“People write very nice letters,” says Mats Klingberg. “They say that thanks to us, they’ve really found their own style. That they weren’t interested in clothes before but now they’re empowered, have more self-esteem and feel better about themselves. Which is amazing.”
Klingberg is the stylish Swede behind London’s Trunk Clothiers, specialists in classic menswear, with an emphasis on hard-to-find labels from Japan, the US and Europe. It is 10 years since it opened on Chiltern Street, then known, if it was known at all, as a residential thoroughfare characterised by multimillion-pound flats and gothic Victorian architecture.
That changed in 2013 when the Chiltern Firehouse arrived: overnight hotelier André Balazs’s celebrity hotspot ushered in a steady stream of paparazzi-ready vistas. Luxury retailers joined the frey: so much so that Chiltern Street was anointed “London’s coolest street”.
Klingberg had been in the right place, at the right time. Except it wasn’t entirely down to luck. A former financier with a degree in fashion merchandising management, he’d lived in Marylebone since moving to London in the Noughties, and an idea for a store somewhere residential, away from the well-trod shopping streets, had been bubbling away. Then he met Balazs, who told him his Firehouse plans: “It gave me the confidence that something other than just me was coming here. From what he’d done at the Mercer in New York and Chateau Marmont in LA, he already had a following.”
Trunk Clothiers immediately established its USP, with Klingberg importing the labels he’d buy on his travels that were largely unavailable internationally: Boglioli, Incotex, Alden, Aspesi, Barena, CQP. He was the first retailer to bring Common Projects trainers to the UK. Sometimes his dedication reached comical proportions. To get Ichizawa Shinzaburo Hanpu, a Japanese canvas bag company, took two years.
“I had lots of tea-drinking with them,” he says. “Eventually, they came over to recce the shop, and approved. The Japanese mentality is very different in terms of business than the West where the focus is on growing, growing, growing. They want something that makes them proud. They want to survive and eat. They don’t want more. They get stressed otherwise, and they don’t want to get stressed.”
The Japan connection is important because Klingberg took at least part of his business model from there. “The Japanese have done great things for menswear,” he says. “They’re so into the way things are made. And the way the Japanese buyers [for shops] buy, it’s not just about the big global brands, it’s really about the smaller ones. It’s about the stories rather than having the coolest new designer.”
Indeed there may be an irony in the fact that many of the international labels Klingberg is importing into the UK take their cues from classic British menswear — before everything went all sportswear, hoodies and technical fabrics.
Immaculately dressed, moisturised and so handsome you feel like bursting into tears whenever you look at him, it’s sometimes assumed Klingberg based Trunk’s wardrobe on himself. He’s certainly its best advert (when we meet he is wearing items from Trunk’s label, launched last year). Not so, he says. “It would be quite limiting as a shop if it was just about me. I mean, maybe I wouldn’t wear that,” — he fingers a brown and beige checked blouson — “but I like it. I like lots of things. I just understand what works on me.”
It’s not been the best of times for independent clothes shops, with two landmarks, Colette in Paris and Opening Ceremony in New York, closing in the last three years. Though they attracted more of a hipster crowd than Trunk, they essentially did the same thing: source hard-to-get labels and sell them under one roof. Opening Ceremony has been upfront that it was the internet that did for them — nothing is that hard-to-get these days, after all — yet Trunk goes from strength to strength. How come?
“Maybe it’s because I’m not focusing on the hype stuff on Instagram,” says Klingberg. “That’s not what I’m about. We’re not the coolest kid on the block. More like a nice friend.”
“I visit so many stores,” says Chris Olberding, president of Gitman Bros, the US shirting brand sourced by Klingberg. “And one way I can tell how good a store is, is if I leave with something. It’s inevitable at Trunk. There’s a lot of stiff competition out there but you feel like it’s a space that can’t be replicated elsewhere.”
“They're clear at what they’re good at,” says Yasuto Kamoshita, creative director of Japanese brand United Arrows, another Trunk favourite.“To carry products that are very well designed, that we never tire of. That’s actually the principal that inspires me to make clothes.”
Klingberg opened a second shop, Trunk Labs (luggage, accessories, bags, shoes), a few doors down on Chiltern Street in 2013, while Trunk Zürich launched in 2018. Online business is flying, while Trunk’s own-line now accounts for 30 per cent of sales. Klingberg says he’s not short of offers to open more — “I get approached by landlords in New York and LA all the time” — but for now remains focused. Business has been profitable since year one, and he’s happy to keep growth modest. He doesn’t want to get stressed.
The anniversary, meanwhile, will be marked by collaborations with some of Klingberg’s favourite brands from the last decade, pop-ups in various Trunk-approved capitals and a party on Chiltern Street (once Covid-19 lockdown rules permit), which he hopes will be less of a scene than his opening-night bash. “The neighbours were quite upset; the police came,” he says. “People were spilling onto the street.”
But that was 10 years ago. “Now the Firehouse takes the flak for the rest of us.”
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