Text: Alice Cavanagh Images: Vanishing Elephant
It’s just shy of two years since they started, but it would be fair to say that the boys behind Sydney based menswear label Vanishing Elephant, have assisted with the much needed return to gentlemanly style that has infiltrated today’s fashion. Their signature aesthetic is one of classic tailoring and simple styling, creating a refreshing alternative to the distressed denim and fluoro colour blocks that have been rocked by every Tom, Dick and Harry for far too long. And for Felix Chan, Arran Russell and Huw Bennet this is only the beginning.
Alice Cavanagh: So, I realise that I already know this but what is each of your roles in the brand?
AC: Wow, this is a good start.
Arran Russell: Well, I am the Vanishing Elephant Dancer…
Huw Bennett: OK I’ll start. Huw Bennet, Sales.
AC: You don’t have to say your name; I will recognise your voice when I transcribe…
HB: Huw Bennet, International Sales, National Sales, and Creative.
AC: You need to explain what is involved.
HB: OK well I sell the clothes to wholesale accounts and I manage some of the international accounts, which Felix and I are still handing over to agents and distributors. I help Felix with the
creative and design process and I guess I also help with the creative behind the scenes stuff, like instore promotion and all that business.
Felix Chan: He is very talented.
FC: Felix Chan, Pisces, 27 and single.
AR: (laughs): We’re all Pisces by the way and we are all 27 and single.
FC: Yeah right.
AR: OK, I’m 33 and single.
FC: I overlook the creative, but we all work on it pretty evenly and then I handle a lot of the back end.
HB: You’re logistically money minded.
FC: Yeah, plus I manage the collection timing etc with Arran.
AR: They tell me their ideas of what they want to do and how they want it done and I take it from there: spec it up, take it the factories, get it made and deal with the whole
production process, until it lands in store.
AC: How did the label come about?
AR: To support a crack habit, that is the off the record answer.
FC: I hate this question.
HB: Felix had the idea of Vanishing Elephant, and then I came on board. (dryly)
FC: Arran was always involved
HB: I came in at the eleventh hour.
FC: Huw came on board just as we finished our first collection. It has become much bigger than we expected. It has taken the majority of all our time and our focus. So now it is the three of us, more or less full-time.
AC: What did you all do before this?
HB: I was a sales agent – I had my own agency.
FC: I also was in sales with Incu, in the distro area and before that I used to do the buying for Incu with Vincent Wu – the best menswear buyer in the word, self-proclaimed (laughs).
AR: I had my own brand for a while and worked on other brands designing and producing.
HB: And you still have a vodka business.
FC: Arran has a vodka business.
HB: Although they don’t sell it upstairs at Moncur…
AR: But we don’t talk about that.
AC: Has fashion always been your main interest?
AR: Yes since I was a little boy, three-years-old, wearing my sister’s clothes…
HB: Not fashion, but clothes… the industry. Not so much forward fashion.
AC: OK, so considering how well the brand is doing…
FC: I didn’t even get to answer that question.
AC: Well do you want to?
FC: No, not any more since you skipped right over me.
AC: OK good.
AC: Considering how well the brand is doing and that it would be fair to say you don’t have technical training in terms of fashion design etc. What has been the most challenging thing so far?
AR: Speaking Mandarin.
AC: Do you speak Mandarin?
HB: I guess everything coming together, being cohesive. Is that right?
FC: Yeah. I don’t think that whole – ‘we don’t have a technical background’, has hindered us. More often than not it has helped us. I mean we are not trying to invent anything or create
anything that is abstract, completely high fashion or artistic.
HB: All the designs are classic silhouettes and shapes. I guess it is just making sure the process to get that classic shape is followed through, whether it be the fabric or timing – just making sure everything comes together. We really only have our shit together now though, this season.
AR: Design is about five per cent of our business really. A lot of people don’t realize that, they think it is this glamorous thing but it is not.
AC: What has been the highlight so far?
HB: I guess the highlights are still to come. This year we will get to be a bit more adventurous with how we present the label and we are working on collaborations – that will be very exciting.
AC: Can you talk about them?
HB: Not yet, but there are some amazing collaborations to come.
FC: It’s been a pretty good ride so far. There have been a lot of ups, not too many downs, so I don’t think there is not one thing that stands out, every season there are really good moments.
HB: Even simple things, picking up new accounts, getting feedback from retailers that everything is retailing well. You know that we actually always get a smile from the retailers when they talk about sell through. It’s not like we are pushing a wheelbarrow with no wheels.
AC: What are you ultimately trying to achieve with the brand?
HB: I guess it’s to create menswear pieces that are quite classic but still have some apsirational point to them, um and it’s about being able to wear what we see are apsirational pieces, that are sold at an affordable price.
AC: Would it be fair to say that in essence you guys are the Vanishing Elephant brand? Do you design with yourselves in mind?
HB: It sounds like a bit of a cliché, but yeah what we make we ideally like to wear. I don’t think we make it because we think, ‘I need a pair of green trousers, so let’s make green trousers.’ It’s more like — ‘that’s cool that colour, or we definitely would wear that.’ And I guess you can see from the current collection that there it is starting to look more like us. There is that little grandpa cardigan that is really Felix.
FC: Yeah, it’s starting to reflect us more and more.
HB: Our aesthetic is becoming more and more popular, so we are pretty lucky.
AC: You guys all like music, if Vanishing Elephant was a band, which band would it be?
AR: The Proclaimers.
FC: Queen (everyone laughs)
HB: No Sunnyboys.
AC: OK that is a real mixture.
FC: No for me personally it would be Fleet Foxes/Grizzly Bear.
HB: Mine would be Sunnyboys mixed with Yeasayer.
AR: Mine would be I don’t know, cause I don’t really listen to music.
FC: His would literally be Queen.
HB: His would be The Avalanches mixed CD.
AR: Ha! That is the only thing I have on my iPod.
AC: What is the ultimate plan for the brand? What is the next move?
AR: Focus on North America.
HB: Yeah, I guess there is a lot of growth there. We are talking more and more now about UK and Europe, that is sort of the next frontier. Also this year we have an art project with General
Pants, which is going to be great, we really want to do an event of some sort and I guess — I don’t know if it is worth mentioning — but we keep talking about doing an S-H-O-P.
FC: What does that spell? I think it is just consolidating in Australia, we are pretty happy with where we are at, so apart from what Huw spelt out – I won’t spell it again – we are happy. Getting our processes right for overseas as well, because at the end of the day, that is where we really see the brand.
AC: Last question. If not this – and if you could be doing anything with your day – what would you rather be doing?
AR: Fuck all.
HB: I would be playing striker for Bayern Munich.
AR: I would be retired.
HB: Retarded? (Arran laughs)
FC: I would be a food critic.
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Text: Alice Cavanagh Images: Vanishing Elephant