Former French rugby international Franck Mesnel, founder of rugby-influenced fashion label Eden Park, tells The Resident about tailoring suits for the England Six Nations rugby squad
Words: Vicky Smith
At 6ft, 18 stone and with a distinctive strip of bleached-blonde hair, it’s fair to say that England rugby star Joe Marler isn’t the epitome of classic elegance. But somehow, the striking sportsman – and his England teammates – have been transformed into a group of dapper gentlemen.
Step forward Franck Mesnel, founding member of iconic rugby-influenced clothing brand, Eden Park, which has created the team’s suits for the Six Nations tournament. Mesnel, 52, is best known for his illustrious rugby career which began in 1985. Winning 56 caps for France over a 15 year period, the Neuilly-sur-Seine-born fly-half has played in three Rugby World Cup finals, twice as vice-captain. He also played for the English invitational team, the Barbarians.
Well on his way to conquering the rugby world on the pitch, Mesnel turned his attentions to endeavours away from the stadiums in 1987, when he and a small group of his French teammates founded a fashion label and named it after the location of the first World Cup he played in – the Eden Park Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand. Fast forward 28 years, and Eden Park has 52 stand-alone stores, a turnover of around €63 million and is retailed in over 430 independent stores.
The brand’s pink bow tie logo is seen throughout the rugby world, and was inspired by the time Mesnel and his team mates, nicknamed ‘The Showbiz Five’, wore them during the French Rugby Championship Final in 1990. Not only is the brand a hit with rugby fans, but the players are on board too, and Eden Park now make the formalwear for the English, Irish, French and Italian Rugby teams.
So what is it about the brand’s aesthetic that’s made it such a hit? ‘Eden Park seeks elegance and fashion like any fashion brand,’ says Mesnel. ‘Our DNA and the strong attachment of our clients to our off-beat story encourages us to make the best possible efforts to ensure that this aesthetic quest is reachable whatever the size of our customers.’
One must acknowledge that basically a rugby player – former or modern – is a nightmare for a tailor: massive shoulders, slender, muscular buttocks, huge thighs and a strong will to be very trendy!
And in this business, size really is everything. Marler is just one of many players whose dimensions make the creation of formalwear that fits like a glove and looks a good challenge. But it’s one that Mesnel and his team are more than up to: ‘The work done with the England team shows that it is indeed possible to make these impressive sizes very elegant,’ he says, before revealing that even though it’s doable, it’s a task that’s not without its obstacles: ‘One must nevertheless acknowledge that basically a rugby player – former or modern – is a nightmare for a tailor: massive shoulders, slender, muscular buttocks, huge thighs and a strong will to be very trendy!’
Speaking of trendy, who does the stylish Frenchman cite as his person fashion icons? ‘I draw my inspiration from the cinema and, of course, from several eras depending on the products,’ he begins. ‘The characters played or the actors themselves can guide me, like Steve McQueen – the most French of American actors, by both by his bearing and style.’
When he’s not making other people look good, Mesnel says he’s happiest when flyinghis single-engined light aeroplane, Cessna 182, at 2,000 ft or spending time with his wife, Natalie, and their two children Charlotte, 11 and 10-month-old Augustin.
But what are the key pieces of kit he turns to, to ensure he always looks good whether at work or leisure? ‘The Eden Park rugby jersey reinterpreted is our specialty, and the blazer remains an iconic product for our brand. I’m also a fan of our famous double collar shirt.’ The Eden Park grey anthracite suit embroidered with a tone-on-tone
England Rose is exclusive for the England squad, but similar suits are available to buy.
Eden Park is available at House of Fraser, 80 George Street, Richmond TW9 1HA; uk.eden-park.com