25. April 2017
After spending twelve years living and working in Paris, Art Director Basile Theet recently picked up his life and moved to Amsterdam. He happened upon a two-bedroom apartment complete with rooftop terrace in the quiet neighborhood of Oud Zuid. Just a short bike ride from his office (the European headquarters of fashion brand Tommy Hilfiger) and around the corner from Amsterdam’s largest city park, the Vondelpark. Amsterdam’s more relaxed way of life seems to suit him, reminiscent of his childhood days spent on the coast in Normandy; where surfing and skateboarding propelled a sense of freedom for Basile that’s hard to attain in a busy city like Paris. A free spirit with a somewhat no-nonsense approach to fashion, Basile is helping to define the future of the American heritage fashion brand from the heart of the Dutch capital.
“The good thing about great quality furniture is that you can enjoy it for a long time; like a good watch or a diamond ring. USM is really that.”
Had you always known you wanted to work in advertising?
No, but I was really, really, really bad at school. I was terrible at mathematics and grammar and only enjoyed photography, drawing and doing some design stuff. So I transferred to a more arts-focused school, that was the first time I got good grades. I then studied graphics for a little while; I met some guys working in advertising and thought their work was cool so I switched to a school that was more focused on advertising and art direction.
You lived in Paris for twelve years before moving to Amsterdam. What kind of work did you do there?
I first interned at Saatchi & Saatchi and worked closely with the agency’s art director at the time. Then I studied for a Master’s at École intuit.lab in Aix-en-Provence and interned at a smaller advertising agency called La Chose. I was there for a few years as the company continued to grow, working with some really great brands like French denim label Marithé + François Girbaud. When I left La Chose to work freelance for agencies like the Grey Group, SelectNY and Etoile Rouge, I started to specialize in fashion—I worked on campaigns with brands like Lacoste, Escada and Wrangler.
What was it about fashion that interested you?
I’ve always thought that fashion photographers take the best photographs. They just have this way of creating images from a more artistic point of view. And it’s not a matter of what is being shot, because I know fashion photographers who could shoot a shoebox and make it look awesome. But there seems to be this pictorial side of fashion photography; it’s very closely related to the arts. And it’s a very interesting industry to work in, in terms of the people, the budgets and so on.
Is that why you took the job at Tommy Hilfiger in Amsterdam?
Yes, I was curious about working for a large international fashion brand, and the role required working with photography in a greater way than I had in the past. I was also at a point in my life where I really wanted to move away from Paris and wanted a new challenge. I have always thought that I could change my life tomorrow if I wanted to, but had never really done it. But for me, it was about changing my life, not disrupting it completely.
Are you able to incorporate your own style in your work at Tommy Hilfiger?
I think there is room at Tommy Hilfiger to be yourself. You can be somewhat disruptive but there is a fine line; if you’re totally free, it can get pretty messy. We’re at a point where we’re taking a look at where we want to go with the brand and we’re questioning how we can make that 1980s vibe that we’re most known for relevant today. Everyone’s really open to new ideas and that’s super cool.
Speaking of freedom, you grew up surfing and skateboarding on the coast in Normandy. Has this influenced your work at all?
Definitely. I’m especially curious about incorporating skateboarding culture in fashion because it’s all about a making a statement, about being free but not in a clichéd surf way—we see the image of guys and girls sitting around a bonfire on the beach way too often. But skateboarding has this sense of credibility because it comes from the street. And the connection to clothing isn’t too farfetched. You can take a photograph of a guy skateboarding wearing a tuxedo and it’s going to look cool. It’s fun to play with these contrasts.
That guy on a skateboard, that seems to be your look.
I wear the same clothes today as I did when I was 16 years old: black sweater, black pants and a white t-shirt! I have to think about clothing all day at work and just don’t have the time or energy to think about my own. And I don’t want to spend the money on it; I’d rather spend 2,000 Euros on a nice piece of furniture—something that I’m going to keep for a long time—than on a leather jacket that I might not like in a few years.
That definitely shows as you have quite a nice collection of furniture. Would you say you have a particular style when it comes to interiors?
I don’t think so. I like beautiful furniture. I think I’ve been influenced by my work, by always being surrounded by the best. I like simple stuff that doesn’t look too expensive. When I started my career I didn’t have a lot of money but I would rather wait two years to save up for a piece of design and be surrounded by only nice objects than to buy cheap furniture that won’t last.
“I have always thought that I could change my life tomorrow if I wanted to, but had never really done it. But for me, it was about changing my life, not disrupting it completely.”
Tell us about incorporating USM furniture into your home.
USM is very basic, very beautiful Swiss design—I like this kind of furniture because I can keep it forever or hand it down to my kids. The good thing about great quality furniture is that you can enjoy it for a long time; like a good watch or a diamond ring. USM is really that. At the same time it’s very discreet and while it doesn’t grab your attention immediately when you walk into the room, it’s this very sold piece of furniture. It brings the room together.
You have the USM Haller System shelving in both your living room and bedroom. What do you find so compelling about it?
While incredibly useful, a rack like this is usually quite boring. But USM matched the usage with the right shape, finding a good balance. And it’s a great way to showcase my favorite things [points to a stack of Holiday and Paradis magazines and an old camera].
How does USM fit in your life?
You can do what you want with USM so it’s really useful. If I want to change something around in a few years I can do that; I can take it apart, combine pieces of the shelving system in the living room and the bedroom, or buy a nice piece online. There’s this great configurator on their website that allows you to design it as you want.
Now that you’re a little more settled in Amsterdam, do you think you’ll stick around for a little while?
I’ve been here for a year now—I actually just found the time to hang frames on the wall! I think Amsterdam is quite chill, it’s more like a town when you compare it to Paris. Paris is crazy and people are so serious, they don’t really smile much, so here it’s a lot easier for me. It’s very open—it’s the Dutch mentality, you can do what you want, no one is going to judge you. I think I feel at home here.
Thanks, Basile for inviting us into your beautiful apartment and sharing a piece of your style and design philosophy with us.
This portrait was produced by the international interview magazine Freunde von Freunden. Find more USM furniture for your home and workspace here.