The former star rugby player and chairman of Eden Park talks about his past and present careers.
DAMAN: The name Eden Park was taken from the rugby pitch where France lost the World Cup final in 1987. Why take the name of something considered as an unfortunate memory for your brand?
Franck Mesnel: I chose that name because it was the first rugby (World Cup) finals cup, happening in 1987. For me, it was a huge ‘souvenir’. We’ve played with the All Blacks (New Zealand rugby national team) six months prior in Brittany, and we were lucky to beat them. So the  finals was their revenge. I’ve got good relationships with the All Blacks, while I believe that the New Zealander love the French flair of fashion. Being the leading rugby team of the world, it was an honor to lose against this team. The idea of this name as a brand came a little bit later.
DAMAN: Can we say that creating a fashion brand has always been your dream, long before your sports career?
Franck Mesnel: Not at all. The story didn’t come from the French team; the story came from the club I was playing in back in 1987, Racing Club de France. It was a typical student team, a crazy fun team. One day, we decided to inject a little fantasy in our game. That idea was to ‘play’ with the beret in Bayonne, a place where wearing a beret is an everyday thing – not a fashion statement. The press took the opportunity to talk about that, which then made the public followed. The ‘Parisian showbiz’, that was our nickname. By the way, we won the game – wearing berets. Thay season we went through until the finals, where we would play at Le Parc de Princes, the field of Paris Saint-Germain. This time, we thought we couldn’t come to the pitch without doing something. So we decided to use an accessory, which was the bow tie. Our mascot was the Pink Panther and painted the bow tie pink. It was a unique moment. We lost the game against Toulon but the press took the opportunity to talk about our team spirit, people talked about our pink bow ties. We went to a lot of TV shows and interviews. And when we realized the traction, we thought about the opportunity.
DAMAN: How did it go, the transition between a professional athlete into a fashion brand owner?
Franck Mesnel: I had to choose and find my ultimate priority, which was Eden Park. I tried to learn this job because I didn’t know anything about fashion at all. Architecture taught me about colors and construction of the project, but in terms of techniques I was not ready. It took me about five years to learn, and I am still learning today.
DAMAN: Can you tell us more about the hardships in the early stages.
Franck Mesnel: I was lucky to have Eric Blanc as my associate until this day. We have a good balance to establish the brand. It was not a huge rupture; it was quite cool. I know I wouldn’t have achieved it all by myself. Of course like any start-up stories, at the beginning you do everything. You take care of the collection, the logistics, the accounting. I learned this from rugby. On the field, you cannot do everything alone. Especially in a collective sport, and furthermore on a competitive sport. Find the good balance and give good results. So we understood that very quickly. From sports to real life, things are not that much different. We knew we had to get more people to help us very quickly and better than us on different things.
DAMAN: And how about now?
Franck Mesnel: The overall team now is about 200 people. Around 80 are based in Mont-Louis, our headquarters. All the conception of the collection are done there. We are working with different areas in the world. About a third of our production is done in South America, especially Peru especially because they have this extra fine long Pima fiber that has really fantastic quality for us for more than 25 years. We also have partners in Hong Kong, India, Italy, and more.
DAMAN: What differs Eden Park with other ready-to-wear sportswear brands?
Franck Mesnel: The difference is that Eden Park has a fantastic true story inspired by the French flair. It is something intrinsically tied with rugby, a lot of dedication values and we have a true story that defines that.
DAMAN: What does the pink bow tie represent?
Franck Mesnel: Legend says the bow tie has been invented to make an opposition to the formal tie. The bow tie came as a fantasy. And the legend says it was the French who did that first. All the story about Eden Park is a mixture of rigor and fantasy; this paradox to put pink bow ties on these big rugby players. In the current construction of what we’re doing with the brand, we have fantasy lining inside the jacket, we use oval, rugby-shaped buttons, checks and stripes, etc. We are always playing with these paradoxical design elements. The pink bow tie is the real symbol in Paris of French flair for men. We’re lucky to be specialists of this one iconic product. It’s our emblem.
DAMAN: How did this collaboration with Adidas come about?
Franck Mesnel: To be more modern, to be more adaptable. In terms of product, we are also thinking about technical products. This is the reason why we have a partnership with Adidas. There’s a limit to what you can do by yourself or not. And it’s the same thing for the team in Eden Park. We are not experts in technical products and so when we met the people from Adidas is to try to bring our two DNAs together. It’s a range of 20 pieces. It’s the first step and we hope to work soon on the second collection.
DAMAN: How do you think fashion will evolve?
Franck Mesnel: The fantastic evolution for the future will concern materials, fabrics. The arrival of new fabrics with an ecological responsibility.
DAMAN: For every piece that you release, is it always inspired by rugby?
Franck Mesnel: It is. I always remind the team that each product must have the DNA. We have list of elements mimicking the rugby uniform: from piping and the cutting and sewing to the rugby stripes, and more. It can be the material. You can use the twill of the famous rugby jersey. It’s also a question of colors. We have a strong link to our club’s colors: sky blue and white stripes. The navy and pink also, which are the colors of the logo. Of course the bow tie has to be present.
DAMAN: What do you think are Eden Park’s must have pieces?
Franck Mesnel: I would say shirts and knitwear, which are a big part of our lifestyle collection. We are confident with those products.
DAMAN: Eden Park now has many lines, including homewear. How did it come about?
Franck Mesnel: I used to be an architecture student. I love decoration. It’s very helpful as well when it comes to the brand’s image because we are doing quality items, so it’s good.
DAMAN: What is the must-have item from the homewear collection?
Franck Mesnel: Linen items for bed because we have a special composition of linen, with a treatment. We make it softer. It’s quite comfortable to sleep in linen – especially for summer.
DAMAN: How has social media changed your business strategy?
Franck Mesnel: We have decided after 30 years to celebrate our anniversary. We have changed many things regarding this French flair and to have a new marketing orientation. And of course digital was in the middle of the subject. We have changed our site and next step to open this site to other countries, to work on marketplace, this will come pretty soon, in 2020.
DAMAN: Describe French Flair in 3 words?
Franck Mesnel: For me, I will describe it in two words: rigor and fantasy. If you only have fantasy, it’s not enough. If we only have rigor, it’s sad. The French flair is not only creation, French can be serious.
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