For over a decade, Rufskin Denim has become more of a lifestyle for its wearers, rather than being just another pair of jeans for them to put on. The Southern California-based brand, which also includes underwear, swimwear, sportswear and accessories, was created to enhance the individuality of the male form, while at the same time, it has redefined the concept of what sexy can look like.
Rufskin was built on the foundation of "vintage, sexy, masculine, athletic and futuristic," when its owner and head designer Hubert Pouches along with his partner and company president, Douglas Coats, pooled together their fashion-based resources to create the company in early 2000.
The duo met during the early '90s in Paris, France when Pouches, who had cut his fashion teeth during stints working for Parisian labels Bernard Perris and Courreges, owned a men's modeling agency and Coats was one of his fashion models. Pouches represented a slew of the biggest male models of the era, such as Marcus Schenkenberg, Adnan Taletovic and Brazilian models, Paulo Zulu and Gelati.
In fact, Pouches was one of the first agents to scout for modeling talents in the South American locale and brought them back to the City of Lights, and Brazil continues to influence and charm the designer today.
"I started when I was 19 in France," Pouches said of his initial origins in the fashion industry. "And I went to Esmod, which is a fashion design school, and I graduated in two years, instead of three, and then moved to Bahia, Brazil. I started working right away in Brazil, and then came back to France and stayed there until '93, when we moved here to The States."
"I met Hubert when I was a model and he was my agent," Coats recanted. "I was doing that for a little bit, and then slowly got out of it. But not before I got to go on a modeling assignment of a lifetime. I did a fashion editorial for Japanese Magazine in the early '90s, where I spent an entire month on the just free from communism country of Mongolia and the Gobi Desert. Traveling was definitely in my blood when we decided to move to The States. I started working at a family owned metal furniture design company called Deform and sold their designs around the US for a few years then."
Coats then utilized his own experiences as a model when he ran a men's department at a Southern California Model and Talent agency. He took a page from Pouches book, when he scouted models and introduced them to agencies all over the world. Even today, the two like to "discover" models which they use in their Rufskin campaigns, but their combined vision was still a few years off.
"And Hubert was designing for various companies; mainly women's clothes at that time, especially women's lingerie and swimwear for such labels as Victoria's Secret, GirlStar and private labels for Macys and Target. And then we decided to start Rufskin."
The newly minted San Diego residents then went about turning their shared passion for fashion into a unique venture, which would fill a fashion void.
"We knew that there was a niche that was missing in men's low-waist, sexy tight jeans," Coats explained. "And we started doing that at the same time we were working on our other company. Eventually, it took over. So, we quit our other jobs and started working for Rufskin full-time."
The two began making their mark by hand stitching their denim wares with the help of friends, in a "small, tight little space" in their house, according to Coats. But, that was before the supply and demand aspect of what they were going about achieving led them to larger work spaces.
They eventually settled in at their flagship boutique, located at 3944 30th St. in North Park. The décor and style of the Rufskin boutique was built upon a foundation of their shared reverence for interior design, and is influenced by European Old World charm, mixed with a mid-century aesthetic. The store also afforded them the opportunity to combine their design influences for their brand, along with current interior trends.
"We found this location, which we love," Coats said. "It also accommodated for us shipping our wholesale orders and our retail online orders out of the back. We use the store as part showroom, and as a retail outlet.
"People think we should be in L.A., or in New York, we've actually been doing it quite fine being out of San Diego," Coats explained. "But, because of the Internet and new advances in technology, you don't really have to be in the most fashion-centered areas."
With a place to call Rufskin home, there was an arena to literally show off their concept and a venue for clients looking to purchase "sexy, masculine styling."
The ideas that convey their vision of masculinity found the pair drawing upon a wellspring of influences to help keep them inspired.
Whether it's a particular movie or cinematic hero from a bygone era, to the artwork of Tom of Finland, or modern day European Football players and other members of the athletic set, the spark of imagination is fired up and ready to re-introduce a particular brand of sexiness to their clientele.
Pouches and Coats further explained about how they turned that seedling of an idea into a bonafide success story, with its roots firmly planted in the soil of originality.
"I was designing for women pretty much all of my life," Pouches explained. "I was working for a company here, for men and women, and we already tried to get a little bit sexier for the guys collection. But, back then it was really difficult for guys to find this kind of clothing. So, we decided to do stuff with that. The jeans were, eight or nine years ago, one of the first low-rise jeans, and from that we went a little more extreme in that direction."
"Also, we wanted to incorporate an All-American, western kind of sex appeal clothing that guys can wear; from motorcross-style clothing to western wear and incorporating it into a fashion line," Coats added. "Gone are the days it seems where men show off their bodies! Before in the '70s and '80s men wore tighter and shorter clothing and thought nothing of it. We are not sure if it's a puritanical movement or just a shift in people's mindsets, but we miss it!"
"The main thing about creating Rufskin was always about focusing on the cuts, and accentuating the guys' body, and not following the trend of embellishment and embroidery," Pouches stated. "That was something that was non-existent, and still not very common in men's collections; our brand is very masculine, even if it is very sexy."
Although they were armed with a distinct approach to their designs, both cited "time" as their biggest challenge in starting up the business.
"The way that things happened, again, is that we started up this company as something on the side," Pouches said. "The main problem we had was time; after your regular day of work you go back home and work for four to six hours to get that company going."
"I think also that this whole starting up of a company is knowing what to do, but maybe not always knowing what to do, since it was just the two of us." Coats stated. "So, as we grew; we brought in more employees, and henceforth, we grew more as a company."
"Ever since the beginning, we've had this underground structure," Pouches added. "We don't follow the rules of the common way that everyone operated in America. It's a fusion between the way they do it in Brazil and what I used to do in France, and adapting to what we have here in The States. So, we did our own recipe of how to build it and start the c
ompany, and eight years later, it's basically what fits us the best."
And one of the ways that also fits Rufskin best, as a business model, has been by expanding the brand into the International marketplace, with a presence in stores throughout Europe, Asia, South America, and Australia.
With their fashion line being featured globally, the appeal of their unique California-based Made in the USA designs are definitely universal, as is their motto of giving people what they want by providing them with something different.
"I think partly by me being American and Hubert being French, and both of us traveling to so many different cultures; you can get an idea about what people are looking for and what they might be missing," Coats professed. "I've noticed that people outside of the United States like to buy denim goods; if you're in France or The Middle East or South America, you want something that's made in the U.S.A. when it comes to denim.
"Immediately all over the world, the image was something that was very eye candy; but I think it gave people hope and gave people an idea of what masculinity used to be like in the '60s and '70s. I think it kind of disappeared in the'90s. And that was the other thing; we wanted to bring back a masculinity that seems to be missing by showcasing really sexy clothes."
As for customer satisfaction, Coats feels that "we like to give people as many choices as possible." However, that does not include following the latest trends, it's by creating them, which helps set them apart from other like-minded ventures.
"We create everything from scratch, and everything is an original idea," Coats said. "We may trip on a movie or something that we see when we travel. And we create the design around that, as opposed to looking at something else that is currently out there in the marketplace, and just doing our own version of it."
"We are always adding new styles without timeframes or trends; it's whatever we are inspired by that's what ends up in our line," Pouches explained. "It's almost like creating our own classics. Its part of our job to bring to the public whatever we think is right for the moment, but we're trying to create our own little world of clothes and style.
"We've been doing pretty much everything ourselves in-house," Pouches said. "Between the art direction, the photography, the patterns, the design – everything comes from us. It's a re
al family-oriented company, without having a big, corporate background. It's kind of a clan, and that's something that we ended up finding out from the public quickly; we've created this type of denim cult company. We have this strong image, a product that was fitting the image exactly of creating masculine, sexy clothes for guys."
The old adage of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" certainly comes into play for Rufskin with fresh ventures, such as a recent pop up store in New York City and a new high-end leather line, which features the same cut and techniques that have made their denim line such a triumph.
One of the ways that Rufskin stays true to their San Diego fan base is by putting on an annual runway show at Rich's nightclub, which Coats noted is a great way for customers to see the growth of the company over the years. Plus, the pair has begun putting on these "eye candy" events in other cities, as well.
"People like to look at our models and our ad campaigns," Coats added. "They either strive to get that body, so they can wear our clothes; and I really want to strongly say that people of all shapes and sizes can wear our clothes.""Anyone who has been to every one of our shows has seen the transformation of our collection," he said. "And we use all shapes and sizes of models. We incorporate a little bit of everyone from the genre into our fashion show, from the muscle daddies to twinks. But there's always that consistent element that's there, too; they have that sex appeal. And from day one, we always used different ethnic models, and that was one thing that we wanted to portray and value.
"I think the shows for us, whether they are here, or like what we did in different cities, like New York – the show for us has always been more like a Rufskin party, for our friends and our team. It's a way to return the favor for the people that help us out," Pouches expressed.
And, it's that camaraderie that makes Rufskin a close-knit family unit, and definitely falls in line with the aforementioned "clan" ideal that has sprung from their creations.
"Slowly what happened was we created this clan, or a kind of cult of people, and you have to have a certain affinity with what we do," Pouches conveyed. "The key thing about Rufskin is that it's really a rough and raw concept of clothing, and it comes from a very simple idea that gets away from the fake glam. It has to be reachable to people; we don't force anything on anybody, and that's where you get your best customers. The more people we're reaching, the more the family grows, and our customers are really loyal."
While Rufskin continues to grow as a company, such as launching their online e-commerce site, both Pouches and Coats don't plan on straying too far off the path that led them to becoming such a literal hot commodity in the fashion world.
"There are different ways to deal with this business," Pouches summarized. "You can be here just for the moment, and do what everybody
"We are very faithful to our customers, the same way that they are very faithful to us," he continued. "It's almost a little idyllic, but this is what we want. We didn't want to be part of the corporate system, and we tried our own way to do our own things. And now, we're getting payback by the way the public and the business accepts us, and that's the best reward. We didn't probably choose the easiest road, but this is our road – this is where we're going and this is what we do. I don't think we know exactly where we are going to end up, but we know we're going in the right direction; just by the fact that we totally love what we do."else does, or you try to do your own thing and achieve whatever you achieve; it's yours.
When Pouches and Coats aren't hard at work on their refreshing take on fashion, the twosome like to spend their downtime traveling, especially to the South of France and Brazil; they also continue their quest for inspiration for their brand from the world of foreign films, vintage fashions, and a pop culture love affair that emanates from the bygone days of the '70s and early '80s. The fashion forward pair, who are the proud parents of a one-year-old French bulldog named Francois, also find the past calling out to them in the form of hobbies, which includes refurbishing antique and mid-century furniture and lusting over muscle cars, as well.
Written by Tim Parks