It’s 3:44pm on a Saturday and I’m standing outside of Open Coffee in Oakland, California interviewing Marvell Lahens about the launch of his neutral-wear clothing line, Maison Ogé (/‘may-zon/ /‘oh-j’ai/).
Inside the coffeeshop is a DJ and Soju shots and racks of garments, but outside it’s just us and our respective caffeinated beverages. Seeing as it’s his first interview, Marvell is excited and wants to articulate the correct words, but Marvell is also a popular man and inevitably stumbles each time a friend comes to interrupt him.
A portrait of the designer, Marvell Lahens.
The conversation tends to trail into the absurd as I grow increasingly interested in each artistic person who approaches us. These characters suggest the existence of an alternate world of designers who effortlessly exude an aesthetic, one I have yet to possess. I speak in a way that is unorthodox to traditional journalistic questioning, nevertheless I speak interrogatively to better understand the situation. Marvell Lahens is an extremely captivating individual with an inherent charisma. He speaks in the down-to-Earth vernacular of a Bostonian, has an acute sense of humor and sports a well-manicured mustache. Although he presents himself as the caricature of a designer you would expect to launch an expensive neutral-wear clothing line, I believe both the clothes and the owner are of utmost quality.
Marvell is wearing his own shirt, creating an unintentional juxtaposition between black skin and the white shirts he individually produces. Maison, of course, is the French word for “home”. Marvell’s current home is here in Oakland, but his lineage goes back to Haiti, where the French previously ruled and where his grandmother, Beatrice, grew up. She was a life-long seamstress, influencing Marvell’s fascination with clothing design and permanently marking his brand, which uses the matriarch’s last name, Ogé. At a young age, “Marv” (as his close friends call him) can remember watching her use an old Singer sewing machine with a foot pedal.
As a teenager, Marvell was drawn to the University of Southern California as a fan of its football team and of its campus; not for Los Angeles. Despite pursuing a political science degree, Marvell says he always knew he would be a designer. He notes the idiosyncrasy of his academic endeavors, telling me that it’s a fun conversation with employers and explaining his choice to minor in architecture. However, environmental design proved too restrained for Marvell, and he sought to express his work in a realm with less physical confines: graphic design. After a long-run at Kode Inc., Marvell relocated to the Bay Area and currently works at VSCO as a product designer. He now resides in Oakland with his charming girlfriend, Victoria, and their two dogs, one of which is a Chow-Chow.
And now he’s launching a clothing line. Marvell’s talented eye for design has so effortlessly crossed over from graphic to clothing, that I have come to question what he can’t do. Maison Ogé’s first collection, “Permutations of the Mundane” features the “Original Centered Pocket T-Shirt” which questions your average pocket t-shirt without deviating too far from its original intent. Deviation is the key word here. Marvell is attempting to deviate one’s expectations from the average, for he is a believer in the infinite permutations of style. Maison Ogé is re-conceptualizing cross-gender staples and experimenting with modest alterations. The clothing is all American made in California, 100% organic cotton, sturdy and super, super soft. The brand possibly reflects Marvell’s own style, which his brother says has changed significantly (for the better) since moving to the Bay.
It doesn’t stop there. Design also pervades Marvell’s free time. The day after Donald Trump was elected, he took it upon himself to design “How are you feeling today” cards to pass out to grieving strangers, stick on the BART, etc. Marv is hampered by a frustration experienced by many other creators: a yearning to create something that provides hope in face of “fear and hate.” His determination to design supersedes simple aesthetic intentions, and that’s what to love about Marvell Lahens. He’s motivated by the appropriate virtues, expresses great compassion and is unapologetically cool.
// Maison Ogé releases 1 or 2 styles per collection, consisting of a small number of individually numbered pieces (100 to 150 pieces at a time), with some hand-stained to order. You can find them at maisonoge.com. Photography courtesy of Maison Ogé.
Christopher is a contributing writer located in the East Bay. He is likely to be found in any of San Francisco’s parks with his mutt, Leia, sunglasses on face and book in hand.