We played little part in the AW11 tradeshow action ourselves but as we watched the fun and games from the safety of the sidelines, there was one brand in particular the caught attention. In the months that have followed One Nine Zero Six have received a fair bit of attention across the blogosphere and rightly so. Despite all of the positive murmurings and excited narrative we decided to hold off adding out own opinion until we had a chance to inspect the collection in person. Last week we were afforded that opportunity and soon fell for its super normal (this phrase coined by industrial designer Jasper Morrison) charms. At times there is something exceptional in the familiarity. One Nine Zero Six showcases the extraordinary ordinary.
Simply put, One Nine Zero Six offers contemporary, casual menswear made with the finest English cloth by traditional English manufacturers. The label is the sartorial fruits of a welcome return to British manufacturing and design by Gymphlex. Founded in 1906, Gymphlex have developed sportswear, workwear and high performance fabrics for over one hundred years. The company have have manufactured for some of the most renowned English brands including Burberry and Barbour and dressed British sporting champions, the oldest English schools and the British military. Here, they've teamed up with designer Jeff Griffin to create a contemporary wardrobe of covetable staples that incorporates design details, finishes and heritage materials all inspired by the Gymphlex vast archive. Despite its rich heritage, with the focus on creating a clean, soft tailored aesthetic this is a label that looks forward rather than back. Eager to learn more about the label we sat down with its Creative Director, Dean Webster. Below we discuss the dynamic of One Nine Zero Six, learn about the craftsmanship that powers and inspires it and look to the future of British manufacturing...
SS: How did it One Nine Zero Six come to be? What were your inspirations, your dreams and the driving catalyst behind the label?
Dean Webster: The idea to produce a Gymphlex product that was once again proudly Made In England, was something that the current MD and owner of the company, James Greenlees (4th generation Gymphlex) deeply desired to make happen. Through ongoing discussions and with the interest shown in the initial concept also by the Gymphlex Japan licensee, BOYS Co, it was decided that we would attempt to realize this ambition, although timing and content would be crucial.
Initial discussions took place in early 2007. What would turn out to be the brand name and the right designer were both identified but movement forward on the project stalled until late 2009. Once our research had been fully completed, the strategy and personnel we would require were implemented swiftly and a launch date in Paris for AW11 arrived upon.
The decision to work at the premium market level and to reinvent the brand as a contemporary menswear collection was initially thought ambitious. However, given the brand’s reputation for high quality ‘evergreens’ and the significant turnover achieved in Japan with the license collection over the previous fifteen years, it appeared a logical direction for us to take, albeit at a very competitive level.
SS: The label brings together Gymplex, specialist British manufacturers and the design talent of Griffin Studio's very own Jeff Griffin. Could you tell us a little bit about the dynamic of One Nine Zero Six?
Dean Webster: I believe that the dynamic comes from the established, traditional family values of Gymphlex, contrasted with the idiosyncratic and progressive design vision of Jeff Griffin (Griffin Studio). The two companies had worked previously together on various Griffin x Gymphlex product collaborations, utilizing both the company’s manufacturing and archive resources as foundation/ inspiration for the various projects. This led both parties into further discussions that would later manifest into ONE NINE ZERO SIX by GYMPHLEX.
SS: From local artisan jersey knitters to Savile Row shirt makers, you've sourced the very best of British manufacturing and craftsmanship. Could you tell us a little bit more about working with these artisans. Also, what excites you about the future of British manufacturing?
Dean Webster: From the onset, our intentions have been to locate and work with high quality British manufacturers that specialize in their respective product categories, most have come from either reputation or referrals from respected, well informed sources working within the industry.
Research is ongoing but I feel that we’ve made a significant start, which I believe, is reflected in the overall quality of our product. However, I’m uncertain about the future of British manufacturing, although what does drive me about manufacturing in this country has always been the notion that we are making attempts to support our own economy and our skilled workers, which directly affects all of us.
Provenance of product is increasingly important in our socially and ethically aware times and is going to become ever more so. What better way to support your own economy than by buying what you produce as opposed to importing it. This is something so obvious, yet so essential in my opinion.
SS: For me, despite the label's undeniable heritage the debut collection marks something of a shift and a welcome step forward in British manufacturing. It certainly feels much more contemporary. How conscious of this were you?
Dean Webster: Very. In terms of the brand having a one hundred and five year history and with the ‘heritage’ tag being a much-maligned one these days, it initially came with a certain amount of unnecessary baggage which could have been a potential millstone, hence the reason it was felt that we had to approach the project with a more progressive design viewpoint than would have been expected from a company with such ‘depth’.
The fact the Gymphlex has such an illustrious history is wonderful but something we consciously decided not to purport directly in terms of brand image or product. Although there are many references to be found in the current collection that reflect our past, the links are emotive rather than literal translations.
The challenge to find a new ways in which to translate the history of a brand, whilst also remaining true to its’ origins, is constantly demanding and one that requires greater thought than to simply produce ‘authentic’ or ‘replica’ product. This would have been too obvious a direction for us to take and would have given us no opportunity to say something new.
For us, ‘heritage’ should say more about attributes, attitude, craft, service standards and reliability, not a perception of how a particular product should look. Buyers and press alike are currently judging us on what they see presented to them in terms of product and not the history behind the brand, which is both positive and refreshing.
SS: How would you describe the debut collection in your own words?
Dean Webster: The Super Normal.
SS: The collection showcases some beautiful fabrics, many of which are exclusive. From raw flannel produced with Fox Brothers to two fold Egyptian long staple cotton pique jersey. Could you tell us a little bit more about this collaborative process?
Dean Webster: We had a shopping list of fabrics in mind from the very beginning that would emotively reflect the company’s rich history and affiliations but in a more contemporary manner, so carefully researched where we would find the most suitable mills and knitters to work with in order to do so.
Jersey product was something that Gymphlex had always been well known for, therefore this was our starting point and the key aspect in defining the overall direction the collection would take in it’s new form.
Over a period of five months from conception to delivery, our entire AW11 jersey collection was painstakingly produced for us by a local Leicestershire knitter, using original looms dating back several decades and with archive jersey yarn constructions in order to create a real authenticity and originality to our fabrics.
We could have chosen to take a much easier and less expensive way to produce the jersey fabric collection, as at first all qualities appear ‘basic’, although upon closer inspection all have been beautifully produced, so worthy of our time and investment.
And where better to find the ideal ‘schoolboy’ Flannel than from Fox Brothers, the true originators of Flannel cloth. Over a few brief discussions with their MD, Mr Douglas Cordeaux, we arrived upon an unfinished fabric, which we now call ‘raw flannel’.
Technically, this is a loomstate cloth, a beautiful fabric that later becomes a true, felted/ brushed flannel a few processes further on than the one we arrived at in order to create a crumpled or ‘washed’ look. The cloth is first woven without any processing and dry-cleaned to stabilize the fabric from any undue shrinkage. Although expensive, I believe this cloth shall become an established and signature fabric in the collection for future seasons to come.
Yes, we do have some great cloths in the AW11 offer and all have been selected upon their respective merits and are suitable for purpose.
SS: Finally, how do you see One Nine Zero Six developing over the coming seasons and beyond?
Den Webster: I think that at One Nine Zero Six, we feel strongly the direction we’ve decided to take in producing well crafted, clean, contemporary menswear is relevant in today’s market and is an exciting concept to further develop as we move forward from this point. We shall strive to continue to develop an honest signature or handwriting for the brand in both product and visual terms whilst doing so. I firmly believe that the future is very bright for companies that truly wish to continue to push themselves forward in the pursuit of pure product and a simplistic, functional design approach.
Our intention is to continue to develop strong working relationships with the best makers we can find in this country, using the finest quality fabrics and trims, combined with a forward thinking design ethos in order to do so. Hopefully the market shall embrace the idea.
We are now in the process of building a team, albeit a small one at this point, of like-minded and dedicated professionals that are forming a particular vision of how Gymphlex might look for the next one hundred and five years.
All images courtesy of One Nine Zero Six