Out of Africa - 25 Years On

How a Paris journo’s posting to Burundi inspired a men’s fashion label.

When Gilles Du Puy was studying journalism in the late1970s, he worked Saturdays at Renoma – a Paris store renowned for its cheeky, non-conformist approach to men’s fashion. He absorbed the store’s sense of style – a style that experimented with new fabrics and bold colours and cuts. Patronised by the likes of Jean-Paul Belmondo, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, Renoma  specialised in edgy Parisian chic.


Then, completing his studies, Gilles was sent to Africa.  As a journalist in Burundi, he found fashion stores very thin on the ground. That’s when he began having his shirts made to measure, with colourful fabrics bought at the local market. Soon he was supplying his friends and colleagues as well.


Fast forward to the early ‘80s. Gilles arrived in Australia seeking work as a journalist. However, apart from a few poorly-paid hours a week at Network 0-28, the forerunner of SBS, jobs were hard to come by. It was time to change fields. “The only other thing I knew,” says Gilles, “was fashion”.


Before long, he was working on Australian label Sportscraft’s Yves Saint Laurent range, sourcing French-designed fabrics. There followed a spell as the principal designer at Pierre Charbonnier and a time in the perfume and accessories business. Meanwhile, Gilles was developing and wholesaling his own range of shirts and ties. He needed a brand, “mainly because no-one knew how to pronounce my name” he says. So DÉCLIC was born. “It means love at first sight,” says Gilles. “So when you put a garment on, it just feels right. It’s you.”


In 1989, it was time to give DÉCLIC a more public face. The first store opened in The Jam Factory, in Melbourne’s buzzing fashion thoroughfare, Chapel Street, just before Christmas. “So really, 1990 was our first year as a retailer,” Gilles says. Soon there was an offer from the giant Chadstone Shopping Centre of a prime position in the mall. In 1993, the first interstate store opened in Sydney’s swanky Queen Victoria Buildings.


Now, 25 years later, DÉCLIC has eight stores in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. The range has expanded from shirts and ties to include jackets, socks, accessories and gift items. What hasn’t changed is what Gilles calls “the feel-good factor”.  He still designs the range and is fanatical about quality and good craftsmanship. “But we can make it fun at the same time,” he says.