditional “brick and mortar” sales partnership with a retailer—having stores as partners “to help tell your story”—are priceless.

“I don’t think success is something that’s quantifiable. It’s something that’s a driver for more success. The mentality of always wanting to go forward and do better than what you’ve done already.”

Written by Alexis Hauk Photography by Agnes Thor