Along with his wife Coconut, Steven Decaluwe is the owner/operator of MotorKouture. Located in Zwevegem, Belgium. In this interview, Steven lets us know about their line of vintage-inspired racing suits, his burgeoning custom motorcycle business and Supercharged – a celebration of music and craftsmanship that MotoKouture hosts.
I want to send a big Mega-thank you to True Bike Spirit for letting us use their photos. Fred found out I was doing an interview with MotoKouture, and pointed me to a photo/video shoot they did there awhile back. Class act those guys at TBS!
– steven decaluwe
Read the full interview with Steven Decaluwe after the jump below…
Who’s behind MotoKouture and why did you all decide to open up your own store?
Well, our first very simple form of store opened in 2007. It was me and my wife “Coconut” that opened a cosy workshop for racing suits, where we stitched up nicknames, sponsors and personal stuff that you see on television and repairs and made to measure adjustments. We had some important international racers among our clients and grew our way to the top. It became more and more obvious to make our own vintage racing suits as we had a lot of demand from the classic racing scene for vintage looking suits with up to date safety standards. That’s how our love for the material and the old bikes got fired up. Honestly, we’ve always been keen on old bikes (that we were building for ourselves since 2000), old suits, old cars, old furniture… even long before vintage became a hype. This was our way of seeing things and living, averse to any marketing trends.
This lead us into the new setup: a place where everything must be custom fit, where no two bikes are the same, no two jackets are similar… all made from real raw material and emitting a hunger towards pristine end products. A dream world, we know, but that’s how we think about it. So, right now, there is me for the bespoke motorcycles and marketing (photo’s, fairs, videos) and my wife for the clothing department. Next to that we have a superb mechanic and a group of creative hangarounds, always in for some action.
Tell me more about your line of racing suits…
Because we doubted more and more the finishing of the suits on the market. As the leather prices go up all the time, it isn’t hard to imagine that production in large quantities is suffering from quality, completely understandable from the producers point of view. But we think the standard must stay a standard. Also, we had a lot of demand on custom fit classic suits, and there because of that bad market situation there is no offer for that. Since we are producing small quantities and price is less important than quality standard we create a whole other market and manage to preserve authenticity.
What kind of materials do you use, and how many hours go into crafting one of your suits?
We work with two different kinds of skins. The first one is for racing use only… it is the Mastrotto’s (Italian tannery) NKP (No Kangoroo Please) leather. The tanning process is interrupted twice to do an extra impression on the leather, and in the end of the production line they add a silicone paste to the process, what makes the leather very abrasive for its thickness (only 1mm) and extremely smooth.
The other leather is from an old Belgian tannery called Radermecker, 30 miles from here. It is a tannery that exists since 1830 and has never changed their tanning process. It results in a nice aging leather more useable for the jackets collection “coconut” is developing. Think 1940-1960 inspired jackets with todays standards, made to measure or just ready to fit anyone. This range should be finished in may. Also, we are developing one specific jacket for the Spanish colleagues of Fuel Bespoke Motorcycles, who are more into vintage all road Airheads and the appropriate clothing. Nice style those guys!
A custom fit racing suit takes up to ten days from measurement until final product.
You’re located in Zwevegem, Belgium. What’s it like their and what is Zwevegem known for?
Zwevegem is a rather small, conservative place in West Flanders, Belgium. The environment is mostly about agriculture, a better word for farming… In fact it is known for nothing… really nothing to tell about. As far as we’re concerned, the location of the store is of no importance at all. We are in this world, and this whole world inspires us. It might be true that we’re a little bit influenced by the rough nature of the place and that might just reflect in the bikes, but other than that I’m very open-minded in taking any influence from anywhere over the world.
What’s the motorcycle community like in Zwevegem?
Well, since we opened our store and created a cool place to hang around for motorcycle enthusiasts in the area, it changed drastically. Before that, the bikers around were like in any other place… sportsbikes our BMW GS riders. Now, we seemed to have inspired those riders to be different. There is a local sort of Café Racer pub (@ the finish), our events are blossoming and the friends became more and more “family”. Great! Love! Peace!
Last year you hosted Supercharged. What was that event all about?
Well, in fact we host more events than that. It’s not all about Motorcycles and Clothing. It’s about the spirit of music, craftsmanship…
Last May we had “Synergie”, a friendship with a local organization “Rock & Roll Rebel” hosting rock and roll festivals, and that turned out to be a real synergy, so Supercharged was the indoor version of Synergie. Of course, as we have more and more to show, the festivals attract more and more of a crowd and the atmosphere is magic most of the time… in the shop, everything still on the shelves, the bikes to be touched and a big poster with “beware of the social control” are a perfect mix to create that atmosphere. As Synergie was outside on our parking lot we had approx 250 motorcycle fanatics. SuperCharged was inside and a lot bigger, with visitors from further away and more awesome motorcycles… a full house.
When did you decide to start doing motorcycle builds?
In fact we had one motorcycle that we built for ourselves in the shop (the Guzzi Lanesplitter) and we got so much attention for it that we started building another one…as simple as that. Anyhow, we’ve always had another look on motorcycles. My most modern machine is a Triumph Daytona T595 (the nice yellow one), and that’s way too fast and modern for me. Motorcycles are about two things: art and fun. They can be very beautiful in its nudity and a real joy to ride. That’s how we should consider our motorcycles at any time.
You’ve said, “Me and my small team construct motorcycles as we see them, not specific Café Racers, Bobber, Scramblers, Scrobblers… just wheels and style for us. No specific type. Original.” Can you describe your design process?
We kind of work like an architect does. Like a building needs its specifications before starting to draw we need the same for the motorcycle we are going to build. What will we do with it? How does it have to look? Who’s going to ride it, and where most of the time? What will it serve for? What parts are optically to be emphasised? What draws the attention?
After we have this list (made up in team) we start to think about the donor bike. And then is the time to make some drawings, from scratch, with different approaches. Sometimes we do one drawing and that’s it, sometimes we need to do a lot more. The last step of designing is to do a Photoshop with the donor bike. We never adjust the design while producing it. Once the design is right, we never change it, because I don’t believe in second opinions.
You’ve done a lot of builds with different motorcycle brands: Moto Guzzi, Yamaha, Honda, BMW, Kawasaki, Triumphs to name a few. Is that something that you intentionally decided: to not stick with just one motorcycle company?
Indeed we did. If you take a look at the design process you see that we pick our donor motor after setting the specifications at the right level. It would be unsound to constrain yourself in choice. If you take that MK#7 Trotter for example, that could only be done with a Triumph donor bike because of the shape of the standard frame.
Anyway, it is true that I have a predilection for European brands, but that’s never gonna be a restriction. Some brands… I’ll never work with on the other hand (won’t tell them ;-)).
Detail on your motorcycles that you spend the most time refining?
Two things take a lot of time… The shaping…everything must be right in its place, as in the drawings. A seat must be perfect, if it’s not, we try again, and again if necessary. The look from all sides – it can not have a pretty and an ugly side, but it can have two different sides. It must be astonishing to look at from all sides, with no shortcomings at all.
The second is the function…it has to be a better ride than the standard bike and ride better than any bike meant to cover the same specifications. The brakes need to be superb, the handling too. The engine must pull hard and sound like a real engine. Roughness and beauty in one set of wheels – that’s the goal of every bike we build from now on.
What type of ride are you looking to get from your bikes?
It must be an experience you never forget, and you didn’t expect. It all depends on the specifications the motorcycle is built for. If you build a Scrambler (next project is a R100RS MegaScramber), it should function in a potato field, and on the road…and should be able to pick up some heavy gravel and beach rides too. If you build a classic cafe racer, it is intended to be long and stretched out, and be fast on the long haul, and so on…
It should be an intense experience, “never reckoned that bike would handle so well”…
And, in their simple beauty, they should be an eye-catcher everywhere and for everyone, even if you’re not a fanatic you should be able to see this is different.
I believe the Trotter MK#7 Triumph Triple is your latest motorcycle build. Can you tell us more about the building of this bike? No speedometer or turn signals correct?
Nope, not correct ! It isn’t finished that’s why…
In fact this bike has a schizophrenic identity. The shape that you see is the Cafe Tractor Trim, a lightweight, no-nonsense riding machine with a powerful Daytona Super III engine (Cosworth Pedigree, 127 bHp), Beringer brakes to be fitted, monoseat, short and radical, brutal. The intention of this bike is to be able to reshape it within one hour into a Globetrotter Trim. Duo seat attached behind the mono seat now, alloy panniers (not those ugly things you think of my friend), higher and wider handlebar, spoked wheels with enduro tyres and a higher front fender. A bike to travel the world. This is the two set ups for this bike. Not one, not two, but more bikes in one…imagine, you’re riding the first lane of the interstate with your camper and see a big headlight with clip-ons approaching, rider with jet helmet, halcyon goggles, leather jacket, jeans and Lewis Leathers boots… “hey darling look, that’s a cafe racer”… and when he’s passed you, after the noise has disappeared, you see two large alloy panniers full of personal drawings and stickers, and no duo seat…that’s what I mean with the third trim…. couldn’t really explain without an example…very sorry!
The XS 650 Ruby Racer MK#3 has a classic Cafe Racer look about it. What was behind the rebuild of this bike?
The Ruby Racer was intended to become a classic project, but not as classic as it is now. The reason? Well, that’s one mistake I’m never making again…it was sold before it was ready, and in the end customer wanted it to be too classic in my opinion. Nevertheless I don’t really disagree. The bike turned out well and showed what we could make. But as I said, our projects will never again be for sale before their really finished.There’s no arrogance in that…it is determination.
Can you tell me more about the Saroléa 350 1927 you had for sale? I understand that the Saroléa was the first Belgian producer of motorcycles, and one of the first producers of motorcycles in the world. Are there still a lot of Saroléas around Belgium?
The Saroléa was never for sale, it is one of the last riding and unrestored “factory racers” from the late 1920’s. The factory racing machines were different by their Sturmey Archer Gearboxes, a mechanical decibel killer (the races were all tourist trophy’s then, and when they came into towns and city’s they had to close their exhausts by a valve by hand), a steering damper and a lower handlebar. Also the engine was slightly tuned. This one has history, and has never been restored (and rides as new). I found another one like this in Belgium, but this bike had been ripped apart and restored to the bone, losing all of it’s authenticity.
Saroléa was one of the first motorcycles producers in the world. We still have a few 1930 machines in Belgium an a lot of late 1940 machines called “Blauwe Vogel” (Bleubird), a very popular model in belgium and Europe.
What’s the best thing about having your own business?
Being able to develop in what you think you’re good at. And showing that in this world we live in today, it is possible to do what you want, as long as your being constructive ! I believe that I never would have got the possibilities i have now working for a company.
But don’t think it’s easy… it’s a hard job to stay true, but it’s worth it !
What’s next for MotoKouture?
2013 did a great intro for us. The reactions are mostly positive, and if negative we intend to learn from it. There is a lot of press paying attention on our work, we get questions from abroad and seem to inspire.
The intention is to host more small festivals, in summer every month one, with two big ones SYNERGIE and SUPERCHARGED.
There is a cooperation with Dime City Cycles (Florida) for a next European project on a Ducati, we have the BMW MegaScrambler on its way, some Guzzi’s, and one secret project on the brand Saroléa.
Every end has a start !
+ Source: MotoKouture