Ex-Bleus star Franck Mesnel tells Joe Hall about his clothing brand Eden Park
If there is one thing Franck Mesnel is hoping for from this year’s World Cup other than a France victory, it is lots of entertaining and attacking rugby.
The former French fly-half’s fashion brand, Eden Park, is informed and influenced by the kind of flair many feel is disappearing from the game in its professional era.
“It’s true that the pressure, money and objectives are a little bit different than 25 years ago,” admits Mesnel, who appeared 56 times for France between 1986 and 1995.
“Sometimes it is a little bit boring. You now have 30 supermen on the field all trying to break the door down and get through the lines, so for me it’s very clear that maybe they will have to adapt the rules a little bit.
“I think that the last game of the Six Nations between France and England was totally amazing and gave me a little confidence of the future spectacle.
“Rugby must be like that. It has to be a spectacle for sure otherwise people won’t come to see the games. The flair is totally necessary.”
They are the words you’d expect to hear from a man who made a pink bow tie the logo of his fashion label, yet Eden Park is a high-fashion brand steeped in all aspects of rugby culture – boots ‘n’ all.
Indeed, the company is named after the Auckland stadium where France lost the World Cup final to New Zealand in 1987. Founded that same year, the sharply-dressed Mesnel has talked of making Eden Park for rugby what Lacoste is for tennis: the definitive must-have brand for looking sharp in the stands.
He’s not far off that goal. In conjunction with rugby’s increasing global appeal, Eden Park has opened stores in 30 different countries and has suited and booted some of the world’s best teams as formal clothing partner to France, England, Ireland, Italy and the British and Irish Lions.
While Mesnel, 53, is careful to draw too many comparisons between his two careers on and off the field, he has no doubt mined his playing experience in guiding the brand’s growth.
“I’m very careful because on the pitch, on the rugby field, you have rules and if you don’t respect them you’re going directly to the hospital,” the former architect explains.
“But what I do keep from rugby is something very important. On the rugby pitch you have a special role. You have something very specific to do and you’re good for that.
“As a fly-half you can try to tackle but you can never tackle as well as the flanker. If the flanker wants to kick at goal, he’ll never do it as well as the fly-half.
“In rugby, everybody’s got his job and that’s it. Sometimes you can go into another territory but it’s very dangerous and you have to be successful. My way of management is the same. I know exactly what I can do: marketing, communications and a bit of design. This is my part.
“I’m not going to get too into the finance territory. I don’t understand that, it’s not my job. I’ll choose specific people to do that.”
With the World Cup, staged in England and Wales, thrusting rugby into the spotlight later this year, Mesnel is primed to take full advantage of the “wonderful opportunity” for Eden Park, securing a deal to have the brand’s product in 22 duty free shops in airports across the country.
And then it is back to kitting out the world’s biggest and best players with Eden Park’s trademark Parisian flair and, in Mesnel’s own words, “touch of fantasy”.
He expects to extend many of the current partnerships the brand has with European rugby unions after the World Cup and even has his eye on southern hemisphere giants New Zealand and South Africa.
“We’re lucky to be open in 30 countries but we still have a huge potential for the business,” the 53-year-old says.
“Even if I’m developing the brand in Caracas I will try to find the rugby team; even if it is very small I will find the local team. This is exactly what we’ve done in Panama. It doesn’t mean we will target rugby as our main support but we will not forget them as it’s our roots.
“The rugby profession is growing into something more serious like football so we have to stay in touch.”