It's been around a month and a half since Gubb & Mackie cast itself into autonomy, opening the doors of a fresh store in Vulcan Lane, Auckland CBD.
I met Creative Director, Jordan Gibson, who would be what one could call a walking billboard for the brand, if the brand were flashy enough to be immediately recognisable. But that's just the thing about Gubb & Mackie. In Jordan's words, they're "not really a fashion brand," but instead aspire to fundamental, uniform status in the modern man's wardrobe.
In every way, this reflects Gubb & Mackie's heritage. In 1949, post WWII, two servicemen who'd found their trade repairing and altering garments on vessels on the high sea, began making bespoke uniforms for the New Zealand Navy. When the men retired, they sold the trademark. Around 10 years ago, it was purchased by the conscientious hand of Murray Crane. Not best placed to be revamped around the time of the Global Financial Crisis, the brand lay dormant for a while. When it was decided to reintroduce G&M to the world, Jordan (at the time a salesperson at Crane Brothers) was involved from inception, and incubated what quickly became a strong supplement to Crane’s offering, in the form of smart casual.
Tradition feels ingrained in the fibre of the garments, customer service, and consumer touchpoints. Jordan runs the store predominately by himself, meaning that he knows faces and names of all regulars. G&M are not fans of the upsell, but aim to generate loyalty through provision of the best service. Jordan recounted that many of his customers are extremely busy guys; it's his job to remember their preferences and update them personally, concierge-style, of new stock that may be of interest to them. Coffee and Peroni are available on site, providing a level of comfort and service unique to a retail space.
The store's fittings are all one-offs created by local industrial designer, Jamie McLellan, who works from a boat shed on Auckland Harbour (as if there couldn't be anything more Gubb & Mackie). Jordan specified he wanted the store to feel like the product, with elements of history juxtaposed with the contemporary direction in which the brand is heading - ultimately, it needed to look like nothing else currently on the scene. The design process was holistic, with functionality in mind. Jordan ran me through the placement of the hooks, the size of the mirror, the fact that his desk was built to ensure easy accessibility to packaging materials, paying heed to the sale process. Their wrapping paper is heavy-duty and tactile, reflecting the garments it encloses.
The location was selected for a combination of reasons: its heritage aesthetic, proximity to Crane Brother's High Street, and because it felt “in the thick of it.” The area, Jordan believes, is perpetually undergoing a curation by natural selection: supply and demand. Quite simply, the people who are inclined to visit G&M are likely to work in the area, and probably enjoy neighbouring Il Buco's boutique pizza offering. The store and its positioning are premised on an argument for refinement, whereby Jordan himself, and his customers, "Would rather go to one place, than five places," to get what they need.
Gubb & Mackie's typographical logo itself is a composition of the old and new. The brandname section has remained untouched since 1949, a beautiful hand-painted relic, delicately reproduced. The descriptor, 'Naval Tailors', is a recent addition, adopting a minimalist type. As for the brand colours of navy and red, Jordan indicated they’re in recognition of a nautical heritage.
If there's no greater indication of modernity, it's that The Weeknd's Trilogy created the atmosphere in my visit of the store. Jordan himself is only 24. They’ve a website, which has won a plethora of awards. In combination with a utilitarian aesthetic previously unknown amongst New Zealand purveyors, it's no surprise that they've gathered traction with both local, and international, hip crowds. G&M have featured on Hypebeast for their lookbook shot by James Lowe, and on Sprudge for their cold brew coffee collab with Kokako. Social media is utilised in a way so as to broaden the community, and ensure that followers are familiar with the store, its salespeople, and the local goings-on. This fostering of familiarity is hoped to encourage interaction by Auckland natives and visitors alike; to "take the edge off,” by granting access to what may otherwise be seen as exclusivity, from miles away.
Everything feels very intentional, and the store's curated offering is perhaps the most obvious example of that. Other brands that "make sense," are sold next to Gubb & Mackie's own wares. National Athletic's sweats, Il Bussetto's wallets and coin holders, PostalCo's notebooks, and Wood & Faulk's belts and wristbands each offer something that G&M hasn't diversified unnecessarily to offer, a factor of recognising that others do it extremely well. Customers can also pick up a selection of magazines (Monocle, Apartmento, and Inventory among them) should they feel inclined to further educate themselves in the vein of lifestyle.
Making garments in New Zealand is an "important part of the brand." Gubb & Mackie recognise the value in overseeing the production process, ensuring garments are the best they can be, at the same time conscious of their contribution to the small manufacturing industry remaining in New Zealand. That said, they're not afraid to back the best horse; if something can be made well, and with integrity elsewhere, they'll take it for a spin. Such an example would be their recent knitwear collaboration with Scottish heritage label, William Lockie, one of the best in the world at what they do.
The focus is on ready-to-wear, but in true Crane origin style, they offer alterations and made-to-measure should you ask. Whilst Murray's previously said that Crane Brothers has reached its optimum size, Jordan's focus on off-the-rack with G&M means that it's slightly easier to expand. So, what's the next step? Well, it would seem nonsensical to anybody but those who revel in perfection, but according to Jordan it’s actually a matter of focusing on this store, and making sure it’s done right. G&M are extremely selective in how their brand is presented, so are hesitant to entrust other retailers with it. Whilst there are long-distance, future plans for international expansion, Jordan informed me that it's a timely matter, requiring entering those market in the right way.
Gubb & Mackie is very much manifest in its Vulcan Lane store. Jordan's still the main person running the brand, meaning he darts between design and retail, and that holistically everything feels very much personalised. There’s no rush to grow, because good things take time.