Eighteen months ago, Laurens Jan Blok was appointed CEO of Van Gils Fashion, the oldest Dutch brand in men’s fashion. Van Gils is best known for their suits, but they…
Eighteen months ago, Laurens Jan Blok was appointed CEO of Van Gils Fashion, the oldest Dutch brand in men’s fashion. Van Gils is best known for their suits, but they have so much more to offer, including two brand-new collections every year aimed at the middle and higher segments. Their flagship store at Van Baerlestraat is a showcase of the iconic Van Gils experience.
For fifteen years, Laurens Jan Blok wore navy blue tailor-made suits, just because that’s what was expected of him in the finance positions he held at Ahold, Heineken, Nestlé and Sara Lee. But now, even though it is still winter when we meet him, he’s walking around in white trousers, blue loafers, a jeans shirt and a stylish blue chequered jacket with a white pocket square. “A few years ago, I would never have worn this but I feel really good in it.”
Since he became CEO of Van Gils Fashion in 2017, Blok has been trying to change people’s dress sense at his men’s club and in his circle of close friends. “Men often know how to dress formally but they’re making a hash of it when it comes to leisure wear. They often wear a sweater in their spare time and that just looks awful, I think. I started wearing a jacket in a different colour than my trousers and that looks stylish and sporty. In a joking manner, I asked the members of my club via Whatsapp if they could please wear something more stylish next time and most of them actually started doing that, which is very nice to see.”
Van Gils has a pretty broad target audience. “Basically, all men between 25 and 60 years old. In our marketing and advertising we deliberately use a ‘mental age’ of 35. Those who are younger would love to be 35 and the same applies for those who are older than that mental age. And I’m talking about real men, those who do not wear overly formal clothes.”
The Road to Success is pivotal to all marketing statements made by Van Gils. “Living one’s life means going through ups and downs. I don’t like the picture painted by Italian brands in which everything is just perfect. In my opinion, you need ugly things in order to be able to appreciate beauty; it’s all about contrast, the one cannot exist without the other. And it’s alright if there’s a bit of friction – as long as it is done in style, with a smile and a healthy dose of self-mockery.”
Road to Success
And to achieve that Road to Success, Van Gils offers a formal business look, a smart casual look and an informal look. For just 399.95 euros, customers can buy a smart suit that fits very nicely. A tailor-made suit starts at 499 euros, going up to… whatever one’s budget allows. By mixing and matching you can use your imagination and create all kinds of stylish combinations. Customers will be spoiled for choice as twice a year Van Gils brings a new collection reflecting the latest trends. “That makes us unique. It speaks volumes that other companies are trying to copy us.”
The Van Gils collection consists of brand statements, fashion needs, seasonal essentials and an assortment of basics. “This company has so much more to offer than the suits most people associate the name Van Gils with.” They sell shirts, jackets, shoes and various accessories such as ties, bags and polo shirts – all very stylish leisure wear. Casual Friday? Van Gils has developed a separate line for this phenomenon, with trendy chinos, denim shirts and knitwear.
The company’s Green Stitch line is testament to the fact that Van Gils is trying to help reduce waste in the fashion industry. “It is a special line containing recycled wool, for example. We find it important to follow these developments and we like to take our responsibility.”
At the Zuidas, Van Gils is available Gentlemen’s Place, although it mainly sells suits. To fully experience this iconic brand, go to the Van Gils flagship store at Van Baerlestraat in Amsterdam. This is where all new Van Gils collections are on display. Alternatively, one could go to the brand store at Stadshart Amstelveen.
“Here at the Zuidas, we notice that things are changing. Lawyers and bank managers are starting to dress more casually on Thursday – no tie, for example. Due to all the hip internet companies it has become more and more accepted to dress less formally. At the same time, whenever I attend fashion shows in Italy, I see that brands like Prada and Gucci – real trendsetters – are re-introducing the suit.”
“That’s why we’re not only offering tailor-made suits but a large collection of basics as well. These are easy to combine with other garments so customers can alternate between business formal and smart casual. And with those basics they’ve got something stylish to wear at the weekend as well – after all, that’s what everyone wants, right?”
The Van Gils fashion brand represents seventy years of experience, tremendous know-how and a long tradition. “This adds a lot of value to our company. And let’s not forget that we operate in many countries: Belgium, The Netherlands, Jordan, Lebanon, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Morocco and Iceland. Not that long ago, Van Gils was bigger than Hugo Boss – Italians really appreciate it when I remind them of this.”
Perhaps the love for this brand and its authenticity has ebbed away a bit, Laurens Jan Blok says, but that will surely change. “By using storytelling we’re going to communicate more clearly what Van Gils stands for and show people that we’ve got much more to offer than just a nice collection of suits.”
One thing is certain: brand awareness won’t be an issue. “It’s great to notice that practically everyone knows Van Gils! And if you ask someone which brand of car they associate with Van Gils they say: Mercedes Benz. That’s wonderful, isn’t it?”
Van Gils Flagship Store Amsterdam
Van Baerlestraat 74
Van Gils Brand Store Amstelveen
Caption: Laurens Jan Blok, CEO Van Gils Fashion
Photo: Unmask Photography