10 Jun
A quick peek into one of Australia's top menswear labels

By Madeleine Parker

In 2008 Huw Bennett, Felix Chan and Arran Russell combined their talents, creativity and knowledge of the fashion industry and started a menswear label in Sydney, Australia. By 2009 the first collection from Vanishing Elephant hit the shelves and people instantly took notice. The vintage inspired colour palette with it’s luxurious yet light and wearable fabrics designed for the modern man was still in keeping with the classic gentleman’s silhouette. The range includes tailored suits and coats, woven  shirts, linen pants, knitwear and leather footwear. Three years on they have a GQ Designer Of the Year award in their perfectly tailored pocket and have stockist in Asia, the US and Europe. What sets these boys apart from the pack is not only are they creating affordable luxury, they are three very unique and passionate individuals with the same goal in mind: bringing back a style and way of dressing that once was reserved for men of a certain social class. Offering the same distinction without any of the pretension, Vanishing Elephant is the accoutre for the new era of businessman.

Fashion labels are typically solo expeditions or duos, how did your trio come to be?
Felix:
Arran used to have a label called Marshall Artist and I met him through that, Incu (Multi-brand clothing stockist) used to stock it and I would help them with the buying.
Arran:
So I have known Chan for…
Felix:
Too long
Arran:
Seven…eight years.
Felix:
Huw and I met through agents.
Huw:
Felix and I were sort of competitors
Felix:
Frenemies.
Huw:
We both worked in sales, selling other peoples labels and through that we found a mutual connection, seeing the lighter side of the industry. Arran and I didn’t know each other all that well, except I used to come into Martial Artist and get free stuff from all his employees.
Arran:
Are you serious…?
Huw:
Yeah from Baby Dave.
Arran:
That fucker!

Hit the Jump to continue reading our Q&A with the three men behind Vanishing Elephant…

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“Vanishing Elephant is as much about being creative and having a product that we are proud of, but also makes money and hopefully it will buy us a big house and we can retire down the coast and buy loads of cats…”

Do you find dealing with three personalities and opinions conflicting or is it all for one and one for all?
Arran:
We do the vote system, two votes wins.
Huw:
Yeah, it works as a democracy. The genetic makeup of the business, the way we work now is that everyone knows what their roles are and whilst we do cross over a little bit it’s quite tailored to what they do.

So what is each persons role?
Arran:
I do production, so I mainly deal with all the factories I take it from, I suppose, the original concept through to the actual production of the goods. Huw is sales, marketing, social media and all that area and Felix does the creative and back end.

Elephants are particularly conspicuous creatures and if one were to vanish it may raise a few eyebrows, what was the message behind the name?
Felix:
It’s pretty much after a book, One of our favourite authors is a Japanese author named Haruki Murakami and he had a collection of short stories called ‘Elephant Vanishes’ and we pretty much took it from that.
Huw:
So we flipped it around and it was ‘The Vanishing Elephant’ to start of with but it was too long.
Felix:
We watched The Social Network
Huw:
Ha, oh yeah.
Felix:
“The Facebook’
Arran:
We listened to JT.

The hidden innards of a Vanishing Elephant…

Going back to the very beginning, how did you obtain the funds to start?
Arran:
We sold his ass (Points to Felix)
Huw:
We have a backer (Incu) who helped us out, well they were a huge part of the financial aspect.
Felix:
We had always been quite close and all three of us had some form of working relationship with them previously so there was already a level of trust there. They’re more our partners than anything else; we share studio space with them as well.
Arran:
They are our life partners.

You were awarded designer of the year in 2010 at the GQ Men Of the Year awards, what effect did that have on Vanishing Elephant?
Arran:
A really big hangover.
Huw:
Yeah basically.

So it didn’t help push the label?
Huw:
I think it’s sort of… ah… what’s the right word for it?
Felix:
It’s very intangible
Huw:
Yeah, there is no tangible value to it. A lot of people have recognised that and said congratulations and that in itself is a nice recognition but going further I don’t know how much effect its had. We can tell our agents and distributors overseas that we won it,  so in that sense its great as they tell their clients but as Felix said its hard to put a tangible value on it.

It’s hard to put a price on?
Huw: Yeah but in saying that we are happy we won it and receive the accolades and not to be inflated by it but it’s nice for someone to recognize us.
Arran:
It helps picking up the ladies.

Another Aussie trio who have had huge success in the international market were Tsubi now one man down, in voluntary administration and renamed Ksubi after being sued. What are your opinions on their rise and fall.
Huw:
Essentially I think their whole business started as not a business, they decided to make some jeans and it worked and they went from there where as Felix, Arran and I all have quite a solid background in the industry. Vanishing Elephant is as much about being creative and having a product that we are proud of but also having an effective business that does what all business’s do and makes money and hopefully it will buy us a big house and we can retire down the coast and buy loads of cats. [Before the interview, Arran mentioned his hatred for cats]
Felix:
In all fairness Ksubi gets a bad wrap; personally this is my take on it: they have affected menswear more than any other brand in Australia. They don’t get enough credit for what they have done.
Huw:
And they definitely pioneered, in some regards, the change in the guard in the fashion industry in this country as well… where it was always very hoi tee toity
Arran:
Yeah I agree.
Huw:
It was all taken far too seriously; they brought a much lighter side to it. I actually used to work there for a long time so it’s interesting working in a business like this now where we all understand our job roles, where as working there… there were jobs roles but it was pretty loose.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel with what we do we’re just paying homage and this is our interpretation of that…”

Your “About” section on your website reads “Vanishing Elephant heralds a return to the gentlemanly style.” What is your idea of the modern gentleman?
Arran:
You answer it Huw, you wrote it.
Huw:
Did I? Ha. I guess it’s not delving too deep into the manner of a gentleman, although you know you liked to think that the modern gentleman is courteous but also has a softer side to him. I think it’s more about our take on the clothes and we use a very classic silhouette and that our ideas are derived from clothes that men have worn for 20, 30, 40, 50 years in terms of cotton pants, neat shirts, blended knits whether it be wool or mohair or whatever. It’s just about… heralding the return is almost saying we’re not reinventing the wheel with what we do we’re just paying homage and this is our interpretation of that.

Australia is not a hop skip and a jump from any of the major fashion capitals — do you think Australian labels are helped or hindered because of its unique situation being so far away and with opposite seasons?
Huw:
That’s a very interesting question and one we have had put to us a number of different ways before and honestly, I think we are on the fence about it because we are fortunate that we get to travel a fair bit and get to take inspiration from overseas but I also think that we have to be somewhat reflective of the environment we live in, in terms of everything we design is transeasonal for the northern hemisphere… it’s a bit of a mind fuck I guess sometimes… but we are trying to cater for the local market and design what we understand, but the flipside is trying to do heavier pieces for the northern hemisphere winter when it’s summer here and trying to get the weight of the fabrics right.

Lastly if your collection came with a soundtrack what songs or artists would sum it up?
Huw:
oooowwww.
Felix:
He’d be Lady Gaga (Points to Arran)
Huw:
Yeah but Lady Gaga in the physical sense.
Felix:
That’s a tough one.
Huw:
I guess our label is so diverse and that’s really reflective in our music; collectively there is a lot of things we like and a lot of things we dislike about what each person listens to.
Felix:
And the one thing we have always been quite weary of is pinning our aesthetic to a genre, whether it’s music or art or an era. We have always tried to stay away from that.
Huw:
I think if you asked me what my favourite song was it would change everyday.
Felix:
There have been ranges that we have done that have been inspired by bands; one of our ranges was inspired by Crosby Stills and Nash and America and…
Arran:
Wade Jackson
Huw:
(Laughs) Yeah very folk… kind of late 60’s and 70’s.
Felix:
Overall it’s a tough one because we definitely know what we like in music but just today we were having a chat about Pulp and he doesn’t like Pulp (points to Arran)
Huw:
See that’s a classic example.
Felix:
I’m all about Pulp
Arran:
Who are Pulp?
Huw:(
Laughs) That’s right, you should have in brackets that Arran has played the Avalanches last album on repeat for almost two and a half years
Arran:
Come on, it’s the only record I’ve got.

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No Responses to “The Kangaroo Communique: The Life & Times of Vanishing Elephant”

  1. Bernhard says:

    Nice interview. I don’t know the guys, but I like ’em after reading this. Can anyone tell me who did the interview? It doesn’t say anywhere, or am I missing it.

  2. what a amazing collection….it looking so stylish,fashionable and fabulous……i liked your fashionable dresses.i liked your way to explore the way of your knowledge and experience regarding your subject,,,,keep it up!!!!!!!thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Amos Perlumutter says:

    Some pretty epic sets, ill definitely have to give these guys a further look.

  4. Madeleine says:

    Thanks Charles, I think by dresses you mean menswear. Yes they are a very cool group of guys with a fresh take on smart casual. I’m sure we will see much more of them.

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