Eden Park founder talks about the ‘pink bowtie’ story
The year was 1987 when a whirl of events changed the life of one Franck Mesnel’s for good.
The Frenchman had just finished six years of Architecture at the renowned Parisian institution Beaux Arts. He encountered a valuable opportunity to work professionally in Canada but dropped that, and impulsively decided to become a rugby player.
Truly made for game, Mensel joined omnisport Racing Club de France that very year, and played in the final rugby match of the French Championships at Parc des Princes. But while he and his teammates lost what would have been his first major championship, they won themselves a place in rugby history for wearing pink bowties with their jerseys.
Moreover, Mensel also found himself at the cusp of a new venture because of the pink bowtie: Fashion.
Today, the pink bowtie from the French Rugby Championship of 1987 serves as the iconic brand logo of Eden Park—an internationally known French clothing label born from and inspired by the sport of rugby.
The Manila Times got to spend an afternoon with Mesnel himself who shared the story of the pink bowtie and his fashion brand, which is now available in the Philippines with the opening of the Eden Park store at Bonifacio High Street (BHS) Central Square in Taguig City.
Mesnel vividly recalled how he had a vision to mix French flair and fashion with a very physical sport.
“In 1987, I [first]belonged to a student rugby team. We were young and we were a little bit crazy, yet we wanted to improve the marketing of the sport. We began with deciding to play with the famous French beret, which comes from the southwest. It was the first twist we had put in rugby [uniforms],” he shared.
Attracting quite a bit of attention, he and his teammates went on to play their succeeding games with other twists on their paraphernalia including blazers and gold footwear.
“And the thing we didn’t know was that [these items]would be an incredible way of motivation. We were making these jokes [on ourselves]and we were winning,” he added.
Come May 1987, the team made it to the final championship at Parc des Princes. Thanks to their quirky fashion sense, the stadium was packed with 50,000 people and hundreds of press, all waiting for their next gimmick.
“We had to do something, of course” the athlete turned businessman continued. “The idea of a black bowtie came out of nowhere but since we had the Pink Panther as a mascot, we decided to wear the bowties in pink! We played the game with them as a symbol of our philosophy, which is the mixture of rigor and fantasy.”
In the latter part of 1987, Mesnel left for New Zealand as a member of the French Rugby Team to play his first World Rubgy Cup championship. The venue was Eden Park, a gigantic stadium in Auckland, New Zealand.
Even before he arrived at his destination, he got word from his teammates and friends at Racing Club de France that their pretty pink accessory had become famous among rugby fans.
“I had four friends on the phone who said, ‘You cannot imagine what is happening in Paris. The business and sports press are all talking about the bowtie, bowtie, bowtie.’”
Ever the unconventional and multi-talented athlete, Mesnel, who had also worked as a publicist besides pursuing architecture, suddenly came up with the idea of turning the pink bowtie into a brand. It took him less than a year to figure out how to turn it into one as he launched Eden Park in November of 1988
“[The product] could have been champagne, but then why not the rugby jersey right?”
But as Mensel points out, his kind of jerseys can go beyond the rugby field. “It’s totally and definitely not a fashion item,” the sportsman acknowledged, “but our idea was to transform it a little bit so that we use a thinner jersey and a collar cotton, made to look more elegant with precise sewing.”
Thus, Eden Park’s rugby jersey can be worn on a weekend to play golf or to hang out, and simply to be fashionable.
“The priority of Eden Park today really is to be elegant,” Mensel explained. “If in anyway, the brand reminds the market of rugby then it’s good. But I use rugby [in the business]now as a symbol of dedication because as you know, it is a collective sport that mixes different people. You play for one and a half hours and you forget race, religion, social origin and political direction.”
Mensel, who is still very much involved in the 100-percent French company, is also proud of the fact that Eden Park has designers who travel nonstop around the world to get inspiration for new collections.
“We have designers who go to New York and Tokyo to catch the ‘tendency’,” he expressed. “This tendency [gives direction]on how to use the right checks, the right prints, the right embroideries at the right moment.”
The designers only return to the Paris headquarters—where everything is done from marketing to manufacturing—when they are all set to come up with something “classical in a casual world.”
As Mesnel noted, “It is always the game for us to be a little bit classical in this casual world, but to also be dynamic so we don’t miss anything new.”
Eden Park currently has three clothing lines: Casual, which carries rugby jerseys and pique shirts; Vintage for classic cardigans and coats; and Fashion that comprises jeans, trousers, jumpers, and even dresses for women among others. Kids also have a place in Eden Park, as well as accessories, swimwear and shoes.
Today, Eden Park is present in several countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America. It first entered Asia via China and Taiwan.
Mensel chose the Philippines next, even if rugby is not a popular sport here as a business strategy.
“It’s very important for us to focus on new countries, and Philippines really has so much potential,” he explained. “Secondly, the market is very young and I think we have a brand that is really targeted to the young people.
“The final point is that you are a growing country in Southeast Asia, so after [entering]China and Taiwan, it’s very logical for us to come here.”
But more than the economic aspect of things, Mesnel also believes that there are similarities between France and the Philippines.
“It may be easier for us to come here to the Philippines because our cultures are not so far apart. In some countries, it is hard [to get settled]because everything is different. I think we’ve got the same humor, and I feel more comfortable coming here to Philippines compared to other countries,” he enthused.
Proof that Mensel sees great potential in the Philippines is that following a year of “observing” the market, he wants to “adapt the color, the styles and the identity of Filipinos.” He hopes to implement all these by tapping a Filipino endorser for Eden Park.
“These are all just dreams,” he quickly added. But after everything he has achieved since that faithful year in 1987, nothing seems impossible for one Frank Mensel.
Eden Park is exclusively distributed by Stores Specialists Inc. in the Philippines.