Saturday, October 6, 2012
Gubb and Mackie started life in 1949 as a bespoke menswear outfit, tailoring uniforms for the New Zealand Navy. Some 50 years later, a couple of Auckland-based businessmen saw the opportunity to make a buck on the shuttered brand's heritage, relaunching with some memorable parties including a show on a real life frigate at New Zealand Fashion Week in 2003. Despite the big ideas and media attention, Gubb and Mackie didn't gain traction in the market, and with dwindling sales, the label was flicked off to Murray Crane soon after. He re-introduced it in the mid-2000s, with a heavy emphasis on clean, tailored, nautically inspired menswear. Once again, the effort was ill-fated. Like so many good things it was way ahead of its time – Crane opened a flagship in Britomart five years before every other designer had moved down there, and filled it with beige chinos and navy cotton blazers that were far too fashion forward for the menswear buying population of the day – it closed in April of 2009. On Wednesday this week it relaunched once again; this time helmed by a precocious 21 year old Crane Brothers employee named Jordan Gibson. I sat down with him for an hour last week. Check out the interview, and photos from his first collection, below.
When did you start at Crane? I’ve been with Crane Brothers for two years now, I was fresh out of studying at NZ Fashion Tech. The relationship began pretty naturally, I used to shop at the company, bought a couple of shirts and one day happened to have a fitting with Murray, and what I was studying related to the business pretty well. When I started with Crane Brothers I don’t think Murray had even seen my CV, and as a result of that I don’t think he knew how old I was, so when it came out about six months later he was like, ‘You’re only 19!?’
What were you doing buying clothing from Crane Brothers when you were a teenager? It was shirts that I started with. I’d have button down shirts made because at the time you couldn’t really get them anywhere. I found out about this company that custom-made shirts which seemed incredible to me. I was completely outside of that world at the time.
You were at Qubic then, right? Yeap, that’s my pedigree.
You must have been spending a lot of your pay on clothing. At the time a $300 shirt had me saving for weeks. But I could never settle for anything other than exactly what I wanted, so that’s why the company – whether it be Crane Brothers, Little Brother or Gubb and Mackie – appealed to me. Those exacting standards.
So is your background in sneakers and denim? I was in high school at the time of the sneaker boom, and that was the be all and end all; it was all about who could wear the most expensive tee shirts and sneakers.
What was your shoe of choice? I love a Nike Dunk low. Qubic started up and that was the Mecca of the sneaker industry here. They had the Nike Tier Zero programme and what not. So I moved up to Auckland to start studying.
From where? From Christchurch.
We’re all South Islanders! There’s a real contingent of South Islanders at Crane Brothers – Murray’s from Geraldine, Karl’s from Christchurch, our tailoring supervisor’s from Christchurch…
What’s your title at the company? I’m the brand manager of Gubb and Mackie. It’s an all-encompassing role that involves designing the collection, formulating its tone of voice, how it’s presented and how customers interact with it online and in store. On any given day my eye will be over branding, packaging, press and communicating with clients.
How did it start with Gubb and Mackie? I’d bought some of the product before, and I naturally had an affinity for it. A brand with that kind of history is unparalleled in this country, so I was fascinated by that. When I started at Crane, I said to Murray, ‘Gubb and Mackie is your thing, right? And he was like, ‘Yeah, maybe we’ll do something with it at some point, potentially you could be involved with that.’ Any time it’d come up I’d tell him how much I’d love to do it, it could be great again, I can see it, the market’s opening, the hole is there, so it just came to the point when Murray decided that now was the time to do it, and I guess I was the person on the ground to be involved.
When did things really kick off? I think the process of really starting to think about it, to now, when we’ve just launched, was probably about four months. It’s been a pretty compressed process, really, considering we’re not just recreating product, we’ve rebranded everything, developed an entirely new website and we’re really trying to separate it from any way that it’s been before. That history of the brand will always be prevalent but we wanted to really reinvigorate it.
How have you differentiated it from what it was before? A brand like Gubb and Mackie, or pretty much any menswear brand, is built on such traditional, classic foundations. You could argue that menswear never changes – the staple pieces are always going to be there. So in terms of the garments themselves, it’s about tweaking the fits and the details and the fabrication to keep things current. Where we’ve really differentiated it is in the design and the tone of voice, talking about the history with subtlety. It’s there, but it’s not rammed down people’s throats. It’s part of the aura of the brand but it’s not necessarily spoken in words. Then in terms of the website and the packaging, the colour story is really strong and I think that’ll shock people. It’s completely different to what it’s been before, but naturally there’s that familiar tone.
Are there any pieces in the range that literally have a nautical bent? There are definitely good familiar pieces, if you were familiar with the Deck Shirt of old, which was a worker shirt with heavy buttons that servicemen might have worn scrubbing the deck; things like that have been reinterpreted. There’s an iteration of the Field Jacket, which is an unlined jacket with patch pockets; but they’re all new and completely redeveloped pieces.
How many pieces are in the range? There are about five styles, so it’s pretty tight, it’s a true capsule collection, but what we’ve put in place here are the key pieces that’ll always be prevalent in the ranges; we’ll offer those in a variation of cloths every season. This summer there’s a focus on beautiful lab dipped Italian cotton drills, they're the foundation of the collection, and then the highlights are explored through shirting – Liberty Prints, linen slub cottons; the quality and fabrication is almost unfounded within garments of this nature.
How do you differentiate Gubb and Mackie from Crane Brothers? We’ve done that through the styling of the pieces and also the fabrication – Crane Brothers will remain a tailoring-focussed brand, and possibly more so than it has been; fabrics will be pure wools, the detailing will be completely different, you’ll be able to enter the store and see the two ranges and naturally see the difference. Gubb and Mackie is a lot more casual – the jacket sleeves have no buttons, they have a plain finish, you could roll them back if you wanted to. The garments are more rustic and hard-wearing.
Murray has quite a reputation of what he’s like to work with… Do you have any anecdotes you can share? One thing I find interesting about working with Murray is that he’s so authoritative and convincing, and although you’ll have your own firm views about things, he’ll be able to start swinging you around to his opinion. But you’re thinking at the same time, ‘Is he right? This guy has all this experience and this wealth of knowledge, but in this circumstance I feel really opposed to this.’ You start questioning yourself. So a key part of our working relationship is me trusting my opinion and my eye. Sometimes you do have to stand your ground, maybe you’ve gotta curse right back (laughs).
Product shots: Matt Choi.
Campaign shots: David Straight.
Pictured in these photos is industrial designer Jamie McLellan, who Murray and Jordan tapped as the first Gubb and Mackie campaign model.
I LIKE YOU!