Bronzed bodies, the azure pools of Monaco, and the beaches of Saint-Tropez are just a few of the quintessential images conjured up when one thinks of the French Riviera. While many of us are either still on lockdown or hesitant to travel as restrictions start to loosen up—there is no need to leave your home with men’s and women’s beachwear brand, 209 Mare, whose aesthetic will instantly transport you to the south of France.
“When we first started off, we were just two guys who had never been in fashion before,” says Federico Uribe, CEO of the Monaco-based brand that he started with his brother Gabriel. “As 209 Mare evolved, we fell in love with the golden era of the French Riviera. There were all of these creative types that used to come here to vacation in the 70s like Brigette Bardot, Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Salvador Dali, and Paul Newman. Back then it was over the top, but understated. The whole artistic vibe resonates with me personally. It epitomized elegance and luxury, which is no different than our products that are timeless yet still fit into modern day life.”
209 Mare officially launched in 2017 with their signature Terry Towel Beach Blazer and has since expanded into other categories like men’s swim shorts and elevated athleisure the brand refers to as ‘Rivierawear’, including men’s t-shirts, polo shirts, and hoodies. The brand is mostly direct-to-consumer, but also works with a select group of travel and retail partners like The Ritz Carlton, Delano, and Monte Carlo Forever. More recently, 209 Mare launched a women’s version of their signature beach blazer with plans to expand further.
Prior to starting the brand, Federico spent years in various marketing roles for Fortune 500 companies then went back to school to obtain dual Master’s Degrees in Business Administration and International Relations. He never set out to be in fashion. But it’s in his blood.
“I have always loved beauty and aesthetics and have always personally loved to dress well,” he shares. “It comes from my dad who loved art, design, and architecture. Then, on my mother’s side, it comes from my grandfather, who came from Germany and started a textile company, which allowed me to be around fabrics and runway shows growing up. Even though I was consistently around fashion, I never really knew anything about the business.”
It was a life-changing accident that changed Federico’s life trajectory after he finished his graduate studies. “In 2015, I was at a party. I went out to the balcony and it collapsed. I fell three stories into a parking lot,” Federico remembers of that day. “At the time, I was searching for my next job. But, that accident changed my mind.” After his recovery he went to visit one of his best friends in Chile. “We were hanging out on beach that was very chilly. Everyone was wearing these hideous hoodies. One of my friends came out with a bathrobe that he stole from a hotel. The bathrobe looked like crap, but I thought the idea was on point.”
After researching jackets made out of terry towels, Federico discovered the idea had already been materialized by two menswear brands. “I came across both Lacoste’s and Brioni’s terry cloth blazers that dated back to the 70s. I thought to myself ‘This was successfully done in the past’, why aren’t more people bringing this concept back and monetizing it now? I knew right then that we needed to take this already existing concept and put our own spin on it,” states Federico.
Once that decision was made, Federico utilized his past professional experience to conceptualize the brand. With the accident being such a pivotal moment in his life, he decided that the day he fell three stories would be used as the brand name. “Prior to the accident I was living very irresponsibly and not being the best version of myself,” he tells me. “As soon as I hit the asphalt, I could see the last 3 or 4 years of my life and what a waste they had been. My biggest fear was that if I died right then and there, that I would be remembered as a f****-up. I honored that day because I chose to do something honorable with my life and turn it around.”
In 2016, Federico and Gabriel began developing prototypes for their Terry Towel Beach Blazer. “We drove all over Europe to find the right fabric suppliers and to find little details like velvet piping. We searched for over a year and met with almost 70 vendors before we arrived at one from Genoa, Italy. They make terry towels for babies out of bamboo, which you can imagine are incredibly soft. The material is also sustainable and anti-microbial.” The first prototype was taken to the Monaco Grand Prix. “Enough people asked me about it that I called my brother up to tell him it was a viable business and a year later we officially launched it at the same beach club,” states Federico.
In speaking with him, Federico’s passion for creating timeless fashion is palpable. “I am not in this business simply to create terry towel blazers. The whole goal with the brand is to eventually commercialize my dream closet—the pants, the shoes, the shirts, and the accessories. I suspect it will take a decade to create what I envision for the brand. Even a t-shirt takes months to develop. You have to find the right cut, the right threads—all of the details make a difference,” he shares.
He applies the same level of detail to his creative campaigns, which he is very hands-on with. “I took a week-long course on fashion photography in Los Angeles. I love it,” he tells me. His love of photography and cinematography shines through in the brand’s latest campaign. “I could have gotten a few top tier models to pose and it would have been great. But instead I brought together a group of people who didn’t know each other. I wrote a bunch of characters that each of them randomly selected over lunch. The results were very genuine as were the expressions and emotions. I wanted to create scenes where people would want to be transported to.”
When I ask him how the pandemic has affected his business he tells me like most businesses it hasn’t been easy. Federico responds, “Luckily I have not had to lay anyone on my team off nor have I cut anyone’s salary—except my own.” The brand is also donating part of their sales online to the COVID-19 Fund in Europe.
Despite some of the current setbacks, 209 Mare has big plans for the future. They are getting ready to show at Pitti, the world’s most important men’s fashion and accessory show and are expanding their offerings to include unisex bathrobes, silk pajamas, button downs, new men’s swimwear, and are entering the women’s swimwear category.
On what the hardest thing about switching from corporate life to entrepreneurship has been Federico tells me, “The most difficult process was that the person I looked up to the most, my father, never really liked that I went into fashion—nor that my brother and I worked together. Eventually he came to a fashion show where there was a turn out of a few thousand people and he actually cried. Getting his approval took a long time.” Sadly, Federico and Gabriel’s father died of a heart attack this past March. Due to the pandemic, they never even got to say goodbye. “He was a bon vivant,” shares Federico.
I am sure that their father is proudly looking down on both his sons.