The Economy of Maturity & Timelessness with Les Tien's Courtney Ogilvie

Sitting down to discuss all things Les Tien, END. and Courtney Ogilvie delve into the world of luxury sportswear, timelessness and how her brand defies fashion conventions.

With a storied history of working within fashion’s upper echelons, Courtney Ogilvie’s Les Tien fills a void within the contemporary market.

Delivering a true embodiment of luxury sportswear, the Los Angeles-based brand captures a specific sensibility that evades ostentatiousness in favour of gesture. Focussed on delivering high-quality garments that firmly fit within the sportswear mould, Ogilvie offers an outlook that definitively bridges the gap between comfort, luxury and maturity.

Entering the industry in 2008 with her first company, Fit & Supply, Ogilvie experienced the fashion world from one side of the coin, aiding brands in executing their vision, offering freelance product development and management. Founding her second company, LA Makers, she was able to offer a full package of services to brands who required rigorous quality control, costing and exceptional garment construction - whilst ensuring she was suitably prepared to build a brand of her own. Transitioning from one side of the industry to the other, Les Tien sees Ogilvie’s talents for brand development, garment design and business combine to showcase her own unique vision, what she calls her “true calling”, rather than executing the vision of others.  

Transcending the traditional motions of fashion, Les Tien offers extremely high-quality garments designed to drape perfectly on any body type, delivering timeless style that illuminates a mature approach through colour, cut and a specific aesthetic world.

Sitting down with Les Tien's Creative Director, END. and Courtney Ogilvie dive into a discussion on the world of luxury sportswear, timelessness and how her brand defies fashion conventions through a simple approach.

After a successful career setting up Fit & Supply, and then LA Makers, what led you to leave that side of the fashion industry behind to start something of your own with Les Tien?

I will start by clarifying I didn’t leave a specific side of the industry, I was never positioned to one role in one department, that is what made Fit & Supply so visible and mind blowing and what allowed the brands under it to grow and profit so quickly. Often, I feel there has been a lack of clarity or knowledge provided as to what services the agency, Fit & Supply, actually executed. Fit & Supply was a freelance product development, management and creative agency building brands from A to Z. It was retainer based; therefore, it cut out 4-6 salaries that would have to be paid to fulfil the roles needed, and short-term contracts eliminated long term employment commitments, staffing locations and more, being able to utilise the startup money in the most effective way possible.

Most people have a specific job that they have excelled in categorising them to one role, designer or production manager etc - I was lucky enough to have a unique journey that’s allowed me to not only learn the skills of multiple roles within a brand but gave me the long term opportunities to become one of the best at each skill. By accident I got to invest time in each position, which is, budgeting/costing, creative director, design, sample coordinator, sourcing & purchasing, production manager, QC controller, merchandising, sales and planning. I became an expert in these roles, allowing me to launch Fit and Supply, a full service brand development agency.

For me, Fit & Supply was the opportunity to be in a place of service, the idea of being able to help people that felt limited for one reason or another. Bringing visions to life - visions that I felt were actually well curated or well thought out, consistent, and had a chance on the market in their specific niche or demographic - was the best feeling. In a situation where, perhaps, I was building a brand with/for someone with absolutely no experience that was an exciting result, like magic almost! They couldn’t believe their eyes that it was real - they showed a level of excitement beyond belief, like it was Christmas. Or a situation where perhaps I was helping someone with experience and expertise, they would show immense appreciation, as they understood the challenge at hand - that was a validating feeling in a humbling way - their gratitude was overwhelming.

Excitement and gratitude, not a bad reward for hard work. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. LA Makers was a need to support the growth of Fit & Supply as I had capacitated every factory available to me and, had I not opened my own sewing facility, I don’t know whether the brands would have been able to continue to grow and produce as quickly. So when you ask me “what led you to leave that side of the fashion industry behind to start something of your own with Les Tien?” - I never left anything behind! And that’s the best part. it feels like more of a transition into my true calling, after I’d mastered all of the elements needed to make sure I didn’t fuck it up by the time I got to where I am now. It feels more that I simply shifted who’s vision I was serving. With Fit & Supply and LA Makers, I was serving others and executing every single role being on every single side of the industry, the only thing that’s actually changed is that now I’m serving my own vision, using the myriad tools I cultivated while doing it for others.

I couldn’t be any more grateful for how it’s all played out, because I’m too aware that all of the ingredients of my life up until now are what’s created that incredible cuisine I get to enjoy now. And it’ll only keep getting better, more magical, more refined.

What did you learn from your previous businesses that helped when establishing Les Tien?

Being 100 percent vertical, and knowing how to properly utilize and treat your staff. By having vertical integration, you take full control of your product, the construction, and most importantly the calendar. Delivering on time and taking accountability for the retail calendar allows you to build honest relationships with your buyers while keeping your clients engaged. This is crucial to building your own brand. Being vertical allows me to offer top quality product at the lowest price possible to the consumer.  The status quo of the price point of a product in the industry determines where your product merchandises within a retailer and that placement identifies how your product is perceived socially. My intention with Les Tien is to break that cycle by having my product constructed at atelier level and to be available to all demographics. By being priced with integrity versus greed, I hope to remove any negative connotations that may come from inflated costs of goods.

Knowing how to properly utilize your staff allows you to ensure that your output and productivity efficiently matches your intended cost of good. Very few creative directors or designers have production and manufacturing experience.  I encourage anyone with the desire to have a brand to humbly spend time learning the skills within a factory. By understanding what you’re asking of these people you also understand how valuable and difficult their role is. With that understanding you will effortlessly treat your team with respect and gratitude. And this will give humbled success. In order to be vertical you have to have the knowledge, the experience and the expertise to hire the right people to effectively run your factory to ensure your productivity and output are cost effective, while not jeopardising the quality of your garments. 

I encourage anyone with the desire to have a brand to humbly spend time learning the skills within a factory.

Having worked with Fear of God, YEEZY and many more labels which fit into the luxury sportswear realm, what is the central aim of Les Tien? How does Les Tien fit into this space of fashion and is there anything that you're trying to do differently to these big names?

I’m not trying to do anything different to the big names. I don’t even notice other brands or “big names”. All I’m trying to do is what I think needs to be done.  If what I’m doing is different that’s even better. What I am trying to do is provide for a gap in the market at a level of top tier, and a representation of honesty.

Basics shouldn’t cost $700. There’s a reason a Tom Ford suit costs what it costs because you’re using 44 inch fabrics in the finest wools, they’re making just enough of it to make that suit and it costs a lot of money plus its hand cut and sewn. I am trying to get quality product to as many people as possible and unify them without creating socialism and financial stature about your clothes. I am not trying to be different from anyone, I am just doing what I want to do. The aim for Les Tien is to be in the luxury sportswear realm. I don’t think either of those brands are specifically in the luxury sportswear realm. I think that they have luxury sportswear pieces in their collection but I don’t think that is where their brands sit as a whole. They’re brands that create collections that have some staples in it, also with prints and logos, and that’s fine. But I don’t have denim in my collection, I don’t have leather or suede jackets. All those things that are not luxury sportswear. So honestly, I don’t think anybody is in the luxury sportswear category. I can’t think of one brand. There’s just a lot of brands out there that have pieces that fit within that. I respect what everybody is doing within their space, but believe what I am creating with Les Tien is something very different and perhaps the only true luxury sportswear brand on the market.

Luxury basics seem somewhat underrepresented in the industry – what do you think that basics should represent in the wardrobe?

Luxury is not about the name or the house. Luxury is about construction, it’s about fit and consistency. Let’s look at Givenchy in Ricardo Tisci’s days. You look at couture or anything RTW, it’s sewn at an extreme atelier level and the quality is beyond incredible. But then you look at the sweatshirt with a rottweiler printed on it - that sweatshirt is basically a marketing tool. The fleece and the sewing is not to this level. It’s probably not even the manufactured in the same factory. So, if you call that a luxury basic just because it's coming out of a luxury house, it doesn’t make any sense. There are no luxury basics in the market, they are totally underrepresented because they don’t exist.

Luxury basics needs to be renamed to timeless luxury. Because the word basic makes it simplified, instead of minimalist. What they should represent is the same thing that a Burberry trench coat represents. It’s a staple piece that is going to stand the test of time. It should be represented as a necessity. If you have one time to get clothes for the rest of your life, you’re not going to get un-functional fashion pieces, you’re going to get the best pair of raw vintage Levi’s that will last, you’re going to get every piece of Les Tien, and you’re going to get a solid pair of Nike’s, a Ferragamo driver shoe, a trench, a leather jacket - the essential pieces that you need. They should represent necessity.

When producing basics, does the role of creative director change when the focus is more fixed on quality and comfort versus labels putting out seasonal collections?

Yes, of course it changes when you’re repeating body styles. It’s interesting as my role as Creative Director is a much broader spectrum. Generally speaking, the role of creative director isn’t overseeing quality control, sewing technique and product development, but because that’s where my background lies I take on these roles too. The beautiful part is that I get to see the product leave the door, which most designers or creative directors don’t get to see, so the role changes because it overflows into other departments.

We do have Black Label which sometimes gets lost with our retailers. Black Label is the collection, and what’s interesting is that it is focused on the textile not the body style. So, like White Label, I try to find and home in on pieces and silhouettes that I can carry over. You can see this in SS21’s Cropped Trucker Jacket, you can see it in the velour pieces (that are launching in November). Our lounge pant has transitioned from baby corduroy to velour and to silks - and that’s a pant that is a timeless silhouette and just doesn't fall into the category of sportswear. I am blessed that White Label did so well, and I was able to launch Black Label so quickly.

Les Tien offers a specific fit and aesthetic – how would you define the Les Tien look and cut?

I would define Les Tien’s look and cut as traditional and equal. And what I mean by saying that is it’s literally for everybody. There isn't anyone that can’t wear Les Tien. You think that something that is high waisted, or something that is low waisted is for a specific body type. I create product that really works for everybody across the board. Whether you’re really tall, short, fat, skinny, broad or slim, it’s product that is so well made in its sewing quality and is cut so specifically that it drapes on anybody’s body. By creating a neckline with no shoulder seams, cut with a laser, allows the fabric to drape down the shoulder and give anybody with any body type a natural silhouette. Even the crop pieces are not cropped in the way of a “crop top” or mid stomach. They're cropped in a sense of how they lay and how they fit. They end at the waist and that’s where things should fit, so I would say. Aesthetic wise, I would define Les Tien as mature. There’s just a richness in a colour that is focused. You think of ivory vs white. That’s a hard colour to nail. A mauve if not done right is pink.

I really can’t think of anybody, truthfully, that I can say really understood rich tones and how to compliment a person, a mature person, and mature their wardrobe, other than Phoebe Philo. What she did for Celinè I think really took peoples' taste levels whether they knew it or not, to another level if it was studied. And I think that is the goal here, anybody who can’t figure it out can naturally mature themselves.

I don’t think I fit in the modern world of fashion, I think I fit in the timeless world of heritage.

The garments the brand offers are described as genderless – what was the impetus behind ditching gendered styles and offering unisex pieces? Was this something you had always intended to do?

I never even thought about that. There was no literal, political, social thought process. It was just the word that rolled off my tongue. I saw a gap in the market, and that gap was there for both men and women.

In the modern world of fashion, where logos, images and emblems are the defining force in the zeitgeist, minimalism and basics become radical. Do you see what you do as a radical act?

No, not at all. In the modern world of fashion, logos, prints etc are what’s the trend and the norm. But I don’t feel like I’m part of the modern world of fashion. To me, the modern world of fashion is not timeless. It’s a right now world, and a right now statement. The world of fashion essentially just means something that is going to die in 6 months; it’s a trend. So, I don’t think what I am doing is radical because I feel like the product that I am creating and the vision behind the brand is part of the timeless heritage of the apparel industry and a permanent part of product. These are body styles that have been modernised, that have been in our silhouettes and in our closets for the rest of time, and I think I am creating timeless chic pieces. So, I don’t think I fit in the modern world of fashion, I think I fit in the timeless world of heritage.

I feel like the reason logos and prints are so prominent right now is because essentially that’s their marketing. And for Les Tien, I think we are selling the product, and not the lifestyle or the culture. We’re not selling a hype. We’re selling quality driven apparel. You see someone like Galliano, Tom Ford, Saint Laurent, they’re identified by their silhouettes. You can look at vintage Saint Laurent or vintage Galliano and they have a style, an aesthetic, and a way of designing and that is their logo. The lace on Galliano. The tailored shoulder on a cocktail jacket from Saint Laurent. Or the perfect tweed pencil skirt from Chanel. That is their branding, their fabrication, their consistency, and their fit. You can look at any house and you can see that, and that’s their marketing.

For me, and for Les Tien, it’s rich colour palettes, and consistent timeless silhouettes that are repeated season after season. That's the driver, we don’t need to sell the name. So when you see a house following a trend that’s part of modern day fashion, and putting their logo on it, that’s a sad thing for me. Branding should come from fit. Les Tien is the eyelets, the fits and the colours. You can look at a bunch of hoodies and you will know which is Les Tien.