Peer Portraits: Nicolas Israël from Centre Commercial & VEJA
Nicolas Israël, Retail Director of VEJA and Centre Commercial, has been a friend of HNDSM since our first show in Paris three years ago. He started from the bottom at Centre Commercial, an eclectic and thoughtful multi-brand store in Paris. He began working on the retail floor and the web platform and quickly made his way up to being a buyer. Within a couple of years he was the head of Centre Commercial assisting with opening up another store on the left bank of Paris after they opened their kids store. Concurrently, VEJA was growing at a rapid pace starting with shop in shops in department stores. All this has lead him to where he is now. He manages a team of more than fifty people, four stores, three shop in shops with a couple more in the works. Nico is a friendly face we are always happy to see!
We’d love to know more about your background, upbringing and the road that brought you to where you are now.
I started off by not going to high school. I registered but just in order to not actually go. I wanted to be free with my parents and show them that I was going to go while knowing even if I don’t, they really couldn’t say anything. I found a job in a department store as a cashier, and then moved to sales in the shoe department. I learned about Air Jordan, Dunk, Air Force, Air Max, Adidas Nastase, Adi Dassler, Rudolf Dassler and so on, thanks to Yannick Clatot (if he reads this he will know).
I moved to street wear, and once again, Yannick taught me a lot about that, at least all I knew at that time. Finally, I moved to sales in wholesale for a big bag company (from the East as they say), and did not learn anything at all except what I didn’t want to do. That is still quite something when I think about it. I spent a lot of time on the road. Many kilometers were driven by day and night time. I once fell asleep on the highway (just once), but woke up right in time to get back on track thanks to a truck driver! I can’t say that if he reads this that he will know, but I want to shout him out! Then I found my current company. I started the hard way but finally moved to a good way - the best it could be I guess. Step by step, I was getting more responsibilities, from a team of 4 guys to more than 50 guys now. Being a buyer, working with architects for our new stores, finding new places, building new teams and on and on. I think I have always mixed the professional and personal sides as for me, it is key to be happy in your job. I already heard that from someone who knows.
How do you feel about your name? Has the relationship with your name changed over the years?
Is there really something to think about a name you did not choose? Perhaps there is, when your family has a true story or a real legacy, but for me it is just something we have kept for a long time. A Jewish name with no more Jews in the family for 2 or 3 generations. I know my great grandfather was Jewish and had been captured during WW2. He escaped twice and one of them was thanks to a little German boy. After him, there weren’t any Jewish mothers, so we have no more Jewish in the family. This name has always been quite strange to wear but it is more and more insignificant. But sometimes it helps, especially when it comes to real estate!
What is something you believe everyone should experience in their life?
I have to say that MDMA is really something interesting. You don’t “have” to, but if you have the opportunity in a nice place with good people, I would advise to try it, just once.
A road trip in western USA is also something to do - Joshua Tree, the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park or even Yosemite is something to see in your life. Scotland is also really nice. Watching the sunset on the Skye Island is something I will remember for a while.
What was your favorite moment today and do you have any favorite grounding rituals?
Sunset is always my favorite moment. Lunch time also; talking with my friends around a table is maybe the best thing that can happen in a day.
Any advice you can give to people just starting out in their fashion career (in and out of the current context of the virus).
In a normal time I would have say that it is really not easy as there are so many brands and so much being offered in this business. The big ones are killing the small ones, offering almost the same products for half the price if not a tenth of the price; Uniqlo for instance.
Now I’d say, forget it, do something else. A lot of small brands will die in the next few months. Wait a little bit before putting your money into this industry. There is too much concurrence in this business right now. Let the ones which are already in have time, maybe it will give them more of a chance to succeed.
More seriously, if you decide to pursue a career in fashion, take 3 to 5 years, give everything you can but if you don’t take off during that time, it will never happen.