For the third consecutive year, Heineken has tapped Chris Gibbs of Union Los Angeles for #Heineken100. While the program—which consists of exclusive product collaborations seeded to the brand’s top influencers—has been going strong for five years, it reached a new level of hype when Gibbs was named Creative Director last year. In anticipation of the 2014 launch this month, we caught up with Gibbs—fresh off his recent work trip to Japan—to discuss the exclusive magic that the two powerhouses, along with their latest brand partners, have created this time around. This first leg of the three-part series features a collaborative effort with highly touted luxury accessories brand Parabellum.
Interview by Gurvinder Singh Gandu (@GurvinderSG)
Describe your evolution with the #Heineken100 program. It’s something that you’ve been a part of for three years now. How has it grown over time, and how has it influenced you on both a personal and professional level?
It has grown a lot; I mean, it’s expanded so that’s a good thing—that’s literal growth. The first year we did one item. Last year we did three, and this year we’re doing three again. I’ve really enjoyed being a part of it. It allows me to do what I do best, which is to go shop the world for something that is really cool and then bring it to America—or bring it to the masses. I get to introduce a new customer to stuff that either I’ve been following or have appreciated for a while, or maybe something that’s new to me as well, so it’s been really fun. As far as helping me grow, I’m a retailer—that’s what I do, that’s what 90 percent of me is, so I’m not typically involved in the process of making the product or marketing the product from that perspective. Being a part of the #Heineken100 series has allowed me to be a little bit more involved in the actual creating of the product as opposed to just editing or choosing it.
Is that an element of your professional career that you’re looking to expand on moving forward?
It is. The thing about Heineken is that they make it real easy for me. I don’t really have to do much on the production tip, and I get to be closely aligned with really great designers. For me to delve into that more, I’d probably have to try to become a designer on my own and have to do all the dirty work of actually getting the product produced. That’s not so sexy to me, so this is working out pretty well.
Over the past few years you’ve tapped notable names like Mark McNairy, Public School, and KILLSPENCER. How did you come about choosing this year’s partner talent?
I moved out to L.A. from New York about 10 years ago, and I’ve slowly but surely fallen in love with not just the city, but also the culture here and the difference between East Coast and West Coast. I got excited that the three brands we’re working with this year are all from California, specifically L.A. We went out to Garrett Leight, who’s doing the sunglasses for us. We reached out to Parabellum, who did a custom-made tote bag, which came out amazing—really beautiful—and an old friend of mine, René [Holguin] from RTH, who’ve I’ve known for a really long time. He’s finally blowing up so I’m also really excited to bring him into the mix with the program. I think the three pieces on their own and their designers are individually amazing, but they also come together quite well.
This is a program of firsts. It’s the first time Parabellum has used canvas as a medium, it’s the first time RTH has created a product using quilted nylon, and it’s the first time Garrett Leight has used a zero base flat lens in their shades. You’ve said that you wanted designers to step outside their personal creative boundaries for this project. Elaborate on that. How hard is it to convince brands to do something out of their norm?
Well, I think it started from a place of us wanting to bring something unique to the end user. We didn’t want to just do the ol’ okie-dokie: "Hey let’s just get a pair of sunglasses Garrett Leight already makes, put our name on it, and call it a day." We wanted it to be something a bit more special. So that’s what inspired us to get the designers to push the boundaries, as in have them bring something unique to the table.
For sure it’s had its challenges, but I feel blessed in that I have a great relationship with two of the three brands, which I’ve known for a long time. Parabellum is a line that we’ve launched in the store [Union Los Angeles] and I have a great relationship with those guys. We’ve had a long-standing relationship so they’re more open to my ideas. René is also an old friend, so I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it was definitely easier because we have a friendship. He’s long supported our store, and he’s been a customer at Union for a long time. And I’ve done the same for him.
And then with Garrett Leight, we didn’t know each other prior to the program but we knew of the same people, so I really enjoyed working with Garrett and his team, and I now feel like I’ve made a new friend, which is great. Again, all of these things have their limitations and challenges more based on ‘Hey, this isn’t something that the company’s done before or does with regularity,’ so getting it to the producers and the factories is more difficult than it is for the designers. The designers are all creative people who want to do new and interesting things, so they’re not opposed to trying to do something different. It’s mainly logistically whether or not they can do that.
You mentioned in the video that you had wanted to work with Parabellum last year, but it didn’t quite work out. Is there any specific reason for that?
It was timing. They weren’t quite ready for the program that we had, and we weren’t quite ready for them, and the two worlds kind of came together during this season. We had some initiatives and some points that we needed to make as a program before we brought on Parabellum. I think it ended up working out perfectly because had they done something last year it wouldn’t have been this bag, and this bag is great. In a weird way, it’s one of those things that just worked out. I’ve learned through my time in this industry that when I want something, I get pretty aggressive about getting it. If I want something for the store, I will pull out all the stops to get it. There’s been many times when that doesn’t work, but it’s something that will end up circling back around maybe two or three years later in what ends up being the best situation.
In terms of aesthetics, the canvas tote is certainly street-style approved. But beyond just the looks, it's also integrated with a high-tech feature a la the Trackr chip. What was the thought process behind adding that tracking device to the tote?
Again, just trying to get the most unique product to the market. Coincidentally Parabellum had recently connected with the Trackr guys out of Santa Barbara, and they’d recently made a connection with them. So as we were kind of shooting the shit on what we wanted to do with this project, they kind of mentioned it and we immediately were like "hell yeah!" I’m actually really excited about it because another part of this project is that, because Heineken is such a huge global brand, working with them helps us shine the light on new up-and-coming designers, and in this regard, new tech. I mean, you can track your lost or stolen bag through this little chip, which is great.