I had the pleasure of meeting Mathias Ohrel at a book signing in February for a new book he edited called Men Under Construction. Mathias was kind enough to come over to our table and give us a detailed and passionate description of the book. I was so impressed with his personable manner, I thought he would make a perfect Parisian of the month. I met Mathias for a coffee at the Rose Bakery in the Marais, and we talked non-stop for over an hour. I found out that he has had a fascinating life and many successful careers, from rock musician to head of marketing for a big fashion conglomerate. He is smart, charming, quite good looking and a great interview.
Where were you born and how long have you lived in Paris?
I was born in Libourne, near Bordeaux, and lived in 15 different cities (and one Island, Tahiti…) before the age of 15. I reached Paris in 1986. And I left Paris for one year only, to go and study at San Francisco State University. Like most “recently converted”, I believe I became more Parisian than real Parisians…
You have had such an interesting and varied background. Tell me about your job at Kenzo and also about being a headhunter.
Well, I was an actor, and got married to an actress… so when I realized we’d be both starving, I decided to enter a company for the salary it could provide me with, and it was Kenzo. I had a really hard time adapting to the idea of depending on a company, and for the first few months I woke up later and later every day,until I figured out it was possible to be creative and have fun working for a brand. I became head of the small marketing team for the perfumes. When Kenzo announced in 1999 he was leaving the company, I had the idea of creating kOzen, to replace him in a way : create a cultural label designed to edit the brand’s communication projects, art sponsorships, events, books, special projects and above all the awarded webzine kOzen.com.
How did you become a journalist and do you write mostly about fashion and style?
When I was 30, after 6 years in the same company, I changed many things in my life: I left Kenzo, separated from my wife, stopped touring with my band (I was lead singer and flutist of a French p-funk band) and became an independent journalist. I had recruited many journalists and writers for kOzen as its Editor in Chief, and quite naturally Les Inrockuptibles first relied on me to address the less natural topics for them, in a page called “style”: Contemporary Art, Design, Architecture, Fashion, Graphic Design, Lifestyle… I also developed a specific interest in writing portraits, and did so for Jalouse, Elle, Beaux Arts Magazine, Mixt(e), DS, Femme Actuelle, Rezo etc… until I met with Angelo Cirimele, Editor in Chief of Magazine (a meta-magazine, about magazines, with a different Art Director for each issue). In Magazine, I write about the people I meet, trying more to capture the way they are, the way they move, think, behave, express themselves than their curriculum. Sometimes, when the people I portray are very famous, I even write about them as if they were anonymous not to create a screen between their real personality and the readers.
Fashion became a specialty when I was Editor in Chief of the Special Issues of Beaux Arts Magazine (“La société de la fashion” and “Vie, mode d’emploi”).
But I was never a real journalist, as most of my income came from free lance consulting on communication and internet projects (Fondation Cartier, Hermes, Puiforcat, Galeries Lafayette, Colette, Louis Vuitton, Dior Parfums, Canal +, Paris Première). I also became a head hunter specialized in Creative Positions recruitments in fashion, luxury and press after interviewing one of the main players on this market, who convinced me that I was born to work with him…
Where did you get the idea for the book?
One year ago, Première Vision had already received the big survey they commissioned to the RISC institute about the future of men’s relationship to appearance (8000 interviews), and was expecting the second part of this study conducted by the IFM (65 interviews wih designers, buyers etc…). They didn’t know how to make these conclusions accessible to the general public, and I suggested nourishing these facts and certitudes with imagination. I looked for a co-editor (Editions du Regard), selected an Art Director (Nicolas Hoffmann) and started contacting the authors I like to write in the book.
How did you select the people to collaborate with?
As I just said, I selected the ones I really like personally. Keeping in mind that together we would build a belvedere, like a panoramic viewpoint for their singular visions of man’s future. I wanted authors from all over the world, philosophers, journalists, writers, scriptwriters, a lawyer, officials and iconoclasts, both men and women. Each in his own language has shed light on the many aspects of a “multiple” man, whose outlines are drawn in the study reproduced in the central part of the book. The texts in Men Under Construction take their own sides. Together, they offer the prism of a subjective, literary, knowledgeable kaleidoscope on the man of the future.
What is unique about Parisian men and do they have a particular style?
Well it’s hard to give a short answer to this… but I believe that in Paris, elegance and glamour are more separate that anywhere else from being well groomed and clean....
Where do u like to shop in Paris?
The paradox is that I don’t shop… not that I’m offered many things, but because I have quite a traumatic experience of consumption as a whole. So I guess I go for the basics: H&M, Martin Margiela, APC for clothes, Monoprix for food and Les Puces de Saint Ouen for a couch.
Who are the men you most admire living or dead?
I’m still a child, so I guess my father is quite high in my Pantheon. And he still lives. Glenn O’Brien’s Pantheon in the book is good too. In fact, a few of the authors in the book are my heroes (Antoine Volodine to cite one), and when they didn’t write, they are pictured: Herbert Von Karajan, Malcolm X, Serge Gainsbourg, Julien Gracq, Francis Bacon… are talented men for sure. But ok, if I have to choose one : José Tomas.
What do you Prefer about Paris?
I guess the fact that no appointment is more than seven minutes away from my apartment, on my scooter. And the late afternoon light on l’Institut (right in front of the Pont des Arts), or any of these magnificent buildings like the Grand Palais, when at last the sun beams.
Click here to find out more about Men Under Construction and to order.
The book and magazines are available at OFR, Colette, and Palais de Tokyo
I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.
I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Check it out at www.eyepreferparistours.com