Bonjour! Avez-vous un dimanche bien? It’s time for our third French Gay Londoner on Frère Jack, and look what he does for a living:
That’s right. I spoke to French underwear entrepreneur Olivier Gazay who has lived and worked in London for over fifteen years. Olivier is the founder and owner of London’s popular men’s underwear label Aware Soho. Here he is looking handsome in a field:
Name: Olivier Gazay
Profession: Fashion Industry
Moved to London: 1996AD
Residency: South London
Origins: Porte Maillot (XVIIth aronndissement of Paris)
Hi Olivier! Welcome to Frère Jack. I’m excited to see some photographs of your underwear models, but first – tell us about your French background…
Well, I have to make a confession here – I’m kind of Swiss French! I grew up in Paris but born in Geneva where my grandparents used to live, and we spent most summers by the lake there. My family come from Provence in Orange, but my mother grew up on Côte D’Ivoire and Cameroon, my father lived in Senegal for a while – it’s very mixed!
It sounds French enough to me. So growing up in Paris in the 1980s, what was that like?
It was great, and very Parisien. I miss Paris when it was like that, if you go to Paris now it has been completely hit by globalization. A lot of places have lost their true character and look more like transplants from New York or London. When I’m in Paris I always prefer the local restaurants, the brasseries where the cigarette smoke has made the walls yellow and waiters make you dizzy waltzing around in their aprons. I have no interest in going to the latest Philippe Stark interior-designed restaurant.
And so was that why you moved to London?
I first came here as part of my law degree in Paris, and then I moved here for my MA. I hadn’t decided to stay here forever but then I fell in love!
With a boy?
Yes, my first boyfriend was British. It was nice actually, I never had that whole thing of having to come out to the family. I introduced him to my family, they didn’t ask any questions, and they invited him to spend Christmas with us that year. I found it harder coming out to my friends who I’d made at a private Catholic school, some people had very strong opinions on gay culture so that was frustrating to deal with at the time. But I’m a big fan of my old school and looking back there was broad-mindedness too. The school had Jews, Muslims, black students, oriental students – we were taught to celebrate our differences and not squash them.
Talking of squashing. How did you go from being a law student to squashing men into tight pants?
I was a barrister for a while but for reasons that are too boring to go into I decided to change career. I had a chat with my partner and we felt there was a gap in the market for a fun underwear and swimwear brands for men that was still stylish too. And so Aware Soho was born!
What’s the French translation of “Aware”?
Hmm. It’s one of those French words that doesn’t have a good translation. Au courant means wired, and then conscient means aware in a danger-type of way. If you said “Es-tu au courant qu’ill passera la nuit ici?” then that means “Are you aware that he is spending the night here?”
Nice! So you decided to invent a fashion label. How did you make the dream real?
We started off with our own shop that sold a variety of brands, but we soon realised the margins were too low and London landlords are very greedy! So we went into designing our own collection, Aware Soho, and selling it to shops already in existence. We had to learn a lot of things from scratch but life is often more fun that way.
I notice you make a pair of pants with the British flag. Why not the Tricolore too?
Haha. I don’t think that’s going to happen. The French flag has a fascinating history behind it but as a fashion icon it doesn’t really work for me in the the same way that the British flag, the American flag and Japan’s do. Canada have quite a good flag too, but the French flag – it’s not iconic enough to put onto men’s pants! Maybe one day.
Where are your favourite places to go in London?
The best kept secret in London is Herne Hill, I love the Grade II listed station and the little pubs and restaurants on Railton Road.
Are you sure you like Herne Hill?
Yes! It’s the real London, the non-touristy London. My partner and I live literally between there and Brixton in a lovely house that overlooks Brockwell Park. People are judgemental about South London but the views of the London skyline are just as beautiful from our house as they are from Parliament Hill. But yes – it’s nice to go out for dinner in Chelsea and to walk across the bridges on the Thames. I don’t like Notting Hill though, I find it very boring and “mono-social” if that makes sense? Columbia Road is worth seeing, Paris doesn’t have any flower markets like that.
Time for one more question and then you’re going to give me some photos of your underwear models! So – who needs more space in their pants, the French or the English?
Jack! Well my boyfriend is Irish, I am French. I shall claim Swiss neutrality here and not provide an answer!
I’m going to take that neutrality and assume the answer is English! And finally – where can we find your underwear label Aware Soho? I always need spare jock straps…
Go to www.awaresoho.com. We have an Olympics sale on at the moment actually, you can pick up a jock strap for only £7!
I’m pretty sure jock straps didn’t feature in the Olympics? I’ll have a look – thanks Olivier!
And here are some photos from Olivier’s “work folder” :
Nice! Who knows, maybe when we have enough GFLs on Frère Jack we could arrange a kinky photo shoot with Olivier and his pants collection?
TÊTU ARTICLE OF THE DAY: Take a look at this month’s “Mr. Gay October” on TÊTU who is sexy 25-year-old Valentino! I also enjoyed this article called Porno Buzz with James Franco mentioned in it, although I’m not sure I read it all correctly!
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