30 Minutes With: Christopher Bastin

Gant has a long-standing tradition of helping men look their best, but a recent rival effort has thrust the brand back into the spotlight of men’s fashion. Characterized by modern tweaks on classic americana stye bred in the collegiate atmosphere, the company has also just launched a new online store, enabling anyone with a mailing address to incorporate the brand into their wardrobe. Subsequently, we sat down with Gant Rugger’s chief designer, Christopher Bastin, to grill him on everything from the relaunch of the brand to how an unlikely group of mathletes motivated his design process for this fall’s upcoming season. Curious to know more? Read our full interview on the next page.

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Christopher Bastin: Wife & Kids, My facial hair, Porkslaps, Friends (In that order)

GP: Where are you from, and when were you first drawn to clothing design?

CB: I was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden. I’ve been working with clothes since I was 18. I started out as a sales rep at this denim joint and from there moved into production and buying at a number of places. I’ve always been fascinated by beautiful things, fashion, art, furniture, music, you name it. I was pretty much hooked when I bought my first pair of vintage 501’s and started to learn about the history of clothing.

GP: How did you arrive at GANT?

CB: I’ve been in the industry for 20 years now at places like H&M, Acne and Whyred but always on the production and buying side. I worked very close to the designers and picked up a lot along the way. Then one day I saw that Gant was looking for a shirt designer and thought, “Screw it, I have to give this a try.”

I couldn’t even draw a straight line if my life depended on it, and had no formal training under my belt. But I’m pretty good at visualizing ideas in other ways and new I could make it work if given the chance.

I live by the rule “If it ain’t broken don’t fix it.” We’ve been around since 1949, there’s a lot of stuff that ain’t broken.

GP: The rise of the Americana/prep movement across menswear really happened at the same time as GANT Rugger came to life. How was it to ride that wave? Do you feel as though you were a part of bringing that trend?

CB: The re-launch of Gant Rugger was perfectly timed. Granted, The Americana movement had been around for a while, but it was more about work-wear and vintage denim. The Ivy-League / prep boom coincided perfectly with what GANT Rugger was resurrecting. Yes, it’s been a fun ride.

I think people like Thom Browne, Scott Sternberg and Junya Watanabe maybe deserves more credit for the current hype than Gant Rugger, but I’d like to think I’ve been a small part of it. At least I bought the original version of “Take Ivy” like 6 years ago (for 100 bucks!) so I guess I was looking in the right direction pretty early on.

GP: How does your Scandinavian background influence your design or aesthetic or approach to creating?

CB: Working for brands like Acne and Whyred certainly made me appreciate simplicity but apart from that I’m not so sure I’m very Scandinavian in my approach to the creative process. I’m so indoctrinated in Americana and the USA in general. I sometimes feel more American than Swedish.

GP: GANT, and especially Rugger, have a sense of adventure to them. What would be your ideal vacation?

CB: The world we’ve created around Gant Rugger and the Gant Rugger guy is a good one. I’m a bit less adventurous though. I’m happy wherever they are serving a fantastic Bellini made from fresh white peaches with the sun shining.
The Italian Riviera has been my go-to over the past five years. It meets both criteria.

GP: One of GANT’s strongest and most unique characteristics is looking to the past to identify timeless design. What is your relationship to the brand’s history? To the history of menswear in general?

CB: I’m a total heritage geek and a vintage nerd so when I first came to Gant and discovered that we didn’t have a single piece of archival clothing older than 1980, I went bananas. There was nothing from the days when Gant helped shape the style of American Sportswear. From 1949 to 1980 – there was nothing. I’ve spent the past four years digging through thrift stores, vintage markets, meeting collectors, and buying off of eBay to build a proper archive. It means everything. The Gant family invented so many design touches that are everywhere today – like the locker loop, the box pleat, the back collar button. Gant introduced the button-down collar shirt across the country during the 1950’s by visiting campus stores.

I live by the rule “If it ain’t broken don’t fix it.” We’ve been around since 1949, there’s a lot of stuff that ain’t broken.

GP: How involved are you, in a hands-on way, with the design and fabrication process?

CB: Since the entire Gant Rugger design team consists of me and my assistant Fifi, I’d say I’m as hands on as it gets. There’s not a single thread in the collection that hasn’t gotten our blessing.

GP: Take me on a tour of your studio and your design process.

CB: My studio is complete mayhem. There’s vintage stuff everywhere. The sign on my door says “A well kept office is the sign of a misspent life.”

There’s some kind of divine order among all my stuff so I pretty much know where to look for that button, that old zipper or madras check I’m looking for. Sometimes there’s an idea of a theme first, sometimes there’s just a single garment or object that gets me going. Sometimes it’s just something someone says. For instance, the spring 2011 “Gangs of New Haven” theme came about when Michael Bastian and I were talking (Michael does a separate collection for Gant) about New Haven and the contrasts found in New Haven and at Yale. We started fantasizing about who’s keeping the Ivy-League traditions alive today in these smaller cities and then totally got off track and basically spaced out. The conversation turned to preppy superhero gangs with these weird superpowers. I couldn’t let go of the idea and from there the collection took shape.

For me it’s always about looking back, picking up the small parts that worked and re-shaping it into what feels interesting. I’m not reinventing the wheel or creating fashion. I make clothes for guys who like clothes.

GP: Are there certain places or people or things that you go to for inspiration?

CB: Everywhere I go, everything I see and everybody I meet are potential sources of inspiration.

GP: What is your favorite city?

CB: Stockholm, hands down. It’s the perfect city. NYC comes close second.

GP: Do you have a favorite menswear shop? (anywhere in the world is fair game)

CB: With so many insanely good stores opening up everywhere, that’s a hard question to answer. There’s never been a better time for menswear, ever.

GP: Where do you start with designing a new collection?

CB: Finding a theme to build from. That’s where it all starts. I’m also thinking about locations a lot. Where GANT Rugger guy is, what he is doing with his friends. I have a bunch of fictional characters that I’m always designing for, they stay the same, but they always do different things. New characters are added. Like cut off trust fund kids who still have all these great clothes but no cash to spend. The Gossip girl crew on welfare, having to reinvent and re-make their stuff instead of buying new. And guys who hang out at tennis clubs without even a remote interest in the sport, just so they can park their vintage Porsches on the grass.

GP: Tell me about the New Haven Math Club. Where did the idea come from?

CB: It’s based entirely on a set of black and white photos from a mid 1960’s math club lecture I found. There’s this whole class of guys in madras blazers looking super sharp, Everybody’s hands are raised, focused on the head teacher and this huge black board filled with crazy algorithms. It’s well dressed intellectuals, in real life. You don’t really see that today. Google programmers aren’t exactly on the cover of Fantastic Man.

GP: Does that theme affect the aesthetic, or was it the other way around?

CB: Well it goes both ways. Most of the times I’m inspired by a certain era or an event, but if I would have made New Haven Math Club with the fits they had in the 60’s or 50’s it just becomes clown-gear. For me it’s always about looking back, picking up the small parts that worked and re-shaping it into what feels interesting. I’m not reinventing the wheel or creating fashion. I make clothes for guys who like clothes.

GP: Describe yourself in three words.

CB: Fun, short, beardy.

Readers, check out the video below for a detailed look at GANT Rugger’s new New Haven Math Club line.