The owner of indie Trunk Clothiers lifts the lid on why discerning men are beating a path to his store.
Just behind the hustle and bustle of London’s Oxford Street sits the leisurely, upmarket area of Marylebone. Among its puzzle of thoroughfares you’ll find Chiltern Street, a quiet road that is discreetly becoming quite the destination for London’s discerning males.
Alongside Mario’s, the top-end barber shop that specialises in cut-throat shaves, there’s Cadenhead’s, a fancy off-licence dedicated to the world’s finest whiskies, and the soon-to-open Monocle cafe, a new eatery from super-stylish men’s magazine Monocle. And what about fashion? Well, there’s menswear stalwart Grey Flannel, which has been dressing dapper gents for more than 35 years, not far from John Simons’ eponymous incarnation of his legendary preppy store, Ivy Shop. But there is a relative new kid on this well-dressed block that has been causing quite a stir: at number 8, Trunk Clothiers.
Opened in 2010, this unassuming store is an exercise in masculine, pared-back simplicity and classic, low-key luxury. One of the capital’s best-kept secrets, it won the Walpole Brands of Tomorrow prize - which celebrates excellence in the luxury sector - a mere year after opening, and scooped the Premium Independent Retailer of the Year title at the 2012 Drapers Fashion Awards. And in May, the store will open a second Chiltern Street shop, housing a dedicated accessories offer and Trunk’s larger offices.
With a well-edited curation of hard-to-find, top-quality brands from across the globe, many of which made their UK debut at Trunk, the existing two-storey shop has become a destination for international clients happy to pay big money for pieces they can’t get elsewhere.
“They are doing their own thing very well and focus on what they do without being influenced by what is going on elsewhere,” says Mark Batista, the menswear agent, co-founder of men’s trade show Jacket Required, and owner of London indies The Content Store and Number Six. “Their selection continues to impress and it will always be high on my list of inspiring menswear stores.”
Industry veteran Douglas Hood agrees: “I always thought it was extremely subtle in its approach, showed great knowledge of the product and was a destination for clients wishing to experience exclusive brands.”
The business has been a success from day one, and turned over £350,000 in its first year, with a profit of £30,000, followed by a turnover of £750,000 in its second year, with a profit of £70,000, topped by a 75% average sell-through. So Drapers is eager to find out Trunk’s equally stylish owner’s secret to success.
Born in Sweden, Mats Klingberg is a walking, softly talking personification of Trunk. Impeccably groomed in a precisely tailored grey blazer, pin-neat tie and perfectly folded pocket square, when we meet he passionately points out his favourite in-store pieces and jokes about the shop’s eccentric knick-knacks, which include two mythical Japanese figurines positioned to “keep the bad guys away”, he says with a wink.
“I had the idea for Trunk for quite some time. What triggered it was the recession. Things just got quite boring,” he explains. “And, approaching 40, you start questioning, ‘What do you want to do with the rest of your life?’”
Having gained a business degree in Sweden, followed by a stint at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology studying fashion merchandising management, Klingberg moved into financial services. He made his way up to global marketing manager at American Express, travelling the world with luxury fashion clients including Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Burberry.
“There’s lots of great menswear in London with the department stores, indies and Savile Row, but still I thought there was something missing.” After some novice number crunching, Trunk started to take shape in summer 2009.
“I didn’t even know about average 2.7 mark-ups,” Klingberg admits. “If I had, it would have been so much easier, but somehow it all worked out.”
By December 2009, Klingberg had registered Trunk Clothiers as his company name - representing travel with a nod to clothing - and gathered funding from personal savings and an undisclosed investment from management firm Winkorp, which also owns Monocle. The following January, he made his first trip to Florentine menswear show Pitti Uomo, with no previous buying experience. “At Pitti, many people recognised a need for what I was thinking of doing. Lots of Italian brands were looking for something in London like Trunk.” And so he placed orders, even though he didn’t technically have a shop at that stage.
“I’m usually quite risk-averse,” he says. “But I think it’s important when you are starting your own business. You have to take risks; you can’t sit around waiting for everything to fall into place.”
But things did fall into place. He soon found his shop and opened its doors in September 2010, but why this sedate Marylebone street? Well Klingberg, the canny businessman, isn’t quite the risk taker he makes himself out to be.
“Picking a street like this, a bigger brand would die because there is zero footfall,” he admits. “From a branding perspective, Shoreditch is the hot place for all new things. Mayfair, Chelsea and Notting Hill are all a bit posh, and I think Trunk fits nicely in the middle. It’s about good quality: that’s Marylebone and that’s Trunk.”
But he had other things up his well-fitted sleeve. At that time, the rent here, tucked away behind Marylebone’s increasingly flashy high street, was much cheaper. What’s more, a chance meeting at a cocktail party in 2009 with André Balazs, owner of luxury American hotels including The Mercer, Chateau Marmont and The Standard, helped.
Klingberg discovered that Balazs was plotting his first London hotel on Chiltern Street, sure to be a hub for Trunk’s target wealthy international businessmen. The building works are currently in progress, directly opposite Trunk’s entrance. “I can’t wait for it to open,” says Klingberg with a smile. “It’s going to generate traffic, so there will be a big difference.”
And Trunk certainly has the goods to get those businessmen spending, with best-sellers including Incotex chinos, Alden shoes and Boglioli jackets, which retail for up to £955. “All our brands must have an interesting story.
Provenance feels important, quality, some kind of craftsmanship,” explains Klingberg.
It was he who convinced cult Japanese brand Beams+ to start wholesaling for Trunk, and he was one of the first to bring the likes of Piombo, Aspesi and Montedoro to London. “We have Italian businessmen from Milan who come here and buy only Italian brands. When we ask them, ‘Why aren’t you buying this at home?’, they say it’s because they like our selections. That is a great feeling,” Klingberg says. Cool US favourite J Crew even picked Trunk as its first UK menswear stockist, quite an honour considering it selected etail giant Net-A-Porter as its first UK womenswear account.
So what’s next for Trunk? There’s a Trunk own brand in the pipeline, dropping in a couple of seasons. “It is an area we are working on,” says Klingberg, who is planning a trip to Scotland to source tweeds. He tells Drapers it will include “some nice blazers, with fabrics from England and Scotland, but Made in Italy shirts and trousers. Just great essentials.”
And more London or international stores? What about womenswear? “We have women asking that every other week,” says Klingberg. “It all might happen one day. I’m a creative person, so it’s impossible not to think about what’s next, but now isn’t the time. I want to focus on men’s and do a really good job here.” While the future is certainly looking promising, we think he’s doing a pretty good job already.