CRAFTED IN CALIFORNIA

Interviews with the founders


Raw, sexy and daring

August 17th, 2018 | Albert H. Fulcher | gay-sd.com

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No trends, no apologies for free-spirited Rufskin designs

After 16 years, Rufskin continues to thrust against the predictable male fashion trends. San Diego based and manufactured, this homegrown global company has a mind and a style uniquely its own. This is an unapologetic approach that Hubert Pouches and Douglas Coats embraced from their simple beginnings in their South Park garage when they founded Rufskin together. Pouches, a fashion designer, and his husband Coats, a model, met in France nearly 30 years ago. Both had a fascination for the West Coast gay culture at the time, which eventually landed them in San Diego. Initially, they had no intention of opening up their own clothing line, but circumstances led them to jump-start Rufskin quickly and fiercely.

“We saw a niche, a need for a denim jean that wasn’t existing in the marketplace at the time,” Coats said. “At that time, it was a lower-waist, boot-cut style.”

Both were influenced by the masculinity of Tom of Finland and the attraction they had with the gay culture seen in ’70s gay porn.

“It was raw, fabulous and artistic,” Pouches said. “Back then it was real guys, that is why we called it Rufskin. Guys, hair, mustaches, edgy, rock ‘n’ roll, sexy and we had no restrictions. We did designs in the beginnings that showed butt cleavage. We had jeans named Hustler and Trick, always pushing the envelope. It was a sexy jean and a little daring.”

As the company grew, Pouches said the vision never changed.

“That was our thing, keeping it edgy,” Pouches said. “The second big thing was California. Everything had to be made in California.”

Coats —  co-founder, president, marketing, promotions (“I write the checks”) — said that they also hire locals. Having everything local within California was always “their thing.”

Since Rufskin manufactures locally as a mid-sized company, Pouches and Coats are able to work the way they want to work. Most designers do a spring, summer, fall and winter collection.

“We live in a part of the country where it is kind of sunny all of the time. So we like to launch new things whenever we can and whenever we want,” Coats said.

“This is the structure we decided to have for the company itself,” Pouches added. “I don’t have to work for anyone else, take orders and then manufacture. We create whatever we create every few weeks, it goes straight into production, and that’s it. When you want to see what is new, just go to our site, find it, if you want it, then pick it. If you wait six months, it might not be there. We’ve had this off-track, off-calendar, off-everything approach since day one. Now, 16 years later, it has worked great for us.”

Rufskin opened stores in New York, Amsterdam and Miami with a big launch, adding to its collection designs to fit each region. Pouches said it was nothing short of a “big mess.” He was designing clothes that did not fit the original California style they began with.

After three years, they dropped the stores.

“We went back to the capsules. We create small groups of five to eight pieces,” Pouches said. “We manufacture, we grab Logan [Swiecki-Taylor], our model for six years now, we go to the desert, do the images and it’s a done deal.”

Coats said they wanted to be involved in other styles of clothing, but their customers were used to the existing Rufskin style.

“There is exclusivity. It’s almost like a private club of people who know who we are,” Coats said. “We have people that come to San Diego and one of the top things on their lists is to visit Rufskin. They know that this is the only store where they can buy it.”

Pouches said it’s what they call the Southern California triangle, (or the pink triangle, as Coats calls it). This concept is where people go to Los Angeles, they spend a weekend in Palm Springs “to fry,” and then on their way out, come to San Diego.

“It’s the same here at the store,” Pouches said. “We put out new designs on Thursday and Friday and by the end of the weekend, we have customers buying every style in every size. They know us and if it is in the range of their products, they buy it right away. What you see is in stock, what you don’t see, it’s already gone.”

And what are the plans for Rufskin’s future? Coats said for a couple of years they embraced the concept of Gaylifornia, a brand it now owns.

“This goes back to the day when California was known as this big gay mecca, during the Harvey Milk era, Venice Beach, Muscle Beach and this is something we are going to be revisiting soon,” Coats said. “But the next big thing is our stretch denim jeans, underwear and swimwear, something we did at the beginning and debut of the company.”

“For our 15th year, we went back to the pure essential Rufskin vibe,” Pouches added. “It’s denim, it’s California, it’s sexy and it’s what put us on the map. Trying to fit in doesn’t work with us. I don’t follow trends or seasons, I don’t have to.”

He said the old concept of Rufskin not only came to maturity but did so with no apologies.

“This is what we do, this is where we are, either you like it, or you don’t,” Pouches said. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t look at the others [fashions]. It’s a good way to get confused. Our agenda is totally different. Today, with all the bull that is going on, it really is — stay true to yourself.”

In Rufskin’s many collections [capsules], people see tech modern Japanese sportswear or Argentinean swimwear. All the influences get mixed and matched to make Rufskin, but they are not set in limiting their ideas.

“We do the Rufskin thing, the California thing, but most important is the fit. And I do my own patterns, I wouldn’t let anyone else do this,” Pouches said.

Coats said it sounds like a cliché, but they like to think about their jeans as “jeans to get laid in.”

“The fit is so important,” Coats said. “It might not look like it when it is hanging on a hanger, but when you put it on, it’s ‘Whoa! I look really good in this and people are noticing me in these jeans.’”

Pouches said anybody can wear anything the moment they get the right size.

“We are not trying to sell a look, we are selling a product that people [of all ages] can interpret the style,” he said.

“We are really strong in our sports clothing, and we left our jeans on the back burner for a while, but now I’m full on back with the Rufskin stretch denim jeans, and underwear,” Pouches continued. “That’s what we are. I like the lighter weight denim. It’s going back to the basics. Guys try them on and they know that they can ‘show off’ without looking like a ho.”

Pouches said it doesn’t matter where you live. If it feels and looks right, people are going to look. It’s the simple stuff. That balance for the brand has always worked.

“We do crazy stuff, but we always have a reason of why we do it,” he said. “Our clothes are built for a natural look of a man. Coming from France, my idea of California is exactly what we are trying to do. I like muscle, I like flesh, I like legs. Natural, nothing fake. That’s what we are all about. It’s called Rufskin. It is raw. It’s the people like this that consummate the product. We are not going to change who we are to keep up with the current trends.”

Coats said everything at Rufskin is organic. “We are not hustling to get new clients, to stay with the latest trends or compete,” he said. “We do what we do, and yes, we have a lot of followers, but they are organically grown.”

Pouches said they remain totally SoCal, a cool, laid-back company with the same look as it started with.

“I might not be making a sparkling pink triangle design, but at the same time, I am not going to stop designing my clothes for the gay man,” he said. “You are who you are, and clothes cannot disguise that. It’s trying to find people who like clothes and fit them for that purpose. What is a Rufskin look? There is not one. My guys can wear leggings with an unbuttoned dress shirt. When I shoot, I do my best to capture images that people can translate. But at the end of the day, the clothing piece is something that fits any time and anybody.”

Rufskin’s major design influences come from France, Brazil and the West Coast. Along with its solo store in North Park and its internet store, Rufskin works with wholesalers across the globe with its largest wholesale bases in Europe, Japan and Australia.

Going back to its roots, Rufskin just launched its California Dust series, with one of its most requested products, a re-creation of its stretch denim underwear and its latest capsule of swimwear.


HUBERT RUFSKIN'S ABSOLUTE FREEDOM!

Interview by Jeffrey Felner -- The Kinsky.com

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In my experience I have come to understand that many designers have enough trouble just designing their singular collection and then there are the exceptions to that statement; enter Hubert Rufskin! Here is a man who not only masters his métier as a designer of several collections but also has mastered the art of photography. Rufskin caters to his audience in every way possible, both visually and as a merchant/designer. As you will read, he is acutely aware of who his customer is and what appeals to them … which is certainly more than most creatives can attest to. As Diana Vreeland said “give them what they never knew they wanted” and yes he does just that. He lures them visually and then he offers them the reality and it’s all just a click away… presto … instant gratification! In the end you must admit that all of the categories that RUFSKIN caters to makes him and his brand a lifestyle with a laser focused product assortment aimed at a segment of the buying public that “wants in” on what RUFSKIN is all about!

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Jeffrey Felner: Can you give us a brief history of your career and collections?

Hubert Rufskin: Graduated from ESMOD-GUERRE LAVIGNE in France, went to Brazil for a few years, started a small line called “LA BAGAGERIE”. Then a junior line “TAL e QUAL”, returned to France; Nice first then Paris. Worked at Bernard PERRIS, then signed with André COURREGES (then owned by the Japanese group ITOKIN)…Met my husband in Paris and followed him to the USA right after Clinton was elected. We moved to California and I worked for a large corporation, designing surf, swim and ultimately lingerie. Our accounts counted MACY’S, VICTORIA’S SECRET and a few private labels etc…I always designed for women. In 2001, I was helping a friend with a small swimwear line and after he decided to go back to car design, Douglas (my husband) and I took the bull by the horns and quit our respective jobs and in 2002 RUFSKIN was shipping its first orders. We started with few men jeans styles and I never designed for women after that. We never followed the fashion calendar, no season, no collections, just capsules whenever we want and built our company on a Brazilian concept where it consists in selling product in stock. So we manufactured and sold directly after. No pre-orders. The items are on our site “live”. Absolute freedom! And of course, 100% made in California.

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JF: What is your inner motivation every day? Mentor? Inspirations? Icons?

HR: My friends mock me and say, “Hubert does pretty things” or “paint it white”. I guess they are trying to tell me that I am always doing something and that you can’t give me a can of white spray paint. I am constantly thinking about a new piece or a new concept for my images. I love taking pictures and that’s where our “house/studio” came into place. We built an outside studio and unless we are traveling for work or pleasure, you can always find us in the desert every weekend. I think that I got that quest for “prettiness” with my art teacher Olga Ohms. My grandmother enrolled me in a private school of art in the south of France where I am from and the couple who created this studio, Marcel Ohms (sculpture) and Olga (painter) really forged my sense to create … To make something visually rewarding … I was 6 years old. 10 years later fashion became the venue that I chose to carry that quest and bring me pleasure. As far as inspiration I think that I am a total “junky”. Everything goes. I am visually addicted. Because of my travels and experiences, my “icons” are a various range of people; artists, chefs, artisan perfumeurs, sculptures, movie directors, our way of life today is fueled by visual extravaganzas and I love it.

JF: could you sort of profile your customer and your customer base and explain why you have targeted them?

HR: In 15 years we saw some shifting in our customer base, mainly because of the product itself and our image. We started with a very strong image and a “punchy” style. It was all about “sex and rock & roll, our jeans were super low cut, with details like zippers around the crotch, laces on the side, hippy rock mixed with Tom of Finland. We even had a stretch denim underwear line pushing the envelope even further. As we diversified our lines of products with swimwear, underwear, sportswear and even custom leather our audience and customer changed as well. Today we do have a very solid and faithful base that has embraced our California lifestyle and follow RUFSKIN’S evolution. From providing a new product that was very difficult to find back then, (guys had to buy girls stuff in order to feel sexy) Today’s RUFSKIN lines we managed to keep our core customers and flirt with new audiences. RUFSKIN is definitely a lifestyle and very California.

JF: If you could invite any 5 people to dinner who would they be and why?

HR: This question always gets me thinking because I don’t live in the world of “if” (lol) … But let’s give it a try…First it would be a summer evening outdoor dinner on the “Costa Brava” (Cadaques would be nice). Salvador Dali (master of nonsense) Mapplethorpe (visual rapist), my dear friend Betty Lago (Brazilian model who just passed), Carme Ruscalleda (Catalan chef) and Charlize Theron! (Don’t ask! She is sublime and I love her I don’t give a f—k attitude) … that should be quite a night.

JF: If you could choose any collaboration what or who would it be and why?

HR: We had the chance to do a small capsule sports collection with the Tom of Finland Foundation but in that case, it would not have to be a “commercial” operation. I am nuts about KIDROBOT, so anything LABBIT or DUNNY. I know for a hippy caveman it sounds weird but I am still an “adolescent rebel” inside.


RUF DIAMONDS

DNA Magazine #214
Words: Andrew Creagh

From modest beginnings (just four pairs of jeans), Rufskin now celebrates 15 successful years. Hubert Pouches and Douglas Coats are the photography and design dynamos behind the sexy, sometimes subversive, global menswear brand. Together, they look back at their achievement.


DNA: How did the Rufskin story start? What inspired you to create the first pieces, and what were they?

We started the company with denim, actually. Hubert was helping a friend with his line and designed four jeans in addition to his own collection. Our friend decided to go back to car design so we went ahead and honored the orders we took at Magic in Vegas [an international fashion expo].

You have the Rufskin Denim jeans range, you also had a denim bikini brief at one point. Is denim still a favorite fabric?

The company was created around denim and the stretch denim underwear line came immediately following because it was the primary concept of Rufskin. Hubert, while working in Brazil, allowed us to add the underwear, swimwear, and the sportswear collections soon after. But the company itself prides itself on Rufskin Denim.

What were the options for sexy men’s jeans back in 2001?

Almost non-existent and that was the reason behind these first four items. A few months later we went on to create the brand Rufskin.

Where does the name Rufskin come from?

It comes from casca-grossa, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu term meaning “tough skin”.

What were the early days of the business like? Was there a period of trial and error before you found your groove?

The early years were as one can imagine a startup business to be; long hours, frustration and lots of hard work. We created a small studio in our garage and packaged and shipped our goods from there. We were lucky that we decided to manufacture our denim jeans locally so we were able to keep a better eye on production. We were both juggling between our other jobs until we finally realised Rufskin was taking over our lives completely and that we wanted to dedicate our time to something we owned together. Besides, working from home turned out to be really satisfying.

Who were your first customers and how fast did the business grow?

It was a handful of respected men’s wholesale accounts we met at that trade show earlier in the year. They came from all corners of the globe and it was exciting enough to keep us motivated. We started to receive emails from distributors, licensees and larger companies almost immediately and we honestly weren’t ready for it. Remember, globally, this was also the time selling retail online was just in the starting phase.

The Rufskin cut accentuates masculinity – the curves, the muscles – is this the influence of Tom Of Finland?

There is no doubt about Tom Of Finland’s influence on our brand. To be honest, his drawings emit more than just sex, they emit a sort of masculinity that one wants to reach for. If we can make someone feel like that with our designs, then we’ve done our job. Other influences came from cult classic porn directors like Rip Colt, the American West and global athleticism. Thierry Mugler, Tyen and Steve Hiett are a just some of the photographers we have always admired.

You have always had very powerful visual imagery to support the brand. How important is creating that yourselves?

Okay, this is something we hold very dear to our hearts. Having the freedom to harness our creativity as our own clients is both rewarding and fun. Photographing our own ad campaigns and online product images is our “escape” from our daily lives. We have always had an attachment to the fashion business in some form or another; from previous jobs as a model, talent scouting and photography; these have all influenced our drive to create original photos that are sexy and tasteful.

There’s a confidence to Rufskin gear. It’s vibrant, gregarious… not shy. Is that a reflection of your own personalities?

We are a dynamic couple who are fortunate to have enough personality differences to keep our relationship going. Hubert is a hard working, boisterous, Catalonian French man, and Douglas is less animated, super outgoing and sometimes a little too dreamy for Hubert’s taste [laughter]. That being said, the result is a reflection of all the above.

How have you managed mixing your business partnership and your relationship?

That is a question you should ask our team at Rufskin HQ. To be honest, that concept at work is a huge part of the balance of our relationship.

Rufskin designs often have very intense colour ways and combinations, the swimwear colours are sexy and playful, the prints on the Ts and tanks are wild. You love vibrant colours,right?

More than just working with colours, since the beginning of the brand we have been pioneers of “sublimation media” which means we are able to print on fabric from anything – from images, graphics, collages, etc. So inevitably colours get into place and Hubert has no restraint for mixing unusual colour combinations. Interestingly, Hubert always wears black. Douglas is more denim, Western and preppy.

What do you like about the ultra-suede you’re using now as well?

What’s not to like? It’s sexy, showy, comfortable – stretch ultra-suede is the perfect “soft skin” for Rufskin. And no California animals were harmed in the making!

Tell us about Logan Swiecki-Taylor – he’s been your signature model for many years. You must have a great relationship with him. Is he part of the creative team? Does he (and his body) shape the direction that the gear goes in?

Yeah… all of the above [laughing]. Plus, soon he’s going to take his own photos.

Are you still based in San Diego? Does that environment influence your designs?

We are based in San Diego. Southern California is the perfect match for our lifestyle. The proximity of the Rufhouse in the desert gives us multiple backgrounds and inspiration.

Rufskin are known as a brand that’s constantly innovating and bringing fresh, new designs to the market. Where do all these ideas come from?

We strive to hold true to our original conceptual designs as much as we can, while simultaneously forging new creative pieces that could be influenced from anything and everything. Not to mention the millions of images flashed in front of our eyes from the digital world.

What are your best-selling or “hero” pieces at the moment?

Besides our signature denim jeans, Rufskin’s concept and structure is based on continuous, small capsule collections but few pieces still are our top sellers like our running tights and athleisure styles.

Many men’s brands de-sexualise menswear. They make underwear loose and baggy to hide the male shape as though they are ashamed of it. At DNA, we love Rufskin because you celebrate the male body and aren’t afraid of making it sexual. Has this always been your intention?

Not sure being baggy or tight fitting is the issue here. Everybody has a different idea and sexualizes everything including a little cloth covering some dude’s jewels. Rufskin designs for men so it is only common sense to try to provide a piece of clothing that will tastefully enhance someone.

Where to next for Rufskin?

Continuing to grow our California roots in both lifestyle and design. We also feel that with the current global landscape it is time to bring a message of clarity.

Which is?

We can’t stop saying it – how amazing everybody can be.


DARE TO DRESS GAY: GO BEHIND THE SEAMS AT RUFSKIN

WRITTEN BY  Metrosource

Does This Look Gay to You?

The founders of unapologetic clothing brand Rufskin talk loving men’s clothing and each other. 

Fifteen years ago, Hubert Pierre Pouches and Douglas Coats started a line of men’s clothing that sent shock waves through the fashion industry. Rufskin designs didn’t stick to time-worn masculine stereotypes like Levi’s or Wrangler. They were boldly and explicitly gay in their approach to the male form. Their jeans were skin tight (even before Spandex allowed them to stretch and move as they do today), and the models wearing them were handpicked for bodies built to the popular gay ideal. Today, as the pair celebrate not only their union as husbands but the 15-year mark as business partners, they face increased competition from such brands as Nasty Pig and other up-and-coming online retailers. While they operate as a pair, the biggest division of labor is that Pouches is the visionary designer, and Coats (once a model himself) focuses on marketing and public relations. Still they say, each of them contributes to all aspects of the Rufskin empire — which keeps them both on their toes.

METROSOURCE: Do you remember the first time you saw your husband? Was it love at first sight?

POUCHES: As if it was yesterday. Twenty-seven years ago at the agency where I was working in Paris, I remember Doug coming straight from Milan for the shows there . . .

COATS: He was this charming Frenchman with a strong accent, dealing all day with an army of Brazilians for the castings, which should have given me an indication that he was pretty intense and hands-on with every aspect of his business. I’m not sure the love arrow didn’t strike us at once; I’m not even sure we were each other’s type.

How long it took you to become serious about each other, to move in together, and to decide to become business partners?

POUCHES: Doug came to my apartment that same night. A week later, we were a couple, and our business partnership became official 15 years ago. Now we’ve been married for almost two years.

COATS: There were some discrepancies on the living situation in Paris for the shows, so I ended up crashing at Hubert’s flat the first night (with too many models smoking hashish who never moved out until about four years later, when we moved to the States). It took us a week to really share a bed, and it took me about a month to clean up his pad and get rid of all the crazy models crashing all over his Madeleine apartment. I guess that’s what you call serious! We always knew that we would end up being business partners, and we started Rufskin in 2002.

founders of rufskin

Hubert Pierre Pouches and Douglas Coats

Hubert has said that after years of designing for women, he was ready to move on to the male form. What’s the biggest difference?

POUCHES: Everything. Women’s fashion is … contracts, collections, calendars, deadlines, shows, salons, etc. Designing for men was an escape, in a certain way — it meant absolute freedom, especially since we were creating our own company and structure.

COATS: Don’t get me started. I still ask Hubert once in a while about developing a girl’s line for Rufskin, but his Catalan blood always cuts me off immediately.

When disagreements come up between the two of you, what do you argue about, and do you have a system for working through them?

POUCHES: Just about everything! Opposites attract and react. It’s part of my French heritage too, I guess. And having strong and genuine points of view. It’s what enriches the whole relationship. After 27 years, we do have many ways to faire la paix [make peace] as they say. And we got two dogs; two Frenchies. They will solve any crisis.

COATS: You could ask this question of our employees, as they have borne witness to many of our fights. I also feel that I’m one of the very few people who can actually push Hubert’s buttons and get away with it. Our system is to yell at each other at the top of our lungs, give each other the silent treatment and then realize we are being dumb and smoothly get back to reality and compromise on our disagreements calmly.

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METROSOURCE: What do you think Rufskin contributes to the ethos of being gay?

POUCHES: I grew up in the mid-’70s in the south of France, so I never really was conscious of gay issues — maybe because of the time of total liberation in all directions, including sexually. So if we contributed to the gay community in any way, we didn’t have the feeling we were pushing that agenda. Maybe that’s why we started with so much attention right away. In 2002 when Rufskin started, the line was all about sex and rock ‘n’ roll: low-waisted jeans and zippers around the crotch with actual “butt cleavage” around the back. Later, the stretch denim underwear/swim line caused a major splash, too. But for us, it was always about standing for who you are. We did The Janice Dickinson Show and became “the gay brand from California.” This, plus a series of images from Justin Monroe, and suddenly, there go all the taboos and norms out the window. Year after year, we stand for what we believe and Rufskin is as much a lifestyle as a brand of clothing. Our campaign to promote pot legalization in California is a perfect example of that, too. So Rufskin is all about the free spirit and open mind vibe.

COATS: I think Rufskin embodied our desire for freedom without restrictions and disregarding mainstream judgments and attitudes towards fashion. We hope our campaigns deliver the same message, presenting an image that’s sexy, but not vulgar, and I believe our clothing reflects that and gay people are attracted to our formula.

How has Rufskin changed over the years, in terms of the clothing?

POUCHES: We started with four jeans designs, then we added underwear and swimwear, since I was working in Brazil with a huge factory. In 2006, when we decided to have our clothes manufactured entirely in California, we extended the line to what it is today. The freedom of our structure allows us to basically do what we want when we want, including the way we manage our sales.

COATS: Although we continue to follow our concept, I think we’ve matured our line in the following years. The focus isn’t as much on that übersexual vibe as it was at the start, but has extended to a wider range of designs, according to our lifestyle. California played a huge role in that evolution.

rufskin beachwear

How do you keep your line unique? When you started, there weren’t many doing what you do.

POUCHES: For sure. As I said earlier, we have no restrictions. Guys had no real choices unless they were willing to go to a women’s store to search for their size. Low-rise jeans, sexy denim, edgy underwear were the base of our our brand back then. Now 15 years later, we’re seeing the market explode right and left. Some of our vintage pieces are being reborn or knocked off by others, but Rufskin is what it is and keeps us constantly motivated to create something new. We are a lifestyle brand, not a fashion label, and we intend to keep it that way. 

COATS: I’ll agree to disagree. From my perspective, I’m always surprised at how Hubert manages to “trip” over certain concepts, totally disregarding the current trends. That may be where our joint influences come into play.

Was there a garment that took off so successfully that it surprised you?

POUCHES: Our first four denim jeans were a surprise hit. The low-rise, straight leg — or boot cut — being available for guys absolutely jumpstarted the whole brand, but the “butt cleavage” jeans sealed the deal. The Western chaps-cut jeans with names like “Hustler,” “Cody” and “Chuck” made them more personal, so we were delighted with the whole project. But when we started the underwear and sport lounge with fishnet underwear and terrycloth lounge pants, we really began to see massive returns. We manufactured the Tambo sweat pants and the Dino shorts for more than four years, but I finally had it, and I killed them!

COATS: That may be the biggest difference between us. I have an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, but Hubert is always craving new styles and drives the whole team crazy. So there are always many new surprises in store.

Do you get responses about the models being so perfectly sculpted, e.g. the bear community and people who criticize aggressive gym goers?

POUCHES: That’s another “Damocles’ Sword” question. Of course we do, But here’s the thing: I think in general people are too analytical about everything. We live in a society and a community that needs to learn how to respect and accept each other. It’s all about choices. Some love to suffer to reach an aesthetic that makes them feel good. Others love to eat and could care less about their looks. What matters is to feel with yourself. … We never intended to cast anyone away.

COATS: We could go in the current direction of the new normalized aesthetic that has taken over so much of the fashion world, but Rufskin has always been and will always be a brand that stays true to its roots. Aside from the technical execution of the garments — including size, cut and construction — there is also a partisan (and very reflective of our current political landscape) position from our company that is the essence of our brand. We are continuously baffled by messages like “I can’t wear your clothes!” or “I don’t have that body!” attitude, but I see that as self-blocking behavior. With a closer look, we realize that our customer base is really as diverse as the community itself, so I say: Let’s embrace that!

classic LA look

Any pushback from the straight community about “scandalous” pieces?

POUCHES: We do have a fairly consistent customer base that could give a damn about whether the clothes are “gay” or not. We started our brand with sexy pieces, and so is our image sometimes. But the goal has always been to make the guys feel sexy without crossing a line to vulgarity. We’ve actually gotten more negative comments from gay people than straight dudes.

COATS: When you stand up for your choices, you can’t expect to avoid reactions. We are actually often pleasantly surprised by the open-mindedness and the wide range of our customer base. We can observe this from our headquarters store in San Diego every day, and it is quite refreshing and gives us some hope about how mentalities can change. 

What do you see as the future for your brand?

POUCHES: We don’t live in the future. We are super-fortunate to be able to do as we please — most of the time — so there are no real plans. After 15 years, each day is a new page of a new chapter. Some stay in fiction, others become reality. That’s the beauty of life, isn’t it? … If we can in any way open people’s minds, let them express themselves, or just tease their curiosity to realize that we are all different, but part of the same world, then that will do for us.

COATS: That may be why we are so different — Hubert and I — and yet working in the same direction. I am always browsing for new adventures, disregarding the technicality, and that’s probably why I keep us always on the move. I think the whole Rufskin concept a the beginning was a little daring, and ambitious at the time, but it is also what keeps us on the edge of our own destiny. 


RUF BUT SMOOTH 

The best artisanal products are a nuanced and balanced meld of the people and the place that created them. Check, and check, in the case of San Diego based brand Rufskin and its creators Hubert Pouches and Douglas Coats

WINQ Text by Darren Styles Images by Markus Bidaux

Matisse or Cezanne, in search of the light, headed to the south of France and Provence, producing their best and most influential work beneath azure skies amidst sundappled meadows. Dickens, meanwhile, drew inspiration of a different kind, from darker, bleaker and wetter surroundings, conjouring great literary works from an environment infinitely less promising and way less colourful.

And there’s the thing: an artisan’s output – be it art or literature, the wine of Champagne, the single malts of Scotland or the supercars of Italy – is fed and directed by their respective surroundings. If you think about it, pretty well anything worth having – from the menial to the consequential – is born of a specific environment and carries that mark. It’s called authenticity, and it can’t be faked.

So it is with Rufskin, the Californian fashion brand started from a garage in San Diego. Designed here, built here, made here – as genuine it comes, as I can testify having spent a day among the sketches, mood boards, samples and stock in cosmopolitan North Park, home of the flagship store and Rufskin HQ. It’s a compact site, but there’s much to see and the spirit of the company’s founders – Hubert Pouches and Douglas Coats – is writ large through the business.

Indeed, as we idle the day away swapping notes and ideas, followed by a bit of retail therapy (as you would), it’s striking how a steady stream of visitors – customers, suppliers, staff – share a camaraderie and, apparently, an emotional investment. Coats attributes this to the fact they all chose to be right here.

“Hubert and I met in Paris back in the ’90s, where he ran a modeling agency and I was one of the models. He’d previously worked for a couple of fashion labels there, Bernard Perris and Courreges, and after a decade together we decided to become business partners, too, the only question was where. I’m originally from Portland, Oregon, and Hubert was happy to move to the west coast, but on the condition there was sunshine. We both loved California, and San Diego in particular, and so set up a home and business here.”

Pouches picks up the story: “But having done so, we knew that was part of our brand story, and the heart of our business ethos. We are inspired by Southern California, are proud to design and manufacture in the USA, in fact so locally I can get my hands dirty and see everything being made to spec. That’s important to me ethically and I believe adds great value to our products, even if it costs more.

“That said, even in tougher times customers will pay for quality in clothes, they want something to last and that makes them feel good, and provenance is important, too; nobody wants to feel what they are wearing has come from a sweatshop.”

The kick-start for Rufskin was the founders’ realisation that there was a gap in the men’s denim market, where men were going into women’s stores to find jeans with a fitted, sexier cut – as styles elsewhere had morphed into something altogether more workmanlike. “So we started with low-rise jeans with unique styling and made that our signature,” recalls Pouches. “Men needed something cut for them, and then as now we produced our own patterns by hand to create an outline that’s masculine but sexy, and exceptionally well crafted.”

I suggest, based on the silhouette and the striking imagery (again, Pouches’ own work) that marks out the Rufskin marketing language, men of a certain age need not apply. Neither of my hosts is wearing that, if you’ll forgive the pun. I am frog-marched to a changing room and styles various are proffered around the curtain for an impromptu if slightly ad hoc catwalk session. I’m as fussy as the next man, but came home with three pairs of the snuggest, comfiest and most enhancing jeans I’ve ever owned. So fair point, well made.

Coats can’t help but be a little triumphant: “It’s about the cut being right, and the calibre of the fabric. There’s a bit of vintage in there, some athleticism and a bit of fashion forward.” No argument from me. “Thing is,” continues Pouches, “we don’t do stereotypes and there you were – so we had to show you it’s about a bit of attitude, confidence and freedom of expression. You need something that fits you at your best, has a twist without going crazy and doesn’t cross the line. Plus, you have a good ass…”

Which is kind. And also correct. Anyhow, I move the conversation on. Into underwear and swimwear, as you would, where some of the Rufskin output has a reputation for being somewhat risqué…

Pouches laughs. “Well, some of that goes to the brand ethos I just outlined – fit, a twist and finding the line – and some to my own heritage. Before Rufskin I designed for women rather than men, and spent some time working for a manufacturer in Brazil whose main customer was Victoria’s Secret! That gives you an appreciation for natural curves and how best to highlight and accentuate, and that works as well for a man as a woman if you have the eye. And, as a gay man, I think I do!

“Anyway, when the opportunity presented to add a few items of swimwear and underwear to our brand, to complement the denim line, I took it – and its success encouraged us to expand into sports and athletic wear too. It’s all about enhancement of the male form, at whatever level.”

Interestingly, over subsequent months Winq has shot both an Olympic-standard hurdler and a West End dancer in Rufskin athletic tights, and both begged to keep the shoot samples, saying they were the most comfortable skinwear they ’ d ever come across. So, as a less athletic being, I can but accede.

I ask, by way of conclusion, for a sneak peak at any coming collections, but the Pouches grin is back. “Collections aren’t really our thing. It’s too regimented, we are more organic. I get inspiration, have a sample made, we like it, we make it, we sell it. Right here and now, in a matter of weeks. It means we can be current, or on trend if you like, or just doing our own thing – we don’t have to have a single direction or type of product. So I can’t tell you what’s coming next, but when I know, you’ll know, as it will be out there!”

I suggest this is a planner’s nightmare, and Coats rolls his eyes. Pouches is undeterred. “I hope so. Look, this is a lifestyle product, and you respond emotionally to such a thing, not always practically. But I see myself as a craftsman, not a manufacturer. I create, photograph, build an image, set a brand template – as part of a brilliant team that works more like a family business. We get loyalty from our customers, and give the same back, and that means surprising and delighting, pushing ourselves and so pushing them.”

 It’s a beautifully spontaneous way to run a business, that’s for sure, an intoxicating mix of French laissez-faire and California dreaming. But as Coats and Pouches head out for a long weekend at their Palm Springs desert retreat, where inspiration awaits within “the crisp, beautiful light of the desert”, I feel both a tinge of envy and a wave of admiration. Their clothing, my jeans, have some sass that’s as Californian as orange juice, and like any product made with love you can’t help but love it back.

 


RUFSKIN: NO ONE DOES SLEEK AND SEXY ATHLETIC WEAR LIKE THIS LOCAL LABEL

San Diego-based label, built from the creative genius of Hubert Pouches and Douglas Coats, is fully committed to keeping things fun

Rufskin

BY MIKE CIRIACO, FRONTIERS MEDIA

Rufskin was created to fill a void. In 2002, longtime couple Hubert Pouches and Douglas Coats founded the San Diego-based fashion label to remedy the dearth of sexy denim options for men.

“Back then, all the guys were looking for low-rise jeans—that sexy, ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll,Lenny Kravitz style,” says Pouches in his thick French accent, phoning from the guys’ Palm Springs residence. “So they would go to girls’ stores to get sexy jeans. We started right away with low-rise jeans with unique styling, and we made it our signature. Men needed a jean that was cut just right for them, and this has always been the dominant focus of our design process.”

That inaugural line of low-rise, form-fitting denim would exemplify Rufskin’s mission: to create men’s clothing that is sexy, masculine and athletic, while balancing equal parts vintage and modernism.  Pouches and Coates have described their aesthetic as “Euro post-modern attire that pays homage to American forward thinking.”

The duo founded the company in a humble San Diego garage and quickly expanded onto the global fashion stage, incorporating swimwear, underwear and athletic apparel into their purview. The success of Rufskin’s clothing was aided by consistently scintillating photo shoots, often conducted in and around the couple’s desert home.

While Rufskin has carved a deep niche in the Californian fashion terrain, its roots actually trace back to France. The partners met in the early ‘90s during a Parisian fashion show. “A week later, we started dating,” says Pouches. “Twenty-five years later, we’re still together.”

While in Paris, Pouches cut his teeth on labels like Bernard Perris and Courreges. His work with these companies, combined with his time in Brazil designing for Victoria’s Secret, heavily influence the tasteful sensuality he currently incorporates into Rufskin’s apparel. “Our products are very sexy and masculine, but not vulgar,” Pouches emphasizes.

Rufskin differentiates itself from its rivals by not producing traditional collections. Pouches shrugs off the confines of that expectation, choosing to create and release per his own whim. “Inspiration strikes, samples are cut, production is done and we launch product simultaneously on our website, in the Rufskin boutiques and to wholesalers,” he says. “Because of our structure, we do not have to stick to one direction or one type of product. You never know what will come next, but when it is out, it is there, and it is available immediately.”

Pouches’ rejection of fashion industry mores reflects one of Rufskin’s most defining characteristics, individuality. The brand’s mission statement describes their target demographic as “confident, inventive and unafraid to experiment with his personal style,” plainly evidenced in the label’s newest collection of athletic wear, which commemorates the Year of the Ram. The line is inspired by vintage Chinese circus attire, but with a modern slant, evoking a trapeze uniform from a bygone era.

It’s a collection that evidences the cornerstone of Pouches’ fashion advice for men. “Don’t follow anybody,” he says. “Do whatever suits you the best and reflects the image you want to portray.”

 


RUFSKIN'S SMOOTH DESIGN


WASHINGTON BLADE May 28, 2015 at 5:47 pm EDT | by Mark Lee

The sun-kissed outdoors of Southern California serves as the locale for Rufskin promotional photography. “The crispest lights are in the desert,” explains company co-founder and head designer Hubert Pouches. “I’m happiest surrounded by palm trees.”

Pouches personally photographs Rufskin product images at an outdoor studio at the home he shares with his partner of 25 years, Douglas Coats. Co-owner and company president Coats launched the high-profile San Diego-based men’s clothing business with Pouches in 2002. The duo met in the early 1990s in Paris, when Portland native Coats worked as a model at the agency that French-born Pouches owned and operated.

Rufskin began with crafting well-cut, form-emphasizing and uniquely styled men’s jeans, an item of surprisingly scarce offering at the time and which Pouches noticed was driving male shoppers to the women’s section of clothing stores. The business quickly expanded into a widely known creator and purveyor of swimwear, underwear, athletic wear and casual clothing items for men. Originating from a garage in San Diego, business growth was rapid, evolving to a globally recognized company respected for its well-crafted wares.

A conversation with Pouches quickly reveals his passion for the company’s products and commitment to brand excellence. His background as a fashion designer for Parisian labels Bernard Perris and Courrèges, along with a stint while living in Brazil designing for a group that had among its clients Victoria’s Secret and Macy’s, led Pouches to discern a void in men’s fashion.

“Our products are very sexy and masculine, but not vulgar,” Pouches points out. “We always have a couple of things for the flashy ones, though, including straight dudes,” he hastens to add, chuckling. “Our best customers are guys who are guys. Men who are confident, yet unafraid to explore their personal style.”

The company handles all aspects of design, pattern making, photography, marketing, distribution, and customer service on an in-house basis and employing a staff of a dozen, supplemented by independent contractors. Proudly emphasizing its “Made in the USA” ethos, all clothing is fabricated near the firm’s offices located at its flagship store in San Diego.

“Our products are crafted and manufactured in San Diego, everything is produced locally. That’s important to us. It allows me to get my hands dirty, so to speak, to see the work being made,” Pouches emphasizes.

“Of course, our costs are higher since we manufacture domestically,” notes Pouches, “and we pay taxes that are ridiculous.” “But it’s one of the differences we have – we’re personally involved, we actually oversee and monitor the production and that allows us to guarantee our product quality.”

Although Rufskin maintains a retail location and headquarters in the trendy neighborhood of North Park, the company has also experimented with opening and operating boutiques both in the U.S. and abroad. Over time, Coats and Pouches and their team have discovered it is better to focus on developing and marketing products instead of expanding business with storefront locations. “Retailing is not our focus,” Pouches says, explaining that it makes for better economic and operational sense to partner with retailers and select wholesalers while offering direct online purchasing.

“I hated working for a big corporation,” Pouches says, “why should we adopt that corporate model? The system of business we have allows us to remain spontaneous with our designs and product lines, to be very ‘on the click’ in our inspirations. Our clothes represent who we are, both in business and as people.”

“We have gotten to know many of our online customers, in a large retail operation you often don’t. It’s more personal, more organic, more ‘intimo’ as the Italians say,” adds Pouches.

Rufskin denim, swimwear, underwear, athletic wear and casual wear fashions are available online at rufskin.com.

 

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.