Tim Coppens loves a killer beat. The soft-spoken designer might give off a mild image, but he's a hardcore fan of hip-hop. Sitting in his modest Tribeca showroom, Coppens cites Dr. Octagon, Kool Keith, and Dominic Lord as his favorite acts, but he also loves Arctic Monkeys and the punk-jazz musician King Krule. And heavy rock bands.
"The first time I went to see Faith No More," Coppens says, "I felt like I had to get a nose ring. So I just put a hole in my nostril. I also had all kinds of haircuts -- I had dreadlocks, I shaved my head. My whole look changed according to musical trends."
Since the launch of his eponymous label in 2011, Coppens's eclecticism has led him to explore varied fashion influences. He's been inspired by the '90s Detroit techno scene, as well as by fighter jet pilots and Formula 1 racers. In August, the super-producer Diplo appeared on the cover of Billboard magazine wearing a sumptuous cashmere kimono coat from Coppens's new fall collection, which pairs mountaineering gear with Japanese flourishes. The combination could've been bungled if Coppens hadn't also developed a rock-steady consistency and a signature silhouette -- streamlined, sporty, and precise, with supreme wearability -- that never fails to win over critics. This year he received the CFDA Swarovski Award for Menswear.
"I'm not doing this only to be in magazines," Coppens says. "These things contribute to building the business, but when you're starting a label and you're getting a lot of press, that doesn't always mean [the success of] your brand is going to run parallel." Luckily, the exposure is boosting sales, too. In addition to Barneys New York, which bought his debut collection, Coppens was scooped up by Isetan in Japan, Dover Street Market, Matches in London, and, more recently, Mr Porter, the digital gateway to global success.
Tim Coppens Fall/Winter 2014-15
Growing up in Moerbeke-Waas, a small village in Belgium, Coppens had no exposure to the glitz of the industry. "We only had two channels, in black-and-white, and there was no fashion on it," he recalls. "No magazines. No Internet. Fashion didn't really exist for me until I went to Antwerp." That's where Coppens, encouraged by a friend, traveled to attend the prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Arts, which groomed the likes of Martin Margiela and Dirk Bikkembergs, not to mention Kris Van Assche, Dior Homme's current artistic director, who graduated with Coppens in 1998.
Fast-forward to a gig at Adidas, where, in 2004, Coppens started experimenting with technical garments as a concept designer, before moving to New York to become design director of RLX, Ralph Lauren's activewear brand. There, Coppens began to toy around with the idea of applying his tailoring skills to sportswear. "When I was at Adidas, it was a complete no-go to mix performance with fashion," the designer says, "but now [Adidas collaborates] with Raf Simons and Rick Owens."
Partly bolstered by an upbringing in which he was encouraged "to do something creative to the most extreme level," Coppens now shows a masterful knack for combining materials, sometimes mixing up to five fabrics on a single piece (a technique left over from the days when he made DIY outfits with his mother's sewing machine).
"It used to be that [sportswear] innovation was purely about performance," he says, "but if you flip it a bit, you can come up with different ways of putting stuff together." To that end, it isn't so much the beat Coppens loves, but the remix.