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Talking Shop: Trunk Clothier

In the eighth part of our regular series – in which we chat to the folks in charge of our favourite menswear stores – we speak to the dapper, Sweden-born gentleman behind Trunk Clothiers

Words by Will HALBERT  Photography by Thomas SUMNER

Since making its debut on Chiltern Street back in 2010, Trunk Clothiers has carved quite the niche for itself as a quietly-confident hotspot of carefully-curated and lovingly-edited menswear. We sit down with founder, Mats Klingberg, to discuss the celebrity status of Chiltern Street, the rise of smart casual and the challenges of opening a second store. EJ

First off, tell us a little about Trunk and the decision to set up shop here.
When we opened here in 2010, people were a little puzzled by our location. There wasn’t too much here at the time. Lots of the stores were empty. There was an odd contingency of bridal shops.

That’s really what Chiltern Street was known for back in the day. That, and shops for women with particularly big feet! The store that used to occupy this very unit was called Elephant Feet. It didn’t stick, for some odd reason. There’s still a few of those stores around here, though. So ladies with big feet – and men who like women’s shoes, for that matter – are well catered for [laughs].

What can people expect when they pay a visit to Trunk?
Well, London is very department store driven. There’s a high staff turnover in the bigger stores that dominate the city. We were always looking to do something a little different, something more intimate and long-term. We like to get to know our customers. A lot of them become friends. This is something that I thought was missing from the London menswear scene at the time.

Owing to our location, things tend to stay pretty chilled out around here, which is actually ideal because it means that we can look after our customers better and concentrate on a warm and welcoming atmosphere. We don’t want to come off as heavy handed or overly commercial. We’re something of an anti-shop in that respect.

What specific brands do you stock? 
We’ve always strived to bring together a roster of brands that are typically quite hard to get in the UK. I hail from Sweden, so there were a good few Swedish brands to begin with. We’ve since grown to include a strong mix of brands from all over the world: England, America, Sweden, Japan, France, Germany. Generally, we look for smaller brands. The ones that aren’t spending huge amounts on global advertising. Think Crockett & Jones shoes, Gitman shirting, Merz b. Schwanen sweaters and Ichizawa Hanpu canvas bags.

Any personal favourite brand picks from yourself and the Trunks staff?
Well our own brand, simply named Trunk, is growing really quickly and organically. It’s not something we’ve tried to push just yet. It’s still very much under the radar, but it covers pretty much the full spectrum of menswear categories. Almost everything I’m wearing – except the shoes and socks – is Trunk. We source the best materials and factories to create these pieces: Portugal, Italy, Scotland.

There’s no real focus on seasonality, it’s more important that we focus on staple products that will serve our customers all year round. I mean, a chino is a chino. You don’t need a new style of chino every season. Same goes for shirts and sweaters.

It also means we have more stock on hand when it’s most needed. The brands we stock are often small, and so are their production runs. So if something sells quickly, it’s often hard to replenish the stock to keep up with the demand. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Having our own garments made means we have greater control over availability. And let’s not forget the creative element. It’s beyond rewarding to work so closely with makers and come away with something a little more unique. The creative back-and-forth is wonderful.

What elements do you consider when deciding to stock a new brand?
It’s more a question of deciding what not to buy. We like to keep things curated and considered. Of course, if we have a lot of customers coming in and looking for a particular brand that we don’t carry, we’ll look into it. Our customers tend not to be too brand driven, though. They trust in our preferences and our selections.

Any noteworthy collaborations over the years?
We’ve done collaborations on and off over the years. We’ve done a few made-to-measure evenings with Gitman Brothers, for instance. They’ve always been well-received. The Japanese brand, Fujito too. We’ve carried a few of their garments in in-store exclusive colours. 

It’s always a bonus to have a few pieces that are exclusive to your store. It takes a little more effort, sure, but it’s something customers always appreciate. It’s our birthday next year, too, so expect a few more
collaborations on the horizon.

Tell us a little about your other store, Trunk Labs.
So Trunk opened in 2010, and Trunk Labs opened three years later. We pretty much ran out of space in our first store, but we really wanted to keep the Trunk location. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was a pragmatic one. We split our wares across two stores, our original store, Trunk, and Trunk Labs just a few doors down the street. It’s worked out really well. 

There’s an organic split in the items available in each store. It allows us to edit our collections more carefully. We don’t really like the concession approach here: We prefer to have different brands sharing the same rails. It encourages the customer to explore a little more and to be a little more open to brands they haven’t necessarily heard of before.

‘We don’t really like the concession approach here: We prefer to have different brands sharing the same rails. It encourages the customer to explore a little more and to be a little more open to brands they haven’t necessarily heard of before.’

What’s the typical age range of your customers? 
From the very start we’ve had wonderful customers through our doors. Usually between the ages of 35 and 55. They like to dress well, but at the same time they have lots of other things going on. They want good quality and understated design, Nothing too shouty. Many of them are quite successful, but they’re not ones to show off their success. They appreciate quality and timeless design. And I think that’s exactly what we offer.

Would you say that the kind of customer that frequents Trunk is a little more clued in to what they are buying? 
Oh, they’re more clued in, for sure. At this price range, people are more concerned with how things are made. They want to know where the factories are based, where materials are sourced, and of course, the heritage of the company making the garments. Naturally, it’s important for our staff to have an interest in those kinds of things, too. Don’t get me wrong, not everyone cares about those details, so it’s equally important that our sales assistants aren’t too pushy with the facts, either. In some cases, our customers have been wearing the likes of Crockett & Jones all their adult lives, so they don’t need the history lesson from us.

During your time in the industry, have you noticed any big changes in consumer tastes, concerns and spending habits? 
It used to be that guys would always have to bring their significant others along to help them shop. We’ve come a long way since then and guys are more likely to fly solo whilst shopping. We’re in a great position, in that we’ve earned the trust of our customers. People know that we’re not trying to push product on anyone in the interest of commission. We’re not going to just let someone walk out in something that clearly doesn’t fit or suit them. We’ll suggest something else. It sounds like a cliché, but we really want people to look good and feel good.

Have you noticed any changes in retail over the years?
Thing are getting a little more casual, but in a good way. Off-the-rail suit sales are dropping for sure. I can’t speak for Savile Row, as I’m sure they’re always doing well, but guys are certainly more taken with the smart-casual side of the style spectrum. They’re no longer look- ing for the armour-like stiffness of the suit, they want comfort. That’s certainly where we position ourselves, but that’s also the general direction that the industry is headed in.