Stitching a New Label on “Heritage” Menswear

Gubb & Mackie started in 1949 manufacturing garments for the New Zealand Navy.

“As you can see, it’s quite humid here in Auckland”, says Jordan Gibson, the young and dapper Creative Director for menswear brand Gubb & Mackie. We’re sharing a round of flat whites at Mojo Coffee on Vulcan Lane, a small, shaded side street in central Auckland. “Here, cloths that breathe are really important”, he says. Gibson sports a blue buttoned blazer, a chambray button-down and slacks. “Our garments have pretty much all of the structure removed so that they’re light in feel and weight as possible.” His polished getup is a clear-cut example of Gubb & Mackie’s credo of style, one that balances smart sophistication with a strict devotion to wearability.

The utility of the garments, he explains, is something borrowed from the origins of the brand. The company’s name dates back to 1949 in postwar New Zealand. “It was founded by a couple of servicemen”, Gibson says, finishing his coffee. “They were making uniforms for the British Navy and then for the newly formed New Zealand Navy when that started.” But the era was notoriously tough on New Zealand manufacturers; under economic hardship after World War II, the country slowly moved toward an import economy with much of textile and garment industry outsourced overseas, namely from Europe and the United States. “After things settled and imports were opened up, the brand was sold”, says Gibson. “That’s where we come in.”

We move next door, to the newly opened Gubb & Mackie storefront, the first in the brand’s history. After several decades of dormancy, the rights to the name were bought in early 2000s by its current parent company, Crane Brothers, itself at the forefront of tailored New Zealand-made menswear, out of which Gubb & Mackie has been selling to Auckland and Wellington locals for the past decade. In Gibson’s words, the goal of the project was the “rebirth of a brand with a great origin and history, and to contemporize it.”

“Our background is really important. But it’s softly spoken. We don’t want to go and put anchors on our clothes”.

At the helm of Gubb & Mackie’s aesthetic direction, Gibson is very aware of the trends that dominate fashion in cosmopolitan hubs like New York and London, where the labels of “heritage” and “tradition” have become the vernacular of the status quo. All of fabrics they use are sourced from either Italy, Japan or Great Britain. “We’re talking about English mills that are 200 to 300 years old”, says Gibson. “They still write out orders by hand. They still cut cloth by hand. They’re small operations that might be on a similar sort of scale to what we are.”

But in New Zealand — “a very casual nation by nature”, says Gibson, where pedigree in menswear has been less appreciated — Gubb & Mackie are crafting a niche of their own, one slightly apart from heritage-driven menswear. “There are tons of brands that do that, and do that very well. It’s at the core of everything they do”, Gibson says. “We wanted to kind of take a different path.” Instead of jumping at terms like timeless and classic to describe the brand, Gibson says his aim is to keep Gubb & Mackie modern and contemporary. “Our background is really important”, he says. “But it’s softly spoken. We minimize everything and touch those notes without going overboard. We don’t want to go and put anchors on our clothes.”

He pulls aside the Britten jacket, perhaps Gubb & Mackie’s most representative garment, an unstructured blazer that the company has been making every season for the past decade. He turns it inside out to reveal an unlined interior, skimmed of excess fabric and fluff. I try it on and it hugs my shoulders, but there is still enough give to move my arms freely. It’s comfortable. The pockets run deep, which I take as a statement that they are there to be used, not sewn shut as symbols of convention. Despite the Britten’s recurring presence within the Gubb & Mackie line, Gibson and his team are always tweaking the finer details to keep the jacket current and suited to the urban lifestyles of his customers. “You can machine wash it, you can roll it up to store it in your luggage”, he says. “It’s super practical.”

Our last stop is on High Street, five minutes from the Vulcan Lane storefront, in a tiny, sun-drenched workroom where the entirety of Gubb & Mackie production happens. A single seamstress is at work in the far corner of the room, fastening a button on another Britten. Our talk turns to a near-whisper to match the soft hum of her machine. There are about a dozen other stations, empty, some of them defunct and in need of repair, Gibson reveals. “We were able to retain a lot of the original machinery”, he says, harkening back to the original owners of the brand. He points to an old Yamato sewing machine by the window. “It ticks and sings and produces a different finish to a modern machine.” The result is something Gibson calls “grunt”, the kind of manual magic found in the stitching, the buttons, the fabric. It strikes me that Gibson, despite efforts to move beyond history and establish Gubb & Mackie at the front line of contemporary New Zealand menswear, is still a bit romantic about tradition and an older school of thought. He looks around and smiles. “It can’t be replicated”, he says.

The Britten

Balancing casual with formal, the Britten jacket is offered in a variety of different colors and fabrics. It features corozo buttons, fashioned from tagua palm nuts. Prices start at $301 USD.

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