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Masters of luxury: Mats Klingberg

Today’s luxury landscape demands a wardrobe that’s neither too relaxed nor too formal, with quality and versatility prized over big brands. Enter the Swedish entrepreneur Mats Klingberg, whose Chiltern Street boutique Trunk Clothiers is redefining the rules of modern menswear

 

Words by Paul Croughton, photography by Mark Sanders

 

 

 

 

Trunk Clothiers, a two-storey luxury menswear boutique, sits at No 8 Chiltern Street, one of London’s most vibrant retail destinations for men. Its brother, the accessories grotto Trunk Labs, is a few doors down at No 34. They’re the sort of stores you hope to stumble upon in any city you visit, just so you can keep them to yourself. Trunk’s founder and MD is Mats Klingberg, a tall, handsome Swede who has parlayed a peripatetic career taking in hospitality, finance and marketing into a vocation as an independent merchant, but has also emerged as one of the capital’s most adept tastemakers when it comes to men’s style.

In previous Masters of Luxury profiles, Robb Report has spoken to global figures recognised for their roles in creating or shaping a brand into an essential component of the luxury lifestyle. Men such as Tod’s chairman and president Diego Della Valle, for example, or Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös. We’ve also met entrepreneurs and influencers whose choices and creations have had a sizeable impact on their fields: Lapo Elkann, the irrepressible Fiat heir and workaholic creative director of not just one but three companies, or Alan Faena, the hotel impresario and placemaker.

With Mats Klingberg we’re combining the two, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. Klingberg is significant in a number of ways. Having lived and worked across the world, he’s part of the global luxury community who, far from being rooted in one culture or ideology, actively seek out new experiences and products from increasingly diverse locations. 

He’s also a successful businessman who has taken the lessons and rewards learned and earned during his prior career to embark upon a passion project. He has a gift for translating that explorer’s mentality into something tangible, curating a tight edit of some of the world’s most interesting brands and presenting them to his audience in enticing ways. Lastly, he is part of a growing trend in menswear for independent voices, be that in retail, on social media or blogs, who are pushing against the homogenisation of big- brand corporates and standing up for smaller, artisan houses who work on much tighter scales, but still produce exquisite items for those in the know.

As you’ll have gathered from the accompanying photographs, Klingberg is always impeccably turned out, primarily in the palette of blues, grey, browns and khaki that make up the cornerstones of many a male wardrobe, but in his case look particularly refined and considered. ‘Understated, effortless elegance’ is how he describes the look many of his customers aspire to, but as their de facto figurehead, it also describes his personal aesthetic perfectly.

‘The ethos of Trunk is to be neither too relaxed nor too styled,’ he says over a mint tea in a café across from the store. ‘You can blend in well in lots of different situations. And it’s easy to pack: you can combine your wardrobe in various ways without looking like you’re trying too hard.

‘It’s not about a price tag,’ he adds. ‘That’s an outdated view of luxury – that everything has to be expensive. For me, it’s about feeling good, or unique. It’s about finding something that’s truly memorable, made with passion and with a high sense of quality.’

It’s this ambition that makes the Trunk edit so enticing. On the rails hang beautifully soft, unstructured jackets and the odd suit in cashmere, camel or superfine wool, mostly from a cohort of Italian tailors: Caruso, Boglioli, Eidos, Lardini, The Gigi, Altea. Flannels and chinos come from Incotex or Aspesi (also Italian) or Japanese labels such as Camoshita or Comoli, while the store’s favoured denim brands are COF Studio from Sweden and orSlow from Japan. It’s the perfect reflection of the move in menswear in recent years towards a more versatile mode of dress for successful men whose schedule of regular travel and more relaxed business meetings mean that separates that work hard (a well-cut blazer and tailored trousers) are more vital than the old three-piece armour.

And if some of those labels are new to you, that’s Trunk’s USP: not to make you feel cowed that you’re not in some cool gang, but to offer customers the best artisan brands from around the world – not only from Italy or Japan, but also from the UK, US, Sweden and elsewhere – that they might other- wise not come across.

‘Before I opened in 2010, someone said to me, “Why would you want a shop with brands that no- one knows about?”’ says Klingberg. ‘It’s not about the specific brands, but about how they’re put together, about the aesthetic. I didn’t want all the big brands. That wasn’t what I was trying to do.’

The seeds for Klingberg’s obsession with travel and his magpie eye for discovering new things were sown when, at the age of 10, he moved with his parents from Järna, a small town outside Stockholm (population 8,000), to the Brazilian city of São Paulo (population 35 million). ‘My dad worked for Scania, a Swedish truck company, and lots of those firms were based there at the time. It was a big eye-opener for me – I got to meet a lot of business people as part of the Swedish expat community, even as a child. And I got to see a different part of the world.’ It was to be an education: he travelled with his family to Paraguay, Argentina and Chile, while every trip home to Sweden went via the US, whether New York or California.

When they returned to Sweden, Klingberg was 16. He took a weekend job in a hotel expressly so he could resume contact with international travellers and practise his English. Then he moved to Switzerland to go to ‘hotel school’ as he calls it... ‘but I felt I wanted a more academic education, so I went to Paris to study French at the Sorbonne, and then back to Sweden to go to business school.’ His future, he thought, lay in the hospitality industry, so for his year of Swedish national service he worked as a chef in the Marines. He spent his third year at business school in New York studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology before returning to Sweden to graduate.

If this all sounds a bit of a whirlwind, it was. And it continued with his first experiences in retail, which resulted in him managing the men’s department at Emporio Armani. But at business school his dissertation had been concerned with online trading and stockbroking, so at the height of the dotcom boom he felt pulled in that direction, taking a job in finance. In the aftermath of the ensuing bubble bursting, he found himself at American Express as the global marketing manager of luxury retail, working with hotels, airlines and fashion labels.

If you were going to sketch a history that would best provide the impetus to launch an independent, internationally flavoured menswear boutique, could you have scripted it better? ‘I got to the stage where I wanted something new – my own business,’ he says, ‘I definitely have this drive in me, which is funny as my brother is totally the opposite. He works for the truck industry like my dad. But I like that moment when you step out into the un- known and figure out how to make things happen.’

Making things happen involved a leap of faith and one of finance, as Klingberg put up half the required cash for Trunk himself, with the rest coming from an investment group which also has a stake in Monocle magazine (Klingberg’s partner is Tyler Brûlé, Monocle’s founder and CEO, and Financial Times columnist). Klingberg had registered the name and attended clothes fairs, doing deals, before he had a store to sell from. But he had a plan: in 2009 he’d met hotelier André Balazs in St Moritz through mutual friends, and had learned of his aim to develop the Chiltern Firehouse.

‘I lived in Marylebone so it was always going to be in that area,’ he says of Trunk’s location. ‘It felt right. Not East London, or West London. As a Swedish person you like to be somewhere in the middle.’ Trunk launched from a standing start in 2010, long before Chiltern Street’s revival, and in the last six years, through a combination of astute buying and the assurance and charm of Klingberg and his team, it stands out as arguably the best men’s store in London. A year after opening, Trunk won the Walpole Brands of Tomorrow prize, which celebrates achievement in the luxury sector, and it then collected the Premium Independent Retailer of the Year title at industry event The Drapers Fashion Awards in 2012.

The model for the store was one of Klingberg’s favourite menswear boutiques, A.Gi.Emme, in Como, Italy. ‘It’s run by Alberto Monti and has been around since the Sixties. It’s all about product, craft and the story behind it,’ he says. ‘His customers are families who have lived there for generations, and he knows people by name.’ It has an atmosphere that Klingberg wanted to replicate. ‘We don’t chase customers round the store. If you try on something that doesn’t fit, we suggest something else, discreetly. We have customers who have spent an hour trying something on, have taken it home and been complimented on their choice, and they recognise that we’ve helped them.’

It sounds simple, but it’s rare and it works. I can’t think of another store in London where I know more than one member of staff by name. At Trunk I know five or six, partly helped by the fact that the store uses the team to model its clothes on Instagram, but mostly because they’re smart, stylish and interesting men who are good at their jobs, and enjoy chatting about clothes, food, the weather, whatever, which makes the tiny store as much a social hub as a retail one.

‘Our customers have good careers, they’re experienced in good service and well travelled,’ says Klingberg. ‘Many might work in finance or law, but also media, creative industries and fashion. They’re very pleasant individuals to deal with and they enjoy talking to the staff.’

Almost from the start, the store launched its own label, starting with cashmere sweaters. ‘Now we do shirts and trousers down in Portugal, sweaters in Scotland and jackets and suits in Italy,’ he says. A new own-brand made-to-measure service has recently launched, which allows customers to pick their cloth to be tailored around Trunk’s soft-shouldered, Italian-leaning block.

‘We have some of the finest cloth in the world, from Loro Piana to Fox Brothers,’ Klingberg says. ‘But we’re not trying to be Savile Row. I wanted something more relaxed. We’re trying to demystify the process too, which is my approach in general. We take the theatre out of it.’ This is apparent the moment you step into the store. While a number of the team have worked for traditional tailors, there is a marked lack of the formality that a 100-plus-year-old heritage can bestow, however inadvertently, on proceedings.

Now, with the turbulent events of 2016 behind us but with plenty of uncertainty ahead, where does Klingberg, and Trunk, plan to go from here? He’s often asked if he will release a women’s line, or interiors, but for now he’s sticking with what he knows. There’s a forthcoming collaboration with a global luxury brand, he says, expanding off the record, but thoughts of opening a third London store are on hold until the Brexit repercussions are clearer.

‘When bad things are happening maybe we want to be surrounded by nice things,’ he says. ‘And coming along to Trunk, having a chat and finding something new is a way to do that.’ trunkclothiers.com

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