In Conversation: Toka Toka
Ever on the lookout for more menswear brands, we could not have been happier to bring French streetwear meets workwear brand Toka Toka into our in store family this season. With uncomplicated designs covering the classics from sweats to overshirts, the brand champions a chilled out approach we can really get on board with. Not to be mistaken with an unconcerned, laissez-faire attitude, Toka Toka is remarkably considered. Each stage of production emphasises founder Vincent Tokatlian’s authenticity and care as a designer, built on a background of working for some of the industry’s biggest brands.
Making the move this year to the coastal, sun soaked location of Marseille, Toka Toka is all about a way of dressing that is an extension of a way of living, and above all keeping things easy. As we welcome the brand into the store for it’s first season with us, we chatted with Vincent to hear more about how and why he designs with a lifestyle in mind.
Above The Leo Overshirt in Olive as featured in the brand's expansive look book this season
Why the name ‘Toka Toka’?
It was very natural for me to call the brand Toka Toka; all my friends have been calling me TOKA since I was a kid (it’s actually short for my last name Tokatlian). The brand is therefore an extension of my family - a gang!
Can you walk us through your creative trajectory from starting up in fashion to launching your own label?
I initially learned the trade as a pattern cutter before working as a quality manager for a women’s brand based in Marseille. It was important for me to learn the ropes and start at the bottom. I then moved to Paris to study some more and took classes at the fashion school Mod’Spé.
I then worked for Carven as a production assistant, for BWGH as a sales manager and finally for Bérangère Claire in the same role, for the men’s line. In March 2014, I decided to finally launch a project that had been mulling over for a year… and that’s how Toka Toka was born!
That progression seems so organic. I read somewhere that your values of sharing and good humour were essential to the brand, how do you maintain this personable approach?
It was spontaneous for me as it is my natural way of being. I love to laugh and make jokes to my friends. This is truly my spirit, and I believe that you can apply this state of mind to your every day life, no matter what your job. I always choose laid back models who smile easily to represent the brand. I want others to feel happiness and joy through the brand. I want Toka Toka to be an inclusive club of enjoying! I inject that spirit in my brand by mixing funny prints with more classical pieces; it symbolises that you can inject some fun into the ‘chic’.
What does your work space look like? Have you always designed from here?
I’m proud to design in the South of France. I was born and raised in Marseille but I had to leave the Mediterranean for Paris six years ago. In Paris, I used to work in an office in the Bastille area and I was sharing the place with Laury from the womenswear brand Suzie Winkle. The place was very quiet in a small courtyard with a stimulating environment!
For the past 10 months now I’ve come back to Marseille, to the sun and to the beautiful landscape of my birthplace, a place that both relaxes and inspires me. The weather definitely has a very good influence on my behavior and my feelings in general. Seeing the sun and the sea each day make me feel lucky. The space where I design the pieces for Toka Toka is bigger, lighter, and it enables me to better express my ideas.
That sense of ease translates so well into your designs. Can you pinpoint who are you designing the Toka Toka pieces for?
I design the collection for people who like basic pieces with subtle twist. For men who like quality but who can adapt their dressing to create looks that can be as corporate as they can be fun and edgy. The Toka Toka signature phrase is “for tourists only”; people who want to discover, share and enjoy every day. If you take the time, and look around, you can be a tourist in your own town.
Above The weighty Leo Overshirt in Black, layered up over classic shirting
Can you tell us more about the manufacturing of each collection? What goes into the choice of each cut and fabrication?
All the products are made in Portugal. The shirts are made into a specialised factory located near Porto, sweatshirts and t-shirts are made in Barcelos, and another factory produces our jackets and trousers in Braga. It’s important to me to guarantee a high quality to our customer and to be able to visit the factories and follow all the steps of production to ensure this.
Concerning fabric, I love the thick fabrics that you can find on old vintage pieces, that are confortable, convenient and solid. This is why I make heavy sweatshirts and t-shirts. Also, I’m picky with the quality. I want to make goods that last a long time. This is why I choose fabrics from Japan, France, England, Italia, Spain and Portugal where quality is paramount. All the cuts are carefully considered to ensure comfort and protection from the weather.
Which pieces best sum up the new collection for you?
The Antonio Coach Jacket. Made from a waxed cotton and lined with fake shearling, this is a high quality basic. The iconic ‘more coffee’ sweatshirt is also a good example, a comfortable and well fitted piece that you want to wear every day!
Above The aforementioned Antonio Jacket in Petrol Grey, a key piece from this season
With your ‘easy wear’ philosophy in mind, how would you personally style some of the pieces from this season?
I love to wear the Mark Shirt as an overshirt, mixing it with a grey sweat underneath. The yellow is beautiful, not too bright, not too dark, the colour is perfect for the winter. Who said that you can’t wear colour during winter?! I also wear the olive coloured Leo overshirt a lot as a jacket, and thanks to the moleskin fabric it keeps you warm. Usually I team it with a Peter flannel shirt and a heavy Good Morning T-shirt.
Are there any specific sources of inspiration you keep returning to?
The ‘tourist’ way of life continues to inspire me, the idea that you can always discover new stuff and think about how to sit back and enjoy your own city. How to share happiness and fun in fashion!
What do you think remains so attractive about work wear cuts in a modern age?
Using contemporary and technical fabrics with vintage cuts is always a tricky game, but when you find a good balance the result is awesome. It enables us to renew classic cuts with a twist of work wear and retro influence.
Above The brand's typical twist on the classic work wear cut, the Leo Overshirt in Olive
How do you practically achieve this balance between vintage and modern?
I usually pick one or two details from vintage pieces like the shape of a pocket, a cuff finishing or a trouser fit, and I mix them with more contemporary fabrics and cuts. I try to find the best parts of both vintage and modern design and to mix them to create the perfect outfit!
Do you think that the face of menswear has changed?
Nowadays I can call it the crazy marketing line, meaning men are happy to mix vintage garments with more contemporary pieces, sportswear, etc. We have become hybrid beings in the way we shop and dress. That’s great cause it enables everybody to create their own style.
What does it mean to you to be a proudly French brand?
France has always been famous around the world for its fashion. I’m simply proud to think that I play a part in the new generation of designers in my country!
To round things off, what should we expect for the future of Toka Toka?
For the upcoming SS18 season, a sunglasses collaboration with Waiting For The Sun will be available in store, and I am working on developing more accessories and collaborations. For the next collection there will be an exclusive print that I have designed, more ready to dye colour and more fun. Stay tuned!