Here at Tivoli Audio, quality is king. And whether it’s hand-staining the walnut finish of our iconic Model One radios, or sewing high-quality selvedge denim, fine craftsmanship is something we always have a great appreciation for.
So for today’s spotlight, we caught up with a guy who knows a thing or two about craftsmanship — Barry Van Den Heuvel, cofounder of Black & Blue. A small shop nestled in the oldest city in the Netherlands, which specializes in menswear and products still made the old-fashioned way in a throwback to midcentury America.
Can you give us a little back story on how the idea for Black & Blue came about?
Denim has always been a passion of mine! I worked as a parole officer in a rehabilitation project for convicts for 20 years, and one day I was asked if I wanted to take a job in an old warehouse. I was done with social work and felt like starting something new — but what?? One thing was clear, it had to be something involving denim.
My former colleague (Sjors) and I (Barry) started brainstorming, and we landed on both of our passions: BBQ and denim. We made a plan, quit our jobs, did three months of rebuilding, and opened a shop called Black & Blue where we combined all kinds of American inspired clothing and BBQ. A strange combination, but once you entered the shop it felt completely natural.
After four years, we wanted to evolve. This couldn’t happen in the same spot, so the storefront moved to the oldest shopping street of the Netherlands (dates back to the Romans) and we separated our businesses. Sjors is at the old location doing BBQ catering and workshops, and I have been joined by ByBoaz, a leather craftsman who makes everything by hand the old-fashioned way: belts, bags, wallets, and custom commissioned projects. No, I repeat, no machines involved.
We're now located in downtown Nijmegen, on a street filled with small businesses — no big chain stores here.
As someone who deals in menswear, in your professional opinion, what are the items every man should have in his closet?
For starters, two good pairs of dry selvedge denim — one new and dark, one broken in and repaired, preferably done by the owner him or herself. In terms of the basics, you need a few heavy tees, a denim shirt, a chambray shirt, and checkered flannel. All are style staples and pair well with denim.
For your feet, I’d suggest a pair of Redwing boots for cold days (nothing with zippers on the sides), and a pair of Chucks or Colchesters for warmer weather.
As far as outerwear goes, you need a leather jacket or vest, denim jacket, and leather gloves. A Stetson is a must if you’re looking for a quality hat. Whatever it is that you own, the products should be visually appealing and have a good story, history, and be ethically produced. Quality has to be on point.
What unique characteristics do you look for when choosing products to buy or sell?
We only sell products that I would use myself. Products with a heart, where the maker’s craftsmanship is obvious. Products with a soul and a good story to it. We don’t do fast fashion. We want you, as a customer, to connect to the product you buy. For instance, it takes time to break in a new, dry, pair of jeans, but the reward when its well-worn in is so much more precious than when you buy a throwaway product.
The quality is much better than some customers are used to (we DON’T offer stretch jeans). We have a love for the old-fashioned way, brands and people who take their time and work through the struggle, but afterwards you have something you won't ever wanna get rid of.
The products have an American vibe, though most of it is made in Japan or Europe. We also sell Red Wing boots, which is an American company based in Minnesota that has existed since 1905. The boot that built America.
Other brands we sell and love are: Lee101, Indigofera Jeans, EatDust, Edwin, Pike Brothers, Benzak (BDD), Filson, Pendleton, Blackways, Stanley Thermos, Millican backpacks, and Dickies and Carhartt work pants.
You could describe our style as rugged, heritage workwear, Midwest American kinda style. Slow fashion, classics. Style over fashion.
Is it safe to assume this love of quality brands is why you became a Tivoli Audio enthusiast?
Yes, exactly. I fell for the size and natural wood material used for the classic Model One radio. No compromises, just a solid tabletop radio that you can listen to broadcasts on. And a bonus that you can add a CD player, subwoofer, etc. No compromise is what I like, and of course, it’s all about the sound quality, and that's awesome so… I was instantly hooked.
It seems like you could draw a direct correlation between your choice of audio equipment and choice of denim, no?
Tivoli Audio/jeans: both gotta make me want to have it. No matter what, good material and good design are most important. I like the fact that Tivoli filled a gap in the market — not in a cheap, fast, way but with a beautiful product that surprises you when you play it. It’s small, looks good, feels good, and sounds killer. That combination is what I look for in jeans as well. The jeans that we sell look amazing, feel stiff and durable, and the fit is so good that you have the same "aha!" effect as when we come into the shop and turn on our Tivoli Audio radio.
What do you guys have playing in the shop on your Model One Digital right now?
The music we always play, AMERICANA: some psychobilly, rockabilly, ska, rock, and blues.
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