Sometimes fate keeps nudging you until you start heading in the right direction. So when Felix Chan, Huw Bennett and Arran Russell kept crossing paths in the interwoven community of the Sydney fashion industry, they figured something was meant to happen. Realising that they possessed a similar approach to fashion – and recognising a gap in the menswear market – they decided to pool their creative nous into the label Vanishing Elephant. Launching in 2009, the brand quickly earned cult status amongst sharply dressed Australian lads, who valued its European tailoring and classic yet cool approach to the basics. Now with Brisbane lass Ana Diaz onboard as its women’s designer, Vanishing Elephant is seizing its destiny with gusto.
What do you remember most about your childhood?
I was born in Hong Kong, but I moved to Australia when I was one and have pretty much lived in Sydney my whole life. I grew up with a lovely, but kind of crazy, mum – you know how Asian parents have their little quirks. I have a really great family and I had a really good, easy, comfortable childhood.
What was your childhood dream?
I was a bit of a sports nerd – I still am – and so I played a lot of sports. But I actually always wanted to be an architect. I didn’t study architecture at uni – like a good Asian boy, I ended up doing business studies!
Can you remember the first time fashion had an impact on you?
It’s funny when it comes to that. I understand and appreciate fashion, but it’s not really anything I’ve ever been obsessed with. I would always buy things, and that’s how I got started in the industry – because I knew the guys from the store Incu from shopping there and ended up running their distribution. But there wasn’t really a turning point where I decided that this was what I was going to do for the next however-many years.
How did you meet Huw and Arran?
At the time, I was working for Incu, Huw had his own agency, while Arran had a brand called Martial Artist. But the industry is so small that you just kind of know everyone. They’re all similar circles and if you have similar viewpoints about the industry and how you see people and relationships, you generally get along with the same people.
Did you each immediately take on certain roles in the company or did
it happen more organically?
It’s a small company and we all do a lot of things that are quite broad, but we do each have our defined roles. The brand started originally through relationships I had with a couple of stores, so I did the design, Huw came on as the sales guy and Arran – who has actually left the business now – came on as production. But it’s very interchangeable – everyone has a say and it’s a very democratic way that we work. There’s never any hard feelings and we’re not precious about anything. We’re pretty realistic and pragmatic about what we do.
What was your original philosophy
for the brand?
We were pretty strategic about it. At the time there was a really big gap in the men’s market – there was definitely a gap for woven shirts, which was the core of how we started. And there was a gap for a middle-of-the-road-priced brand that could sit in aspirational stores but not be too high in price point. So we could sit amongst brands like A.P.C. and be the lower-tier price point, but then also be the aspirational product at places like General Pants Co. We were really fortunate that Huw and I had sales relationships with everyone we sold to. We had at least 20 stores that we wanted to sell to first season, and I think we sold to 19 of them, and eventually also started selling to Dirtbox, which was the last store.
How has the Vanishing Elephant aesthetic evolved since?
We’ve been a bit too influenced by stores in the past, and we’ve had to find that balance of being financially viable and completely true to ourselves. We’re an everyday classics kind of brand with real wardrobe staples, and that’s really what we always go for. It’s a real cliche, but I think it’s a reflection of what we as owners and designers are like and it’s what we’ve always envisioned for the brand.
What inspired the latest collection?
This is the first major season that we’ve had our women’s designer Ana Diaz – and it was one of the best choices we ever made, having a women’s designer. Her first season is great and it has a bit of a sports theme. We touched on more technical fabrics – nylons, quick drys – and used mesh for detailing. And we worked with some great artists and photographers to do some digital printing. We’re slowly pulling back the amount of prints that we’re doing and I guess this is kind of bridge collection to the one we’re releasing in January 2015, which is much more of a reflection of where we want to be. That one’s really about making sure it’s a head-to-toe collection.
How did you approach the women’s clothing before you had a designer?
It was tough. Obviously we had friends and partners who would help and contribute, but to not have anyone here day to day who understood the female body – and what girls wear – was definitely hard. We knew what we wanted the product to be, but we couldn’t fully execute it. We just didn’t have that confidence that we had with the menswear about how it should look and fit.
How does Australia influence your menswear designs?
The longer we’ve been doing this, the more we’ve been influenced by Australia. That’s where the prints come in and that’s why it’s probably getting a bit more relaxed. Guys here are far more open now to experiment and wear different things and the industry has progressed a lot since I started. There’s no longer that stigma about a guy who cares about clothing. For us it’s about designing stuff that we’d want to wear – we may not necessarily wear everything, but we still need to love it.
What’s something you’re most proud of?
Our retail stores are great. We get to have a space that is our idea and philosophy, and that presents the clothing the way we want, and we’re really happy with that. If you had said it to me when we first started, I wouldn’t have believed that we’d have a couple of stores by now.
Who inspires you?
There are a lot of people I definitely respect. A.P.C. is a really incredible brand, and there’s Acne, which started as an advertising agency. I really love what Norse Projects
and Our Legacy do, and the guys from Incu are pretty inspiring too.
What inspires you?
For me, it’s about the process – doing something well and seeing that growth. I’ve been doing this for five years and the goal for me is to see how far we can take it and how much we can grow it. That’s what inspires me more than just wanting to make clothing.
Where do you find peace in life?
I watch lots of sports and I read just to zone out a bit.
What are your words of wisdom?
Things are never as good as you think they are, and never as bad as you think they are. Sometimes things are bad and you can’t let it affect you too much. And when things are good, enjoy it, but keep it in balance. I always try to keep that in mind.