Charles Collet Interview

Ollie in Marbella shot by Fabien Ponsero.

He’ll admit it himself: it’s been a bumpy ride… From being plagued with injury to his loyal board sponsor going through all sorts of structural (and image) changes, Charles has hardly been blessed with the best of luck in his skateboard career. But he’s still here, and with the same positivity he showed coming into the game 15 years ago, he gave us his take on the ups and downs Cliché went through, recently getting a colourway on Globe and learning a trade that he’s now passionate about.

Interview by Arthur Derrien

Can you start off by telling us about how and when you got on Cliché?
When I grew up the Lyon scene and the Grenoble scene (where Charles is from) would mix quite a bit as the two cities are quite close to each other. I think Ben Derenne (the Cliché TM at the time) heard about me somehow, gave me a call and started flowing me I guess… After that I started coming to Lyon more regularly until they eventually started filming for Bon Appétit.

That’s when you started going on trips with them right?
Yeah every now and then… But I was still only flow so definitely not that often. They had a few of us on flow and the idea was that whichever one of us came through with the best/most footage for the video would have a section and get put on the team.

Who were the other flow riders you were you ‘competing’ with then?
At the very beginning Lucas (Puig) was one of them but as soon as they started filming him they realised he should be put on the team right away. Then it was Paul Allard, Abdou M’baye and me I guess.

The footage Paul and Abdou filmed ended up in the credits of Bon Appétit or in this montage that was in an old Puzzle. It also features some great early footage of Lucas and Charles…

Both those guys were so sick! I wonder happened to Abdou. He was struggling with some mental health issues around that whole time wasn’t he?
Let’s just say he was a little loose… Paul Allard was also very loose but in a very different way. Paul was actually fucking incredible at skating, I just think Jérémie (Daclin) was a bit scared that he was too wild… I was still a bit younger, a bit more impressionable!

You know how Jérémie is… He’s been a massive part of my education. When me and Lucas got on Cliché I can promise you we were very different to how we were even just a year into skating for the brand… Skating with guys like Jérémie who have been in the game forever teaches you so much.

I bet. Can tell us a little bit more about that?
What do you mean?

As in what sort of stuff did you learn from being around those guys? I don’t know like not drink too much on trips, being serious about certain things… I don’t know!
It certainly never taught me to chill out on the drinking I’ll tell you that! It’s quite a hard thing to explain… I guess it comes down to learning about respect in a broad sense of the term. Like having time for every single kid you meet, being nice to everyone when we’d stop by shops on trips… Basically he made sure we didn’t get too big-headed. When you are young you tend to put sponsored skaters that travel and stuff on a pedestal, so when it starts happening to you really young it can mess with you… Being around the right people at that age helped us stay down to earth and with our heads screwed on right.

What were the first trips like? Did you feel intimidated? Under pressure?
No I didn’t feel under pressure at all at that point because I was just flow and really young… I turned ‘am’ when I was 18; I didn’t have a worry in the world back then. All I wanted to do was skate. It’s only after my first proper ankle injury that I started feeling a bit of pressure. I’d feel like I was constantly trying to get back to how I was skating before I was injured and the frustration would drive me nuts. … It’s sort of then that I started realising it wasn’t all just fun and games…

Alongside all this, around that time Cliché was also going through quite a lot of changes right?
Well I got my big ankle surgery just a year after Cliché became a part of Dwindle. On top of that social media was starting to become a massive part of skateboarding. Suddenly you had to become as good with your phone as you were with your feet… And although now it seems super easy to me and it’s completely part of our culture, it took me a long time to get used to it. I hated it. I was convinced it shouldn’t be a part of skating…
I don’t know if you remember but Nikwen (French photographer) even had to show me how to make an ‘Athlete’ facebook page, how to post stuff on insta, etc.…
I remember going to the Cliché office and being asked when the last time I posted something on Instagram was and thinking to myself it was as if they were asking me how many stars were in the sky or something. I was completely out of it when it came to that stuff… In fact that’s another thing that really contributed to the pressure I started feeling as we’d have sometimes have massive arguments over that stuff.

What about the team changes? How did seeing dudes like Vincent Bressol or Jan Kliewer get sidelined make you feel?
It was definitely quite a strange time. We’d all complain a lot about there no longer being Thibaud (Fradin), Vincent (Bressol) etc. and I still think things could have maybe been done a little differently. They didn’t really try to come up with an alternative that would still include their old riders, they were just gone. Which is a shame because those guys will always be a part of the brand’s image…
Anyway yeah after that it got bought by the Americans and then came Joey Brezinski, Espinoza, etc. I remember it all being quite exciting at the time but after awhile we all felt a bit lost within Cliché’s image… I remember feeling like I really didn’t know where my place was amongst all these new dudes if that makes sense? Of course we’d always be asked our opinion about people they’d want to put on but they wouldn’t always be able to take it into account, which was a shame.

Basically a few of us were convinced that Cliché’s strength was in its diversity, so with dudes from different parts of Europe being taken off and a bunch of Californians being added to it, we felt that we were moving away from this. Like we were distancing ourselves from what Cliché used to be… We were used to being in the van with a really tall blond German guy, a short Portuguese dude with a massive beard, a Vincent Bressol that wouldn’t stop cracking jokes and chatting shit, a JJ that was always sulking in a corner and suddenly it was being replaced by (Charles puts an American accent on) ‘yeah man, what’s up man, cool man’. I don’t want to make it sound like it was all bad from that point onwards though, because it wasn’t. For instance they put on Lem (Villemin) which was great. Plus Cliché was a part of Dwindle now so I guess they had to appeal to the American market…

What would you say was your favourite period of Cliché?
I’d say the whole period before I fucked my ankle for the first time, so around Bon Appétit. When Jan (Kliewer) got let go is probably when it started changing for me… We all had a hard time with that one. It’s tough though ’cause it went through so many ups and downs. The whole Brophy/Sammy Winter thing was great… When JB got put on, that was also an amazing period as well… Flo getting on was also sick. He was really “euro” in the right way. Even Cale! Him fucking his knee was a major loss for the company’s image and vibe! Then there was those short web clips French Fred made for each rider. They also really helped Cliché regain momentum after a bit of a lull. In fact something needs to be said about Fred… The Fred Mortage/Cliché combo was incredible. When they stopped working with him the brand really took a hit.

What about the Gypsy Tours?
Yeah those were definitely lots of fun… The second one in particular was just phenomenal. It’s the one Fred Gall was on haha. He’s actually the craziest human I’ve ever met. An absolute legend…

Any funny anecdotes?
Hmm… One thing that was always entertaining was watching him look for the previous night’s bottle of wine while he was still in bed half asleep. This one time I watched him do it with his eyes completely closed. It took him a little while as you can imagine but the second he started drinking from it his eyes whipped wide open and realising we’d been watching the whole scene just stood there drinking and saying hello to the whole crew with a big grin on his face.
Oh and there was that time Jérémie convinced him to try this switch wallie back tail thing after having been up all night getting fucked. He didn’t actually do it (he would have won 50 euros if he did) but was putting it down every go… It was pretty mad.
Another good one was the time a few of us slightly lost our minds in an old abandoned building. Basically one evening the place we found to sleep was extra run down, like properly falling apart. Half of us went to sleep and the other half had a little wander in hope of getting familiar with our new home. The Jack Daniels came out and one thing led to another we started destroying all the walls with our skateboards. Bits of debris were flying everywhere and the rooms were completely saturated with dust: it was wild. We were so hysterical that even the ones that were supposedly trying to sleep on the floor amongst the mayhem were afraid to interfere. The only one that got up was Jérémie but not to tell us off: he got up and out of nowhere started smashing and screaming harder than any of us. He’d momentarily gotten infected by our delirious frenzy… We laughed so much when saw the extent of our demolition in morning. We’d gotten so carried away…
I think for us the words Gypsy Tour were synonymous with ‘free for all’. We’d approach them with a completely different mindset to normal trips. It’s hard to put into words… Even the videos don’t really do justice to how nuts those trips really were.

THE GYPSY TOUR 2 FULL VERSION by bloodyfrenchfred

Favorite Cliché board series?
The Bon Appétit photo series and the Bottle series were probably my favorite from the time I skated for them but they had some great ones before my time too…

And at what point did the Cliché thing end for you then?
It was around the time they were filming for the Gypsy Life video I think. It wasn’t a sudden thing though… For a while they’d been pushing for everyone to be more visible in the States, which I wasn’t. It got to the point where Jérémie called me and was like ‘look you’re not present in the US at all, we can’t really go on like this…’ and I replied that we’d both known for a while that it wasn’t working, that I knew this was coming. I think Jérémie still wanted me to have some sort of unofficial involvement with the brand but I preferred to completely end it. I hadn’t felt a part of what they were doing for a little while and I wanted to keep the best possible image of Cliché and the moments we’d shared. I also wanted to go back to school so I felt like clean cut was what I needed. Plus there was my relationship with Jérémie… He’d basically brought up me and Lucas and I didn’t want this weird team manager/Cliché thing between us anymore. I wanted it behind us.

How did you feel when you heard about the brand ending?
I couldn’t believe it. Obviously we’d had our disagreements and I’d tell them ‘this is ridiculous it’s all going to go to shit if you do this or that’ but I’d never actually believed it.

Do you think it was linked to having to make too many compromises to please the Americans/Dwindle?
That’s a tough one… I think it was a whole. Some of it was probably linked to certain marketing decisions, some linked to their outgoings… They had a massive team with high profile dudes like Lucas or Joey, all that was expensive.

How much were you guys getting paid?
It varied a lot, but some dudes were getting paid over €2000 a month at one point.
They were also barely doing any clothing. Their business was entirely centred around board sales and everyone knows how hard it is to make money off boards. Then of course there’s everything I mentioned earlier with the image changing and the brand losing some of the diversity that in my opinion was its main asset. I have no idea if it was actually their decisions that led to this or if they weren’t given a choice about a lot of stuff, but I reckon that definitely played a big part in the Cliché’s demise. By becoming more like an American brand they were slowly destroying what got them to where they were in the first place. Look at what a lot of the big American brands we grew up with have become? Look at what some of the younger European brands like Polar or Palace have become! Making the brand more American not only felt like a step in the wrong direction it seems like it came at the worst possible time.
What really sucks is that just before it ended I heard they were going to take a big step back and focus on Europe again. There was talk of a 20th anniversary video with only the European dudes, some of the big US dudes were going to get kicked off… It’s a shame it ended before they had a chance to put all this in motion, it would have been interesting to see if it would have panned out differently.

When I heard the news I went through all my old Cliché clothes, cleaned them all, folded them and put them in a place I where knew I could look through them if I felt like it. I had a couple of those Europe logo tees in there, I was so stoked! In fact I don’t know if you saw but I reused that logo for marquetry board I made…

I did! Which leads us nicely to my next question: what have you been up to since the Cliché thing ended? You mentioned going back to school earlier.
I left school at such an early age and when I looked at my sisters or some of my friends who’d had proper educations I couldn’t help but envy them and feel like something was missing for me. I’d always wanted to work with wood so I looked into it and found an ébéniste (cabinetmaker) course, gathered all my money and went for it! It’s a form of carpentry where you work with precious woods. It’s a craft France has always been quite famous for, particularly in 17th and 18th century under Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI…  I ended up absolutely loving it!

And you’ve finished the course now?
Yeah. Right after I finished the course Globe asked me to film a part for this colourway so I decided to take six months to just travel, skate and get on with that but I once again fucked my ankle, then had a really bad slam on my ribs so was out for most of it…

What did you do with this time you’d set aside for skating/travelling then?
I worked on a little marquetry project that we decided to tie in with the shoe and the edit. It was an excuse for me to buy some new machinery, develop some new skills and I’m really happy with how the boards came out.

What have you got lined up for the rest of the year?
Well I’m about to go on a Globe trip with Fries Taillieu to promote our shoes which should be fun. After that I guess the next logical step would be to start my own workshop and try to get as much work as possible… And skate! I’d like to skate another good ten-fifteen years! I’m supposed to go to the doctors soon to get a special injection in my ankle that supposedly should make a big difference… We’ll see.

That fucking ankle… You’ve taken all sorts of horrible slams in your time but it’s always that fucking ankle that slows you down.
Yeah but no matter how brutal all those other slams may seem in footage they were all superficial, at least compared to the damage I’ve done to that ankle…

That one you took on the kinked hubba in Paris sure didn’t look superficial.
Well it kind of was. I was 17, I was elastic! I got a prickling sensation in the back of my neck for five days but that’s about it. The photographer we were with convinced me to go to hospital to get some scans done but they told me hadn’t done any real damage.

Still looks terrifying…
Yeah I’m not going to lie I was pretty happy/relieved when I woke up the next morning. I’d heard a few horror stories of people slamming on their heads, going to sleep and not waking up in the next day… I was definitely shitting myself when I lay down in bed that night.

Charles Collet Eagle SG colorway from GLOBE Europe on Vimeo.