Most holidays, Antonin Tron can be found catching waves in places like Indonesia or Sri Lanka; on weekends, he escapes to clandestine destinations on the west coast of France (“Surfers like to keep their spots secret,” he notes), where the swell is best in the icy depths of winter. For the 32-year-old Parisian designer, surfing has become more than just a hobby: The allure of the open seas and the appeal of being one with the natural world are the driving forces behind Atlein, the brand he founded in 2016 and named for the Atlantic.
“There’s something about the moment, early in the morning, when there is a mist on the ocean, and I put my wetsuit on in the parking lot, and I paddle out… That is what Atlein is,” he says.
Tron, who is clean-cut, handsome, and, on the day we meet, smartly dressed in a gray marled tee and tailored pants, doesn’t come across as your typical surfer. Still, the things he values—namely, an active lifestyle (he also sails and practices Ashtanga yoga) and a feeling of ease, no matter the occasion—come through in his clothes. Tron produces his collections with, among others, a family-run jersey manufacturer in the Vosges region that he discovered years ago while working at Givenchy; together, they developed a viscose jersey that resembles silk and allows him to create body-hugging, pleated, and ruched evening dresses that somehow manage to feel simultaneously elegant and sporty.
“Restrictive construction is something from another century,” he says, perhaps echoing one of his heroes, the British designer Jean Muir, who was also obsessed with jersey and the fluidity it afforded. “A woman should always feel free.”
When Tron was growing up in Paris, he and his two brothers were quick to escape the city to go to the seaside. “As a child, I always wanted to explore the world,” he says. “In fact, I wanted to be a person who studied volcanoes—I still kind of do.” When he wasn’t dreaming of faraway places, he was exploring subcultures, especially the world of goth.
“I was interested by the fact that it was an apolitical movement that rejected the norm,” says Tron, who reluctantly admits he himself was a “soft goth” who sported all black. “And I loved the music.” Even today, he plays post-punk and rock in his studio, as well as ’90s techno, experimental electro, and traditional Indian and Japanese music. “I drive people crazy with that,” he says with a laugh. “But even if it’s not evident, the music nourishes my work.”
Following high school, he enrolled in a modern-literature course in Paris, showing little interest in fashion until he visited a friend in Antwerp, Belgium, who was studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts—the alma mater of the famed Antwerp Six. That was it.
“I grew up during the heyday of Galliano—fashion was amazing, but it was not my thing,” he says. “Suddenly, I saw fashion talking about the youth; it was talking about music that I liked and things I could relate to.” He immediately enrolled and, to his surprise, was accepted.
After graduating in 2008, Tron interned for Raf Simons, whose men’s wear label is based in Antwerp, and then went on to work in the men’s wear studio at Louis Vuitton, under Paul Helbers. He eventually made the leap to women’s wear—“I wanted to do something that was not so myself,” he says—at Givenchy and then at Balenciaga, where he started under Nicolas Ghesquière, continued with Alexander Wang, and now works part time, as a senior designer, with Demna Gvasalia.
“Demna has a very modern approach, and it’s refreshing,” Tron says. “However, I learned from each of the designers; they all gave me something.” The job has also allowed him to pay the rent.
For as much as Tron is gaining attention and accolades—last year, Atlein won the First Collections Prize at the 2016 ANDAM Fashion Award, and he was approached by stockists like the Apartment by the Line, Net-a-Porter, and the Webster—he is inclined to grow his label slowly. He recently debuted jewelry, in the form of sculptural enamel earrings and cuffs reminiscent of the ’60s Le Vaucour lava-glazed ceramics he avidly collects. “I discovered them years ago at a flea market,” he says.
“They remind me of volcanic stone.” There will also be knitwear this fall, but jersey remains Tron’s main focus. “It’s such an incredible and versatile material,” he says. “I have yet to exhaust its possibilities.”