J. Cheikh is a Chicago based brand, founded in 2009 by husband and wife team Cheikh Lam and Sophie Lin, that draws inspiration from European streetwear. A unique mix of European silhouettes with American ease, the brand focuses on modernizing the fundamentals of classic menswear. Take a look at our interview with Sophie Lin!
GLB: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your latest project.
SL: We are J.Cheikh, a menswear company based in Chicago that believes that every man has the “it” factor and we are here to help him magnify it. J.Cheikh is about the celebration of masculinity and the appreciation of the male way of dress. As a part of design we often look to social issues for inspiration and for next season we are looking to it again. A social study of the nuances and taboos of “old money” vs. “new money”.
GLB: Where do you get inspiration? Sophie, you worked in womenswear before switching to menswear with your husband Cheikh. What made you take the leap? How much has your designing processes changed with a constant collaborator to help create “unexpected luxury”?
SL: I had fought menswear for a very long time, thinking it was “boring” and limited. But after graduating from SAIC I worked at The Art Institute of Chicago in their Textiles Department. From there I got a closer look at textiles and started to truly appreciate them. I was pushed into menswear quite by accident. We just had our second baby at the time and it was getting harder for me to constantly be away at meetings. Cheikh has always been involved in fashion in other ways and was interested in getting into menswear. It was a very natural transition for us to work together. I truly enjoyed dressing women and I think I had a very unfussy, sophisticated yet quietly opulent aesthetic when I dressed my ideal woman. I brought that same ideal to menswear when I started with it but I also infused fun and sarcasm into the collections. I don’t think my design process has changed that much but now I have a constant collaborator/inspiration. Whenever I get an idea and start going nuts with it I always reel in my thoughts with “…how would Cheikh wear this?”
GLB: How did you get started in fashion design?
SL: Cheikh grew up in Senegal and spent some time in Belgium and Paris before going to New York. He was always around fashion and it was really an important part of his life. In America, the normal teen would go to school in jeans and a t-shirt, but in Cheikh’s world he wore Lanvin shirts and Alden shoes. And it had to be new! When he was in New York he worked as a model and did campaigns for Candies Shoes, French Connection, and Mecca while attending film school at NYU. He left all of that behind when he moved to Chicago to be with me and J.Cheikh is an expression of his life in fashion. And I am glad to act as a translator for him.
When I was five, I remember drawing princesses with the biggest poofy dresses and lots of bows. I loved to draw and I told my mother I wanted to be an artist. When I was in junior high she suggested fashion design, this way I could continue to draw but make a business of it somehow. At 15 I was enrolled in the Early College Program at SAIC and from there I went to Parsons Paris for a summer and continued my fashion studies at SAIC for college. Yes, I got into Parsons NY, FIT, and a bunch of other great schools I don’t remember but I wanted to stay in Chicago. I had a goal in high school that I wanted more visibility for Chicago fashion. I don’t know why I cared so much back then but I did and I always have.
GLB: What are some obstacles that you’ve faced? How have you overcome them?
SL: Cheikh and I face a lot of obstacles and it’d be impossible to list them all. But one thing we do well is to take things as they are and give a good evaluation of how it affects J.Cheikh as a brand. We usually let things roll off our backs. Because for us it isn’t even about running a business anymore. It’s our family business and it’s very personal to us.
GLB: What is one tip that you would give anyone to live a marvelous life?
SL: Live an authentic life and you will enjoy it so much more. Face all of your shortcomings and know that although you are perfect for right now because you are an accumulation of all of your past victories, there is always more that you can do for tomorrow.
Need to get your hands on one of these looks? Shop J. Cheikh here. Don’t forget to like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter!