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Hélas – The tennis interview

With Stephen Khou and Clément Brunel


There’s no doubt that Lucas Puig is a style icon – on and off the board. He’s one of the few that even looks good skating in shorts and so it was pretty obvious that, when he started Hélas together with his friends Stephen Khou and Clément Brunel, they would make some stylish stuff. They started with caps but soon also made clothes and brought back some 90’s vibes and French hip hop styles into skateboarding. This weekend they released their adidas capsule collection in Paris (I guess you’ve seen the party pics on insta) where we talked to Stephen and Clem about their brand.

How did Hélas start?

Stephen: We grew up together in Toulouse. Then I moved to London when I was 20 and met Clem there before I moved to Shanghai. We spoke a lot in Bars about making a hats company and then I was going to China to learn Chinese and check the factories there because they’re really good for production.

Clement: The original idea came in London and then it really started when Stefan arrived in Shanghai, cause he had the connection to factories and was like “Let’s do it!” Then the logo and name came.

What does the name actually mean?

S: It’s kind of an expression for unfortunately.

C: In France you say it, when there’s nothing you can do. You hear bad news and must deal with it and then you say: “Hélas”.

S: Even in French hip hop it’s used in a lot of lyrics. We got it from a song.

C: And it goes good with the umbrella, cause we had the umbrella logo in mind.

Why the umbrella? Because of the hats?

S: Yeah, the hats and family and we were all in London where it’s raining.

C: And the umbrella and the hat are supposed to protect your head. We like the umbrella and Hélas went really well with it because it’s a bit dark.

Why did you especially start a hat company?

S: There wasn’t really a hats brand and we were all fans of hats since we were kids.

C: 5-Panels were quite big shape at the time and we like the fitted ones, French style. The first drops were pretty fitted.

S: Not many brands were like that. We like skateboarding but when we went buying skate clothes, there was nothing at that time. Now there are more small brands coming up, but we started in a period where nothing was going on. There were only big brands and even they went down. We just made what we wanted to wear, the brand was more for us and then we moved on to clothing.

C: Some skateboarders were sponsored by New Era but a real hat company wasn’t existing and we thought it was a good idea.

S: It started really small with a few hats, we got a team and it was more about the good support, the vibe and stuff.

"We’re skaters but we still wanna look nice when we go to a bar"

When I look at your collections I see a lot of influences from outside of skateboarding. Where do you get your inspirations from?

C: From streetwear back in the days.

S: We’re skaters but we still wanna look nice when we go to a bar.

C: And we were always skating in trackies back then.

S: Yeah, whatever, adidas, Nike, Umbro… Even Lacoste, they do sportswear and casual wear. It’s kind of luxury but they come from sportswear, from tennis and anything. We try to mix everything.

C: We wanted to bring back this vibe. Today in the skatescene you see a lot of trackies.

S: That’s what we like, we grew up in the 90s with stuff like the Lordz video and when we started we got O.G.’s like J.B. and Luypa. It was kinda similar then. They did it with wheels and we do it with hats.

How do you work on different collections? How do you decide what to do?

S: It’s freestyle sometimes. We think it could be good like this and do a lookbook and the branding. Sometimes it’s influenced by tennis because we like shorts and the colours are fresh for the summer. For this winter we made the gang jackets and photographed it in a car in Marseille. We try to have fun, make a good lookbook…

C: …make something new every time.

And who of you guys is working on what?

S: We all work really closely together. We collect all the ideas, then get together for mock ups before Clem does the sheet with the final mock up. In the end we decide which ones we do.

C: And in my free time I do some logos and show them to the guys if they'd like them.

S: I bring a lot of fabrics from China as well, which brings us to new ideas. Waterproof stuff or whatever material, which gives us more ideas for jackets or tracksuits.

Although you started as a hat company it wasn’t ever only about hats.

S: Oh well, first it was, because we started low budget and we sponsored a lot of skaters that already had a clothing sponsor but no hat sponsors. So it was easy to put it on every head and it was a good timing, cause soon after that everyone wanted to wear 5-panels and then we slowly moved into clothing as well and now we make a lot of different stuff, whatever we like basically.

Taking about what you like. How does a perfect hat have to be?

S: It depends. It’s hard to make everybody happy, cause there are different heads. But our hats don’t go as deep down as other brand's hats. It really has French steeze, tennis steeze. Other 5-panels were really big.

C: The shape must perfectly fit on your head.

S: It’s between a tennis hat and sometimes maybe even a cycling hat, really tight fit.

So I guess you won’t do trucker caps in the future.

S: [laughs] Never say never but in the moment we got more priority in the clothing.

Because this collection is tennis inspired I have to ask: Do you guys have any tennis skills?

C: I played two years. I was pretty shit but I played.

I have a little quiz for you to see how much tennis knowledge you have. I tell you a quote and you have to guess if it was a skateboarder or a tennis player who said it. First one is: “It’s better to go out like a man, trying, than to play it safe and get second.”

C: I think there’s a trap in this one so I think it’s a skateboarder.

You’re right, it was Sean Malto who said this.

S: But he’s a tennis player. [laughs]

C: Skateboarding and tennis are both individual sports so that might get a hard quiz.

The next one is pretty similar: “Being number two sucks”.

C: It must be a tennis player.

Right again, it was Andre Agassi. “I won’t quit until I am physically unable.”

C: Tennis player.

S: Could be a skateboarder as well.

It’s Tony Hawk who said it. The next one is very inspirational: “Anything is possible if you’re willing to work for it”.

S: This is from both, you just didn’t find the other version. [laughs] Everybody says that.

But I have it from Rob Dyrdek.

S: I guess Edberg said it too.

This is a nice one: “I’m like a menu at an expensive restaurant; you can look at me, but you can’t afford me.”

S: Tennis.

C: Tennis. Roger Federer.

No, it was Anna Kournikova.

S: Ah, she’s hot.

This one has a bit of French in it: “Allez up your fucking ass!”

C: Tennis player.Ilie Năstase?

No, it was Maria Sharapova at the French Open. “I haven’t reported my missing credit card to the police because whoever stole it is spending less than my wife.”

C: Tennis Player.

Yeah, and this time it was Ilie Năstase.

S: Oh yeah, I heard about that one.

“Don't ever give up. You gotta keep trying, and never give up.”

C: Skater.

S: Skater.

Any clue who?

S: Lucas, do you know it? [laughs]

Lucas: Just follow your dream. [laughs] Brandon Biebel? Dennis Busenitz? Maybe me. [laughs]

C: Ryan Sheckler?

Yeah, we have a winner.