ADRIAN GIBSON CHATS TO THE MEN’S FASHION DIRECTOR FOR BERGDORF GOODMAN ABOUT WORKING WITH ANNIE LEIBOVITZ, STYLING THE CAST OF FRIENDS TO LOOK LIKE A ‘30s CIRCUS TROUPE AND HIS FAVOURITE EUROPEAN FASHION WEEK DESTINATIONS
What awoke the creative spirit in young Bruce?
My mother was an elementary school teacher as well as the owner of a children’s shoe store in our hometown of Yuma in Arizona, so she always emphasised education and was very supportive of our artistic explorations. I attended some shoe shows with her and always felt that my opinion was valued and seen as important and relevant. This, in itself, was huge and very empowering. My twin brother and I were, after all, her target market, so it was great that my mother really valued our input and appreciated what we liked.
While growing up, what inspired you to forge a career in fashion?
To be honest, I didn’t even know a career in fashion was a possibility! This was way before magazine and fashion careers were regularly seen on TV together with any awareness of these worlds having job opportunities. So, looking at magazines (Interview, GQ) was my main connection to what was happening in the outside world, far from the Arizona desert.
What did you enjoy about working on shop floors during your college years?
I loved being of service to, engaging with and helping customers of the Gap and ESPRIT where I had jobs during my college summers. It was also fascinating to learn about clothes and spend time with the people I worked with who seemed so worldly. I was quite fastidious and was always given the responsibility of folding the denim wall at the end of the day. I was pretty proud of how I left the store looking in the evening!
And your college studies?
I wanted an aesthetically beautiful environment as well as a rigorous scholastic experience, so I went from the deserts of Arizona to the ivy-covered colonial bricked College of William and Mary in Virginia. I went planning to study accounting. But, after my first class, I realised that finance was not my path and was grateful to have found the fine arts school. In a quest for balance, I majored in art history, which was creatively inspiring, while also studying economics which appealed to my practical nature.
What did your first NYC job at Paul Smith teach you?
I found the job in the back of the Village Voice newspaper. It was exciting working with a fascinating crew of people at a cool store which was frequented by fun clients and customers during the hey-day of Paul Smith. I loved all the prints and patterns and learned a lot about fabrics, cuts, silhouettes and fashion in general. Interacting with magazine editors from time-to-time also opened my eyes to opportunities in the fashion world.
Tell us about your time at GQ magazine which culminated in you becoming associate fashion editor?
I got very lucky. My supervisor at Paul Smith very generously told me about an opening at GQ for a fashion assistant and encouraged me to interview. I started out by booking clothing in and out for shoots. Eventually I worked my way up to shooting assistant and worked on set with the associate fashion, celebrities and models, preparing the clothes, learning about art direction and the role of a fashion editor. It was all so fascinating that I just learned and absorbed as much as I could. I eventually started doing my own shoots for the magazine, travelled to Europe each season for the fashion shows and was promoted to market editor. I was associate fashion editor for almost a decade. It was all incredibly rewarding.
Your stylist and costume work included prominent campaigns as well as covers and features in many magazines. What did you enjoy most about this work?
Styling is a very different way of looking at clothing, with naturalism, character and how a person can really live in and inhabit clothing all being factors. I loved the research involved in the costume work and how my fashion background really influenced how I interpreted clothing and character.
Your favourite campaign?
Undoubtedly my campaign for The Sopranos TV show, photographed by Annie Leibovitz. It was amazing to really be able to dive into researching the costuming, spend weeks shopping for the characters and work with the costume design team to come up with a concept for an image of all the actors around a restaurant table, complete with lots of hidden meaning.
Which celebrity feature was the most fun to work on?
This is a toss-up between the Vanity Fair cover for the 2003 Hollywood Issue which featured the leading male actors of the time (including Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Jack Nicholson and Brad Pitt etc.), and a photograph I styled of the cast of Friends dressed as a 1930s circus troupe. Both were photographed by Annie Leibovitz. For the Friends image, I scrambled to pull together clothing and costume pieces, since we had changed the concept and spent the day fitting the actors while they were filming. We dressed each of them individually. Then Annie and I waited for them. They arrived together, truly looking like the troupe I had imagined, and it was quite a special, rewarding and overwhelming moment. I was incredibly proud of that shot.
After such an illustrious career in print, what prompted you to move into fashion retail?
I had always enjoyed every aspect of fashion retail. While working in editorial I also styled a variety of projects, including the Bergdorf Goodman men’s magazine for quite a few years. Consequently, I spent a fair amount of time interacting with the buyers and merchant team as well as being in the store which I grew to know very well. I loved the people and the environment and always hoped, in the back of my mind, that someday the right opportunity would arise there. Ultimately it did.
You have now been with Bergdorf Goodman for more than five years and are currently men’s fashion director. What does your role entail?
As men’s fashion director for both Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus my role is incredibly varied. I’m always on the hunt for new and exciting brands for our customers; constantly looking for ways to engage and excite the customer both in store and online; and working to identify and articulate trends and newness in the marketplace that will be compelling for our customer. I also work on the concepts and style the shoots for our magazine, the “Goodman’s Guide”, which comes out twice a year. I’m also always thinking of ways to expand the meaning of what we do inside the store’s physical space, including find new ways to engage and stimulate the customer. I enjoy immensely how wide and varied my responsibilities are.
Is it stressful to constantly travel the world looking for fresh menswear and streetwear for the stores of such iconic American retailers?
Gratefully I absolutely love to travel and have a virtually insatiable curiosity. I have been called a cultural omnivore by a fellow journalist which I thought was very apt. I am interested in most everything and am always just naturally on the hunt for things that are new, exciting, compelling and interesting, whether it’s a new store, new brand, a recently opened restaurant, a gallery, a museum exhibition or a musical. Everything I see informs my point of view and I never know from where that next exciting idea may arise.
Tell us about your new shop-in-shop at Bergdorf Goodman, B.?
On the third floor of the men’s store, developing B. has been a really fun and satisfying experience and it has been exciting to see it resonate with customers. It’s a multi-vendor concept shop for the Bergdorf Goodman customer, filled with wardrobe items and style-minded pieces that I’ve seen on my travels, plus items I’ve developed in collaboration with favourite designers. It is a way for me to showcase clothing that is a little more quiet and personal style driven. It is merchandised like a closet, with items placed next to each other as outfit suggestions to assist customers as they shop. bg.com/bshop
We understand that B. was kitted-out by your set designer brother Scott?
My brother Scott is a triple Tony award-winning set designer and an incredible talent, so it was natural to involve him in the design concept of the shop. We wanted it to feel welcoming and warm and a place where people enjoy spending time, so we took elements from a cottage I have on Long Island, like shingles and peg boards, to give it a very residential and comfortable feel.
Which Fashion Week destinations do you most enjoy visiting?
I love London very much and I never miss a dinner at the Marksman pub in Hackney, with its beautiful private dining room designed by Martino Gamper (marksmanpublichouse.com). I enjoy staying at the recently refurbished Excelsior Hotel Gallia in Milan, because everything is positioned exactly where it makes the most perfect sense in its guest rooms (excelsiorhotelgallia.com). In Paris, I am always on the lookout for a good new restaurant, with Clown Bar being a favourite (clown-bar-paris.com), as well as the more discrete Chez La Vielle where I can have a delicious dinner at the bar (chezlavieille.fr). Copenhagen is filled with amazing restaurants. I love 108 run by the Noma folks (108.dk) as well as Relae (restaurant-relae.dk), Manfreds (manfreds.dk) and the Mikkeller bars (mikkeller.dk).
Which country or region of the world talks to you most in terms of fashion creativeness?
Asia has some of the most fascinating and inventive retail experiences. Tokyo, Seoul and Hong Kong are always exciting places to travel to and explore.
What are your favourite labels to wear?
I wear a sort of uniform, incorporating a few key elements which balance between dressy and casual. I wear Le Mont St Michel chore jackets a lot, with Comme des Garçons striped shirts and Atelier & Repair khakis and jeans. Atelier & Repairs is a small workshop in LA where they take vintage denim and khakis and upcycle them, applying tonal patches and embroidery to make each pair unique (atelierandrepairs.com).
Any up-and-coming designers we should be looking out for?
Emily Bode’s line BODE, which produces one-of-a-kind, handcrafted clothing in New York, cut from antique fabrics such as Victorian quilts. Her quilted and printed shirts are terrific (bodenewyork.com). Matt Williams’ Alyx collection of technically-minded tailored sportswear is looking really good (alyxstudio.com). A-COLD-WALL* out of London (a-cold-wall.com).
How important do you think social media is in the modern retail environment?
Social media has been a great way for me to connect directly with people around the world who have an interest in menswear and fashion. Messages I received on Instagram definitely helped solidify my feelings that there would be interest in a B. concept shop based on items I wear and things I love. I really enjoy the accessibility and the ease with which I can share images, ask for opinions and engage with readers and followers. I think the personal connection that social media facilitates is very important in the modern retail world and the feedback provided is vital.
Somewhere you’d love to visit?
Surprisingly, given how much I travel, I have never visited Greece and would love to. I would also like to visit Portugal and go on safari in Africa. I am so curious about everything I would actually travel almost anywhere!
Six things you wouldn’t fly without in your carry-on?
My vintage Helmut Lang denim jacket, Orlebar Brown swim shorts, Le Mont St Michel chore coat, CLOSED x B. collaboration khakis, a converter and phone charger, and a Thom Browne tie, since you never know when you may need to unexpectedly dress up!