Jakub Lohniský: Le Premier

Teaching Fashion 101 to men in the Czech Republic

Lisette Allen

Written by Lisette Allen Published on 31.07.2012 14:49:38 (updated on 31.07.2012) Reading time: 5 minutes

Double denim, socks with sandals and, of course, tepláky: Czech men are better known for their crimes against fashion than their sense of style. There is at least one Czech who is swimming against the anti-chic tide: Jakub Lohniský. His passion for fashion inspired him to open menswear store Le Premier, aimed at those who want clothing a cut above the offerings of the big retail chains without having to pay prices only a Russian oligarch could afford. Such a market does exist: the store has recently celebrated its first birthday, and despite the economic crisis, there are plans for further expansion.

I’m not sure what to expect when meeting Jakub. Will he be dressed like a dapper English gentlemen sporting a Saville Row suit and a bowler hat?

Not exactly. There’s nothing needlessly quirky or in-your-face about Lohniský’s outfit: a navy blazer with chinos paired with a striped shirt offset by a skinny tie. The loudest thing about his getup is the blue and white polka dotted handkerchief poking out of his top pocket, a subtle style exclamation mark. The primary style influence here is not English – although Lohniský confesses he is something of an Anglophile – but Italian.

“I like Italian style but if you’re not Italian it’s difficult to look the same,” Lohniský tells me over an espresso. “I don’t know why but I think you have to be born in a Milan hospital, otherwise there’s some special magic missing. You can copy but you won’t look quite the same.”

Jakub’s journey to becoming a fashion retailer began with a pile of dirty laundry.

“I had a girl to do my ironing but she left,” he explained. “After two or three months I had lots and lots of unironed shirts and mess in my apartment – you know men. I tried a basic laundry service here in Prague in a shopping centre and I wasn’t satisfied.”

Lohniský, a P.R man by trade, spotted a gap in the market and decided to launch a V.I.P laundry service. Customers began asking Jakub to recommend a decent men’s outfitter in Prague where they could pick up a bespoke suit or shirt. It was then that Lohniský saw the chance to combine his love of fashion with his business acumen, and Le Premier was born.

Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Na příkopě in Pánská pasáž, Le Premier is a small but perfectly formed menswear store offering shirts, suits, belts, ties, socks and of course shoes to the discerning Czech male. While the emphasis is on quality, you don’t have to earn an executive salary to shop here: around ten to fifteen percent of customers are still students. Le Premier is targeting the middle class market, which is so poorly served by retail stores in the Czech Republic – he estimates 50 – 60% of his clientele are middle class guys aged 25-40 – and it’s clearly working.

If you’re too busy to shop in-store, then you can design your own shirt online instead at the shop’s website, where you can choose not only the fabric color but the exact kind of collar, cuffs and pockets you’d like. There have been a few teething problems with the service – apparently, customers found the self-measurements a little tricky – but a simplified version is currently in progress.

Design your own shirt onlineDesign your own shirt onlineDesign your own shirt online

Design your own shirt onlineJakub Lohniský and his business partner David ŠimoníkJakub's blog is called Muži v Česku (Men in the Czech Republic)Le Premier store celebrated 1st anniversary recently

The store’s most popular range at present are Loake shoes: hand finished brogues and loafers produced by the long-established British firm. Lohniský is unimpressed by what the famous Moravian shoe manufacturers Bat’a has to offer in terms of design, but admits it can be tough to convince customers to pay that bit more for better footwear:

“The shoes of Czech men are terrible – very square in shape, low quality leather – sometimes it’s not even leather, just waste,” Jakub observed. 

“We still have to teach Czech customers about the quality of shoes,” he continued. “In Bat’a, shoes cost 2000 CZK; in our shop 5000 or 6000 CZK, so we have to give a fifteen minute explanation as to why and then the customer is happy and excited […] It’s a one on one process of re-education.”

When I ask Lohniský to describe the Czech sense of style, his answer is simple: “It doesn’t exist.” So apart from ugly shoes, what are the fashion crimes committed by the average Czech guy? What about socks with sandals? “Socks are a crime, sandals are a crime, socks and sandals are a double crime,” he says emphatically.

It’s not just what you’re wear, but what it’s made of that’s important, as anyone who’s been on Prague’s public transport knows only too well: “Polyester is terrible here in the Czech Republic.” Jakub remarked. “If in the summer you have a 50% polyester mix jacket you don’t smell good on the metro.” 

What does Lohniský have to say to those who claim that Czechs simply cannot afford to take an interest in looking good?

“It’s not about salary. Lots of people write on my blog claiming ‘I don’t’ have money’. It’s bull. If you want you can go to secondhand here in Prague, there are great secondhands with men’s jackets and you can buy a Burberry coat for 1000 CZK.”

“We have to teach Czech customers what quality is, what it is they really want.”

Jakub enjoys sharing his opinions on what’s hot and what’s not with a wider audience. His blog, Muži v Česku, has caused something of a stir in cyberspace. A recent post poking fun at the Czech Olympic team’s uniforms has proved hugely popular. With their knee-length multicolored leggings and hoodies, it’s hard to disagree with Jakub’s negative verdict: the poor Czech sportsman do look ridiculous. And then there’s the footwear: “Wellingtons? For God’s sake!” the post screams. “This year the circus won’t just be in Letná but in London too.”

Somehow, the Slovak team’s outfit, also designed by Alpine Pro, manages to sink to even greater sartorial lows. “Do the Slovaks really want to look like illiterate herdsmen?” Jakub writes mockingly. It’s tough to see how they’ll manage to pole vault or even throw a javelin while keeping those hats on.

So what about this season’s fashion trends for the non-Olympic hopeful? According to Lohniský, classic style will never die, but if your aim is to be on trend then you need to pay attention to your lapel: details such as pins and flowers are what’s hip right now.

And in case you’re curious, Lohniský doesn’t own a pair of tepláky – the jogging pants which many Czechs like to slip on when they’re not at work. What does he wear in while hanging out at home?

Apparently, just his boxers.

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