Ahead of our exclusive capsule with British heritage brand Barbour, END. sat down with the South Shields-based label's Menswear Design & Development manager, Gary Janes, to discuss the art of weaving heritage into contemporary collaborations.
The Barbour waxed jacket is indisputably an iconic piece of British design. Originally built with sailors and fishermen in mind, the durable outerwear pieces from South Shields quickly became the go-to all-weather protection for those braving the North Sea, for motorcyclists and for armed forces alike.
Entrenched in British workwear history, Barbour was founded in 1894 but truly found its footing in the early 20th century with the release of their first catalogue. Marketing their paraffin-waxed cotton garments as the perfect piece for yachting, fishing, driving, boating, walking and shooting, the all-encompassing nature of the weather-resistant jackets quickly saw the brand ascend to infamy. The prized possession of anyone who enjoyed the outdoors, come rain or shine, a Barbour jacket was a trusty and worthy companion. In the post-war years, Barbour's usage began to shift - while still utilised as protection from the outdoors, the waxed jackets became synonymous with countryside fashion, complete with an aristocratic flourish in the form of the appointment of three royal warrants. Now a truly international brand, Barbour's distinctive stylistic sensibility remains one of heritage, of quality and of a unique Britishness that is held dear by many.
With a rich history of collaborative output, Barbour has found itself cultivating a unique status as both heritage brand and proponent of forward-thinking design. Having released collaborations with Copenhagen minimalist streetwear brand Wood Wood, Daiki Suzuki's Engineered Garments, and Yosuke Aizawa's White Mountaineering, the brand showcase a dedication to forward-facing design wrapped up in their signature brand of durability and functionality.
Ahead of our exclusive collaborative capsule with the stalwarts of British design, END. sat down with Barbour's Menswear Design & Development manager, Gary Janes, to discuss their take on collaboration, their approach to safeguarding heritage and how collaborations influence the legacy of the brand.
With an extensive archive of collaborations, Barbour is well versed in working with contemporary labels. What is it about collaboration that appeals to you?
From a design point of view, when you collaborate with someone, you gain and learn something from another person. It’s not always totally evident, but when you’re working with people of different abilities, with alternate ways of looking at the world, you can learn a different perspective, which you can then project onto yourself. Collaborations also have that element of fun to them - they have a freer spirit as you aren’t as constrained by a single brand’s ethos. If we have one viewpoint of what we think Barbour is, a collaboration can offer a viewpoint that is less clear and often quite different. There is a leniency with what you can produce, and the product speaks to that.
What do you specifically look for in a collaborator?
From a business point of view, we’re always looking to try and keep our name in people’s minds. Collaborations do that, as well as create broader interest. Without using the word ‘novelty’ in a crass sense, this industry is and always has been driven by boredom – people want something new perpetually - so we always have to offer something new. With Engineered Garments, for example, you have a product that, even if you didn’t know it was a collaboration between them and ourselves, you would look at it and see that it was a marriage between the two brands. It takes the best bits of us – such as the fabrications and the utilitarian detailing – and creates something different. Sometimes you can find that collaborators try to force an issue – I don’t really have a problem with that, because why should everything always be harmonious? A Japanese aesthetic often looks at harmony through discord - round food on square plates, or the discordant jazz trumpet, which is revered in Japan - discordance or the space between things is as important as traditional harmony and symmetry. When it jars slightly, it can give you a different perspective that isn’t necessarily as easy to understand, so you’ll have to work harder to try to gain a meaning from it. I’ve been in this business for 40 years now and there is always something I can learn, so I’ve got to be open and receptive to these alternate perspectives – collaborations can work like a key to a lock, opening up a new world.
Is it difficult to balance your own design preferences and tendencies when collaborating on a project?
I don’t really struggle with ego, because I’m quite assured of who I am as a person – it doesn’t mean that I’m overly confident, but I don’t measure my own ability against others. Of course, I appreciate other people’s abilities, but I don’t denigrate my own. When you’re working with a collaborator, there are two central things at play to consider; the personality and the difference in viewpoint. When it's a collaboration you’ve got to judge what you say and really get a sense of the other person’s ideas, you’ve got to be respectful of other people’s processes, even if you don’t always agree with them. You can’t say that your perspective or process is right and theirs is wrong. You’ve got to figure out the best way to temper them, I suppose. I come to design from a pragmatic approach – I like the foundational things, so I make sure we get the fabric right, get the zips, trims, etc, right – if we have that, then it still has all the ingredients of what makes a Barbour jacket, so the collaborator can arrange it and make something unique out of that.
With a rich heritage in British fashion design, Barbour has continued to maintain its presence without sacrificing its integrity. How do you navigate upholding the heritage of the brand while exploring new territories in design through collaborations?
Most people come into Barbour already indoctrinated into the brand and heritage is important to everyone at Barbour at all different levels – the heritage of the brand is imbued in every part of it. For me, the heritage gives it its credibility - we make practical product and have done for years, therefore honesty and integrity are gained from that. Barbour clothing is quite adaptable, chameleon-like and anonymous enough to fit in with most aesthetics or styles, which is of course an advantage for us as it allows the brand to have different facets. We preserve our country-wear heritage and make sure that that customer isn’t left by the wayside, but when we do our collaborations, all that heritage and preservation is underpinning it. If someone we were collaborating with didn’t want to use wax or our trims, and just wanted their name on the front of a jacket, I’d say, "well, that’s not the project." We’ve got to have a certain level of guidelines that we stick to, that allow us to remain true to ourselves.
What instigated the forthcoming Re-Engineered collaboration with END.?
We’ve actually had a couple of attempts to do something with END. over the past few years, and for whatever reason they’ve petered out. This time round we went for this cut and shut, mix of fabrics as the central driver for the project. I think it offers a really interesting and new take on two classic pieces, combining Barbour’s strengths and END.’s skills - it came together quite easily because of that. Our two different viewpoints and the melding of minds resulted in something rather contemporary. The inspiration was broad enough to allow for differences of opinion without cramping the idea, and the idea was flexible enough so that as it develops you riff around it, and work within the framework of the re-engineered patchwork aesthetic. In the end, there were no compromises for anybody.
The Re-Engineered Ashby and the Fishing Vest take classic garments and alter them with an expressive, asymmetrical design. How does this alternate perspective contribute to Barbour’s legacy?
Massively, to me. If you look at an artist like Picasso, say, his early paintings are all realist on a massive scale. When you then look at the end of his career, his work is line drawings. His career shows a train of thought, with each different period expanding the train of thought and moving it on. Without being too analogous, when you do things differently, like when you're working on a collaboration, it evolves into a new thing with a fresh meaning, but it hasn’t lost its inherent feeling and becomes more meaningful. The links are there and there is an evolutionary aspect to it – on the continuum of change, these moments are important milestones that you peg in the sand to continue to move forward. A capsule like this, which has more than one train of thought put into it, hasn’t lost its integrity but simply gained a different meaning through expressive colouration, construction and non-traditional trims.