Interview Eric Frenay Cliché Photo
Eric Frenay with Keith Hufnagel in San Francisco

[english version] Interview with Eric Frenay, Art Director at Cliche Skateboards from 2001 to 2017

february 12, 2021

Interview with Eric Frenay, Art Director at Cliché Skateboards from 2001 to 2017. The French brand was created in 1997 by Jérémie Daclin and stopped in 2017. Eric makes us discover what was his job, the European positioning, and the different periods of the brand, before and after the purchase of Dwindle in 2009, his relationship with the skaters of the team or working with artists like Marc McKee or Sean Cliver.
What was your background before working at Cliché?
I studied graphic design a long time ago, it took like an hour to open a 2Mo photo. I worked in a print shop where I started working with Jérémie [Daclin], who used to come and make films for Slap, because at the time we used to send films to magazines. Then I worked as an art director for a surf brand in the southwest of France, which still exists, it is called Rusty. At that time, Jérémie was looking for a full-time graphic designer and I contacted him to try to get into Cliché.
Did you know him a little bit?
I knew who he was because I had skated with him before. I was a kid from Lyon, so of course I knew him, but we weren’t close. For me, he was a bit of a star you know, he already had a lot of stuff, he had his own skateshop. And there was this place called La Piste in the 90s, I went there a lot and he was kind of the king. There were already good skaters in Lyon at that time, JB [Gillet] was there, it was full of strong guys. So I didn’t know him personally, I think he was doing a tour in the southwest and we took the opportunity to meet for the first time, in a hotel bar, we had drunk beers, it was cool. And then I went to see him again in Lyon for something a little more formal, then it was a match, so I was very happy.
How did he manage the graphic part since the creation of Cliché in 1997?
He used a lot of outside graphic designers, as we continued to do afterwards. He already had a lot of artist friends in Lyon, in Switzerland, and everywhere else. Then for the day-to-day, he had a deal, his warehouse was Cours Vitton, a little rich street in Lyon, it was a big place, and the renting was very cheap. He lent Thierry Chichet a part of the floor in exchange for a few graphic jobs. It was pretty much his first graphic designer. After that, it still required a full-time job and that’s when he started looking for people.
Interview Eric Frenay Cliché Decks 1
The first Cliché logo, with Europe and the “é”, was it this artist who did it or Jérémie Daclin?
It was clearly GG’s [Jérémie] idea and I think it was this graphic designer who must have done it, I’m not sure where it came from. For web pioneers, it reminds a bit of the Internet Explorer logo from the beginning, it’s funny. I made the next logo, the one that was handwritten.
For this new logo, were there several ideas, or did you immediately think of something handwritten?
It’s a weird story, we had already made a t-shirt with something similar and it worked well. Al Boglio [Director at Cliché] came back from the United States and told us, “Wow, Aaron Meza thought this logo was so cool”, we were like, “Oh yeah, sick”. And then we said, “Come on, let’s try something new”. So we changed it a little bit and that’s what it became, it’s funny, it was a little bit of an accident.
When did you guys start using this logo officially?
I don’t remember exactly, it must have been 2002-2003, I don’t know. Before the logo, it was a Futura Extra Bold [name of the police font], it had two versions. The “Clich” was scribbled and the lower-case “é” was clean. The other version had the scribbled “é” and the rest was clean.
On your website, you talk about the boards with this new handwritten logo in the middle, were they the bestselling ones?
Yeah, all the team boards, it was always like that. Even if it’s a little bit reductive as an artist, but at that time, all brands combined, everything with the logo was working well.
Interview ENG Eric Frenay Quote 1
Interview ENG Eric Frenay Quote 1 Mobile
What was your daily life as the art director?
There were several periods, but at one time we were quite good, we had a warehouse in Villeurbanne, we made quite a lot of clothes. It took a lot of time, oddly enough, I spent more time on that, developing clothes, than working on board graphics. I don’t mean to say that we were managing haphazardly, but we were thinking: “Ah, we’re running low on decks, let’s launch a new series”. We didn’t have a well-structured calendar, with drops, things like that. On the other hand, for textiles, there was more work, we had seasons, so it was a little more organized. Afterwards, with Dwindle, we almost stopped working with textiles and only made two or three t-shirts and caps. We set a calendar with seasons but for the boards, like other American brands do. At the end, we had six drops a year, sometimes a little more, with collabs or other things that came out punctually. So the daily routine was to work on all this stuff, we met at 9am with Jeremie or Al, we talked about what series we wanted to do, then we put it together. When they had an artist in mind, we’d talk about it to try to get the guy, then we’d see what we could do here. It was execution, planning, drawing, it was pretty cool.
Before the Dwindle period, was it less pressure?
We had fewer drops, but it wasn’t necessarily fun to deal with textile people [laughs]. It wasn’t really crazy to make reports on the length of the pants or the quality of your cotton, but there are worse jobs. But yeah, it was a little less creative, or different. Then with Dwindle, we had more intense calendars. And social media started to grow, we also had to prepare a lot of assets, for Instagram, for Facebook, for the website. It was a bit of a machine that never stopped, but it was cool too. You just had to keep up with it.
What was the creation process for the board graphics? Any ideas or special requests could come from skaters?
Often, we tried to let them choose the first board. Sometimes we released two or three boards, there was what the skater wanted, liked, then something that fit into a series, and then another one where we were like, “Maybe this one will work better”. Often, we also made one-off series, every skater chose his graphic or his artist buddy. We even had series made by riders like Javier [Mendizabal]. But there was still a little input from the riders when we had the time. They also discovered what they had under their feet, they were not necessarily happy sometimes [laughs]. But we always tried to make the graphics of the board fit their personality, their desires, who they were, and not have something completely different.
Has it ever happened that you’ve come up with graphics and there’s one skater who’s like, “Hell no, I don’t want my name on it”?
No, we’ve been lucky, it never really happened. There were no divas in the team. At the end of the 90’s, there was a high turnover of graphics, if they didn’t like it, there’d be one released soon after, it wouldn’t really handicap them.
Interview Eric Frenay Cliché Decks 2
Cliché had a very European positioning, did this have an influence in the brand design and board graphics?
When I arrived at Cliché, Jérémie had made a t-shirt called “Leave Europe alone”, it made a bit of noise, which was funny. We also had a team board where we made a lot of stickers with “I love Europe” and the Cliché logo in the heart. But it’s quickly something we stopped because there were not only Europeans. Jérémie’s basic idea was to set up a European company because there were talented people in Europe. It became more anecdotal towards the end, even though there was a lot of French inspired graphics when we were at Dwindle. There were some Mark McKee series that were quite funny. He had taken over the Statue of Liberty, which was becoming a bit of a whore, and Uncle Sam, a pimp. Knowing that the Statue of Liberty is French, he used to make fun of us a little like that. We had also asked him for a series inspired by the Jason Lee’s American Icon graphic, with the skaters’ countries, France, Spain, Australia… Very quickly the European and French side faded, it expanded, so much the better. It’s still a bit weird to say that the brand identity is François le Français [a French parody character that loves France]. Jérémie’s idea was to support people in Europe, but it wasn’t European pride and superiority.
What’s it like to collaborate with an artist like Marc McKee who made iconic graphics in the history of skateboarding?
It was cool, I met him a few times at Dwindle. He’s a very special character [laughs], it was mostly Al who had a relationship with him. He gave him a lot of sketches because Al is a big collector and a big fan of the 90s graphics. It was always cool to have guys like that who could contribute to the brand. Sometimes he had more commercial requests for other brands, he did a lot of stuff for Dwindle. So maybe that was his creative window when he worked with us. We also did collaborations with Sean Cliver, who is also a legend. He’s super cool, we spent time with him. We did a collab with Jenkem in New York, we shared an Airbnb, a really nice and humble guy. It’s an artist who had his ups and downs in his life, but now it’s working well with Nike, it’s cool to see that he’s still recognized for his career.
It must have made you super proud to see these artists drawing for Cliché, even for the legitimacy of the brand.
It was super cool to work with them, but there were a lot of people, there was Fernando Elvira, he did one of the first Cliché series that worked really well, very graphical, and there were a lot more. We did some stuff with Marc Gonzales, with Chet Childress, it was very nice too. We were always trying to work with artists who came from skateboarding. Even if at one time, there were a lot of well-known guys doing street art or stuff like that wanted to work for us. They were doing amazing stuff, but we were like, “Sorry we’re trying to stay in our field, there are already a lot of creative people in skateboarding”.
Interview ENG Eric Frenay Quote 2
Interview ENG Eric Frenay Quote 2 Mobile
During your career at Cliché, did you use graphics to convey a message or was it purely esthetic?
Honestly, I never was too political. There was a time when I was a little bit blocked, there was a lot of digital, so I tried to do a lot of stuff with paper, things like that, to have a less-digital vision. But there was never really any political message, just the will to exist as Europeans. At one time, we had made a graphics with a fist in the air, used by different revolutionary movements. It was basically just a board, but a lot of people liked it, so we made a series, and it was fun. There wasn’t a spirit of protest except to say that we are Europeans, that we are here and that we fight for our steak.
Is there a graphic or a series that you remember, that stands out the most, that you preferred working on?
I liked the collaboration with Huf, we had done several, but there was one where we did a whole thing with shoes, caps, t-shirts, and then we made a board. We went to San Francisco, we skated with him [Keith Hufnagel]. The guy was so cool, it was before the Huf brand took off, he already owned a couple of stores, but he took the time to show us around the city. It was the idea of a real collaboration with people you like. I was always a fan of Huf, the skater and the stuff he did. So that’s what I preferred to do. We had already made a t-shirt with him, at the very beginning when he had a few stores in SF, before it became a big brand. It was at the time of Bon Appétit, I messed around with the Bon Appétit logo, we made a shoe. The second thing, we picked the Golden Gate and I had made a montage of photos taken on the Internet between the Eiffel Tower and the Golden Gate. Even if the final graphic was what it was, the idea was strong, and I thought it was a cool collaboration.
Interview Eric Frenay Cliché Merci
What are you working in now? Still in skateboarding?
I’m a freelance graphic designer and art director. With Jérémie and Al, we bought a small office in the center of Lyon. Jérémie created Film Trucks, he moved to Wall Street offices. I stayed there in this office, it’s a little coworking, there are guys who make video with me. I have various clients, I still work in skateboarding, it’s cool, with Wall Street, with ABS. I work a lot with Jérémie for Film, I do data sheets, packaging, things like that. And then more classic stuff, visual identity for all kinds of brands, mainly in sports and fashion.
Since 2019, we’ve been seeing Cliché boards in shops again, what’s up with that?
Actually when it stopped, with Al and Jérémie we wondered if we could continue without Dwindle. They offered us a contract where we pay every year for the use of the name, but it doesn’t belong to us, we were like, “It’s a bit lame”. Afterwards we asked ourselves the question of creating another brand, but it didn’t happen for a lot of reasons. In the end, Dwindle still uses the name and the logo. I guess they have someone who changes the colors of the graphics that were made for the complete boards. They still sell some but there’s no more team, they don’t pay anybody anymore and it’s a little sad. And it’s funny because this year with Covid, there was a board shortage in the skateshops. There are a lot of guys in the shops who are aware that it’s not very ethical and even them they are like, “We must take some because unfortunately it’s all that we can take at the moment and we need complete boards to sell for Christmas”. So, we have nothing to do with that and I don’t know where does Dwindle stand. It’s not very nice to see it, at the same time it belongs to them, they paid us for years, they bought the brand. That’s the way it is.
Check out more of Eric’s work on his website.