What happens when you cross an innovative visionary with a practical carry-all car? Smart marketing with heart, thatâ€™s what. Format recently had the privilege of connecting with Brooklyn-based clothing designer and boutique owner Ouigi Theodore, an integral member of the Toyota Matrix 5th Door campaign.
Itâ€™s no mystery what drew the automotive company to Ouigi: his can-do attitude and urban-meets-classic style are testaments to his ultra-hip, approachable personality; a winning combination with which any knowledgeable brand would want to align their product.
Ouigiâ€™s brick and mortar store, The Brooklyn Circus, is a work of art in itself, located on a quiet corner in Cobble Hill. With its antique motif, the visual appeal is irresistible. Think rich wood accents, model sailboats, a gothic-inspired chandelier and an etching aesthetic which adorns everything from the walls, to the t-shirts, to the votive candles. And, when Ouigiâ€™s gotta get from point A to point B, he just jumps in his pumpkin-rust-colored Matrix parked outside.
Format sat shotgun for a Manhattan trek, the balmy October breeze wafting through the moon roof as Ouigi showed off the set of wheels heâ€™s been blogging about on the5thdoor.com. And, to top it off, our joyride came complete with an audible nod to historical talent Brook Benton, whom Ouigi played for me on his pitch-perfect stereo.
â€œThere are dapper dudes that shop at haberdasheries that are living that life, but with a twist. Thereâ€™s always a twist in the streets.â€
Format: How did this thing get off the ground? How were you brought on board?
Ouigi: Burrell Communications came to [The Brooklyn Circus]. They loved what we were doinâ€™.
Format: Do you get to keep the car?
Ouigi: We get the car for a year. But, Iâ€™d love to keep the car. Itâ€™s totally a car I would buy.
Format: They should give it to you after your participation!
Ouigi: Absolutely. But, they insured the car, they shipped the car and they paid us for the project.
Format: The Brooklyn Circus has been around since February 2006. Do you still design the shirts?
Ouigi: Actually, the first four collections I designed. But, we have a graphic team now. We have designers. Weâ€™re building a sample room not far from here. Weâ€™re going to be producing all our samples and smaller parts of our collections in New York â€“ and in San Francisco. Weâ€™re totally diehard New Yorkers and fans of heritage. We want that represented in the brand.
Format: Itâ€™s evident in all of your pieces. Kind of like Ralph Lauren, only youâ€™re doing it hipper and cooler.
Ouigi: Iâ€™m a big fan of Ralph Lauren. Iâ€™ve always had a love/hate relationship with Ralph. Everything is so orchestrated, aesthetically pleasing. It all comes together, so I totally love it. But, there is another story untold. Thatâ€™s our story, coming from the streets. Our angle is to show the black end of it, show that it existed and continues to. There are dapper dudes that shop at haberdasheries that are living that life, but with a twist. Thereâ€™s always a twist in the streets. So, thatâ€™s the love and hate. But I love what Ralph does.
Format: Youâ€™re all about tradition, but modernized for the present day.
Ouigi: Thatâ€™s the kind of brand that we wanna build, and thatâ€™s why the relationship with Toyota is awesome. Toyota is a pretty old company. Itâ€™s a solid company. Weâ€™re excited they see what weâ€™re doing and [are] bringing the fresh element â€“ younger individuals. They want that infused with their brand. Itâ€™s great that Toyota saw that energy and saw weâ€™re the new face of things.
Format: Why the Matrix? What is it about that car in particular that they decided to connect it with this youthful, influential group?
Ouigi: [Itâ€™s] the way they redesigned the Matrix. Itâ€™s pretty dope. They built it like the inside of a plane; like a cockpit. All the back seats go down, and so do the front seats. You can literally shove a snowboard or skis right into the car. The storage space inside the car is amazing.
Format: You snowboard. You can fit that in your Matrix, right?
Ouigi: Absolutely. With plenty of space, three or four snowboards. Got into snowboarding because I rode motorcycles in the past and I was lookinâ€™ for something with that kind of rush and adrenaline during the winter months. Itâ€™s been so dope. It was that mix of people and [the] environment that I was attracted to. I met people I never would have met.
Format: Is that why itâ€™s called â€œThe 5th Doorâ€?
Ouigi: The fifth door is the trunk. Where this â€œ5th Doorâ€ concept [came from] is, we are dudes who managed to create a fifth door in situation[s] where there were only four doors. So, thatâ€™s what it is, â€˜cause itâ€™s a four-door car. But, in the Matrix, it is a fifth door, â€˜cause you can open the trunk and go right through the car. When you put all the seats down, you can walk into the car from the back. And the connection with that was, again, these dudes are bringing the African American element and thatâ€™s really what we represent with The 5th Door project. When all the doors are closed, weâ€™re gonna create a fifth door. And, the reason they were attracted to The Brooklyn Circus is, weâ€™re bringing the African American experience to these things youâ€™re used to seeing elsewhere. Not saying that itâ€™s only for us, but it is our perspective.
Format: It seems like a pretty specifically tailored endeavor on Toyotaâ€™s part.
Ouigi: Weâ€™re excited that the bigger companies are taking note. Theyâ€™re listening to the younger generation. They thought the car would appeal to a younger, hip, African American market. Thatâ€™s what they really wanted; the college-bound individual. Our crowd is so mixed, as far as our customer base, but Toyota and Burrell thought, â€œWeâ€™re leading this market; weâ€™re building this market; weâ€™re role models. We decide what these dudes do and they wanted us in the car.â€ So, letâ€™s ride!
Format: [Laughs] Soon enough! Have you taken the car outside the city?
Ouigi: Not yet.
Format: Gotta do a road trip! Pack in the people and pack in the snowboards!
Ouigi: For real! The seasonâ€™s about to kick off, so definitely. On the road, headed to Vermont.
Format: So, you find that the Matrix stays accommodating for a city lifestyle?
Ouigi: The Matrix put me in a totally different mind state. Big cars in this city? Little spot? Matrix! So, the car has been dope. The car is convenient. I call it the big-little car, â€™cause itâ€™s small, but the space on the inside, when you need to transport stuffâ€¦
Format: Take it to the drive in! Go upstate!
Format: Definitely. Itâ€™s a big-little car, man. Definitely works. Anything bigger than that, I canâ€™t do. Having a car totally changed my perspective on driving in New York City.
Format: Whatâ€™s the Nooka timepiece tie-in? How did that become a part of The 5th Door?
Ouigi: The Brooklyn Circus connected with Nooka years ago. We were one of the few stores in Brooklyn carrying it. We wanted to do a joint project with them. Thatâ€™s why we bring in other brands; to position our brand next to them. We feel they totally tie in with our brand. Someone from Burrell became a big fan of the watch through having a relationship with us.
Format: So The Brooklyn Circusâ€™ relationship with Nooka influenced Burrell?
Ouigi: Burrell pulled in Nooka because we had a relationship with Nooka.
Format: Very cool. So, how long is this promotion going on for?
Ouigi: A year. [Through February/March 2009.]
Format: What else can you tell me?
Ouigi: Along with that, we blog on the5thdoor.com.
I love the car.
Burrell has been really good to us. Iâ€™d love to work on another project with them, something on a different scale. I love the project because the dudes involved are an amazing bunch. We all have something in common: weâ€™re from the streets, proud to be black, love being who we are, but we hang and rock with everybody. Everybody was in the same mind frame, like â€œYo, Iâ€™m proud of who I am, Iâ€™m proud of my culture; but itâ€™s not all about just my culture, itâ€™s about other peopleâ€™s cultures and how do we mesh [with them]?â€ The whole group was like that. [Toyota and Burrell] did a good job picking out these dudes; now I see why they were attracted to me.