Chris Gibbs is the founder, owner, and head buyer of Union Los Angeles, one of the dopest stores in the world. So when Heineken was looking for a dude to head up their "#Heineken100" program, it only made sense to re-enlist the man with deep connections and vision (for example, he brought Visvim to the U.S. market). Using relationships he's fostered since the days he worked under James Jebbia, this year the #Heineken100 program and Chris Gibbs partnered with Mark McNairy, Neighborhood, Kill Spencer, and Haze to produce four super-limited items that will be sent to only 100 of the coolest dudes in the world.
So what does it require to make the cut? Chris gives his take on what the label-du-jour "Influencer" means to him, and why these brands are the ones that people would actually want to wear. He also waxes poetic on the romanticism of regionally unique style, and the sleeper hit of the capsule collaboration. Cross your fingers and hope you made the list, and even if you didn't, this interview gives some insight into what it takes to direct one of the most innovative stores in the world and lead a global cool-guy initiative.
What can you tell me about this #Heineken100 program? I mean this year in particular.
It’s our second year doing it. The first year was an amazing success, as far as I’m convinced and I think all involved would agree. The first year we just did the Mark McNairy shoe. Basically we didn’t make enough. I had so many requests from people who just couldn’t get it, which is always a good thing. I was really happy from beginning to end with the whole process. Heineken gave me my room to kind of do what I wanted to do. Everyone was happy, Mark made amazing product and we got it out to some really cool people.
We want to make something that 100 of the coolest people in America are getting gifted and I want to make sure that they like it and they want it and that they are going to use it. To me, this project fails if the guys who get it just put it in their closet or even on their desk. I want them wearing it. So that’s the number one thought process to me, I want to make sure that the people who are getting this, the coolest people, appreciate it and wear it and use it. That happened last season, so this season we were able to double down or I guess quadruple down so we’ve made not only the shoes, we also added in denim from Neighborhood and a bag from Kill Spencer. There’s also going to be an art angle to it so Haze is doing a 100 custom pieces and we were able to expand on last year. So I’m really excited. This season has come out great again and I think everybody is going to be really happy.
So I know you’re boys with Mark and you guys go way back. Do you have pre-existing relationships with Kill Spencer, Neighborhood, and with Haze? Did you seek them out or was there a process of choosing who to work with?
The clothing part was more me, and Heineken has a pre-existing relationship with Haze. I know Haze and I know him and I love that he’s apart of the project so I was totally down for it. I’m a big fan of bringing an artist into this because it’s a little bit different than clothing and designers. I wanted to give him the most freedom so I’ve been the least involved with Haze. We talked yesterday for an hour and we were hashing out ideas but at the end of it, I expressed to him that, "Hey, this is what I think we should do but at the end of the day you’re the artist, it’s your art. Do your thing." And I already know, it’s not as if I’m saying that to some crazy artist that’s going to come with some crazy shit like I already know that Haze is going to come with the dope so I’m not really worried but also not as involved with Haze.
With the other products, it was all me and my pre-existing relationships. We [Union Los Angeles] do not carry Kill Spencer as a brand but a mutual friend put me and Spencer in contact a long time ago and we’ve kind of had a relationship from afar and we’ve kept in touch. He started out doing this kind of custom bag line where he caters to everyone's individual needs. You go to him and have an interview with him and explain everything you travel with, what you do, and all other specifications and he makes it for you. That was how I first got introduced to him, but he’s obviously expanded his label because he’s making his very own ready to wear bags and phone accessories and all that king of stuff. The Kill Spencer piece that turned out to be one of the better parts of the project. I’m happy with all three of them but he’s just so awesome to work with. He’s gone above and beyond, we’ve made a bag that exceeds the value of the price that we put on this stuff. He’s made like a super luxe, super dope bag that I think is going to be this season’s kind of like sleeper. A lot of people might not have heard of him but after this bag comes out, people are going to be all on it.
...we have to make something that the guy who has access to the best stuff in the world will appreciate.
Then with Neighborhood, obviously we have carried Neighborhood for over ten years at the store and that was an easy call. I used to work for James Jebbia, the owner of Supreme. The advice he had given me a long, long time ago was to buy from people what they do the best. And for this project I’ve been able to wither that down to Mark who kills it with the shoes, Kill Spencer who does bags amazingly, and Neighborhood's denim. They are now like a very diverse brand but what made them "them" was their denim program from early on.
This project got from everyone what they do the best.
What they’ve tried to make me think of is this world-traveling tastemaker guy. This is for the kind of guy who no matter what city he’s in the world, he has access to and knows the best restaurants, clubs, people, stores—that kind of guy. With that in mind, we have to make something that the guy who has access to the best stuff in the world will appreciate.
I guess you just did describe this, but I wanted to ask how would you describe a tastemaker or influencer?
I mean at the end of the day, a tastemaker is someone who people look up to. Someone people look up to or look to for direction on what’s dope and what’s cool. What I really like about this kind of, there’s probably a more corporate name but I’ll call it guerilla marketing, is that it’s subtle but it lasts longer and it’s kind of deeper in its foundation. What's important is the guy who’s getting this is going to believe, at the end of the day, we are supporting these brands. Some of which need help, some of them don’t. Heineken is a global, mass, huge brand. A lot of these brands are niche and they are getting access to this wider pool. So I think that’s really cool and obviously Heineken now gets to be marketed and promoted to these very niche consumers so it kind of, you know, everybody’s getting something good out of this.
...everybody that works at the store, we’re guilty of one thing that’s not so good. We get high on our own supply.
And do you have anything to saying in who makes the list of 100? Besides the brands having their dudes …
I did not. You know Heineken has their crew. I hope, I think I’m on it! Last year I obviously I got a pair of the Mark shoes and I hope I get the stuff that we’re doing this year. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if I get a nice package in the mail. And I kind of got an idea of the kind of people on it. I didn’t have any say in that and I kind of don’t want it. If I had a say, 50 of these would be going to my boys in Brooklyn. I couldn’t help but make
sure my peoples get it. I’m happy not to be involved.
I guess what’s kind of unique and interesting, the products are a collaboration between designers, artists, and yourself, a buyer. You have an eye for what people want, what people don't want, and what they don't even know they want yet.
You know obviously I’m a little biased here but I think it’s the perfect scenario. My store is run and has been really successful because of me as the director, me as the buyer and all the way down to the employees at the store, we all try and think of what the consumer wants. And we, I would say everybody that works at the store, we’re guilty of one thing that’s not so good. We get high on our own supply.
I love Visvim. I’m a huge personal fan, we buy a lot of it. That passion for the product gets sold in a genuine way, it’s not like “Sure, you look great in that.” I bought that for the store because I wanted it. A lot of our good friends are like, “Why didn’t you get that for yourself?” And it’s like, "Yo man, I can’t." Or I’ll have a guy who comes into the store and asks, “Hey do you like this shirt?” I’m like, “Yo dude, real talk, that’s not the question to ask me because everything in the store I like.” We have a relatively small boutique, we haven’t reached the level where we’re buying the stuff we don’t like. So the better thing to ask me is “Hey you know what my style is, does this fit my style?” Because then I could give you a honest answer; I’m always going to give you a honest answer.
So that was a long story to get around back to yeah, I think it’s the perfect scenario and I’m so happy that Heineken has recognized and given me the freedom like, “Hey put me in charge of directing these designers to make something that the end users are going to like.” My job has been to think of the end user. Take me out of it, and I believe you’re going to get the designers making what they want which might not be aligning with what Heineken wants and I consider myself to be the glue that keeps this all together.
Yeah and then that’s the other side of it. I’m mean that in a kind of, “Yeah I’m still important to this project,” but at the end of the day, the three people who we happened to choose are all quite savvy. I think Mark’s one of the most creative designers I know. I’ve reached to people who I knew were going to do this well. So in a lot of ways it’s been quite easy because everybody stepped up to the plate, I’ve learned a lot through the process.
There’s a certain level of romanticism for you know, all these areas still having their own unique identity.
Specifically working with Kill Spencer who is here in LA so we were much more together. Out of the three brands, he's the smallest so he put more time into it. Just the back and forth we’ve had is quite pleasant. He’s really thought about every single detail and aspect. With the other two, with Mark we’re picking an existing silhouette and customizing it. With Neighborhood we’re picking an existing silhouette and customizing it. I think we did a great job and I’m not downplaying that. With Kill Spencer we kind of started from
scratch and built this one thing.
We see the shoes and you described the Haze print, but would you mind giving just a brief rundown of what you did with Kill Spencer and Neighborhood.
So with Neighborhood, like I said what put them on the map was their denim. They have an amazing denim program so we decided to do a pair of jeans. We obviously wanted to highlight that these are special and for this Heineken program. So what we did was, they have their branding on the back of the lightning bolt on the back of the pockets, we did that in a Heineken green stitch. Also the branding patch is a green leather patch. The pocket bags have some Heineken branding on the inside and Neighborhood always come in their own envelops and we branded the envelope. We also did, I believe, green hashtags on all the stress points. So what I think we did really well is we took into account all the Heineken branding but we also kept it quite subtle.
At the end of the day, you’re going to have to look deeper to know that it’s a special jean and I like that, I like that it’s very subtle. And the guys who are wearing it are all guys in the know. It’s not this “Boom! In your face.” You know, we could've laser burned the Heineken logo in an all-over print over the jeans which would have been horrible but I could totally see someone doing that. So it’s very subtle and very sophisticated. I’m quite proud of it and everything came together quite easily.
The bag which has become kind of like one of my favorite pieces. We chose just a super luxe leather, we finished it in all in high end finishing like RiRi zippers. It ends up being a very luxe piece. It ends up being a bag that looks like if you went into a store and bought it, it was like $2,000 or something. It has a suede bottom, and we did a diamond stitch embroidery on the back support. The inside is lined with a green nylon for all the pockets. And then Spencer came up with a beautiful design for the branding—it's this leather patch on the inside of the bag but it’s stitched on three sides leaving the top open and is sized for a passport. He’s really good with utilizing every aspect so if there’s a pocket, or any kind of branding, it’s there for a reason. It’s beautiful. People are going to love this bag.
I guess I do. Obviously our world has gotten a lot smaller and everybody’s connected. Styles that are seen are then quickly replicated but I do think each region has its own style. The guy in Paris is going to wear Mark’s shoes differently than the guy in New York and as the guy in L.A. Los Angeles, as I’ve come to realize, has a super laid back atmosphere but if you think of the people making money, the people making moves out here, it’s in very creative casual businesses so these people don’t have to wear suits. So you know in L.A. there’s not a really big suit business. Our store doesn’t have a lot of like more dressy gear, it’s a lot more dress down. You can have this multi-million dollar businessman who doesn’t have to go to the office everyday wearing a suit but he still has good money and he wants to spend that on his style He’s going to get really high end casual clothing.
In London, it’s probably going to a guy that might put Mark's shoes together with a Savile Row suit. Tokyo, it’s going to be this super dandy, haberdash motherfucker.
In New York, the money makers are still probably on Wall Street so it’s a lot more dressy. I can see some of this product going to a guy who’s will maybe put Mark’s shoes with a suit. Whereas here they’re going to be with khakis. But if you go to Paris where denim is king, I can see the guy wearing Mark’s shoes with denim.
There’s still very local styles, so although everyone knows about Mark's shoes, all three guys from three different cities are going to wear them quite differently and that’s cool, I think that’s dope. There’s a certain level of romanticism for you know, all these
areas still having their own unique identity.
And it sounds like the subtlety and the sophistication of these four products and the three clothing products especially can be mixed in no matter what. If it’s some crazy Tokyo style, some laid back LA style, or dressed-up New York style they can be incorporated and these guys that you’re sending it to know how to do that.
Yeah exactly. In London, it’s probably going to a guy that might put Mark's shoes together with a Savile Row suit. Tokyo, it’s going to be this super dandy, haberdash motherfucker. I could just see it being quite diverse and that’s kind of cool. I mean hopefully these guys will Instagram and social media this stuff and when it’s seen being worn in all these different ways, the trickle down effect is going to inspire and people are going to see how things can be worn in different ways.
And then there’s going to be a respect like “Oh wow Heineken did this.” That’s really cool and I just hope someone’s going to be “Hey I respect Heineken for putting something together that’s dope.” Personally, anybody who did something dope, I’m a fan of.