He is a man who wears the legacy of the brand he works for. In the following interview, the Swedish-born global creative director of Gant tells us about his style and his work.
Words by Marc Beaugé. Pictures by Sean Thomas.
Translation from French by Helene Tammik.
L’ÉTIQUETTE. What are your earliest memories of clothes?
CHRISTOPHER BASTIN. What comes to mind spontaneously is the summers I spent with my grandfather on the west coast of Sweden, when I was about four or five. He always wore batik shirts with short sleeves. He was a real character. He’d grown up in Russia and moved to Sweden, and then he went to art school in Paris—with Matisse, among others. He had a very idiosyncratic style. He made charcoal drawings in his studio, and all his shirts smelled of the fixatives he sprayed them with.
É. Is he the one who lit the creative spark in you?
C.B. Actually, music was my thing when I was younger. I played the piano, guitar and drums. I had a band and thought I would have a career in music. I was working in a record store, but then one day in the mid ’80s, I got fed up with the place, so I left and took a job in the jeans store across the street. It was called Solo and was one of Stockholm’s first really cool stores. We’d sell almost 300 pairs of jeans every Saturday. People would queue up outside; it was crazy. They couldn’t get enough of Diesel and Replay. The guy I worked with was into vintage jeans and collected them; he passed on his addiction to me. Because of him—or thanks to him—I’ve been collecting vintage jeans since I was 19.
É. What were you like at that age?
C.B. All the money I earned at Solo, I’d spend there, too. I’d buy jeans and retro T-shirts by the batch. My footwear was by Red Wing or Blundstone. Later on, Harley Davidson started making biker boots, which became a massive thing in Stockholm. After that, I wore them all the time. White nubuck biker boots. In those days, one pair cost me half of what I made in a month.
É. How did you end up designing clothes?
C.B. One day in the late 1990s, I got a call from a guy at H&M. A friend of his who shopped in our store had told him about me and my style. That led to me being taken on as a buyer in their denim department. H&M wasn’t anywhere near as huge at that point—they weren’t even present in the United States. We were a small team: just me, another buyer, a designer and his assistant. Then I moved on to Acne, in the first year after they created the brand. They gave me a big bag of fabric samples and sent me to Italy to visit the denim factory. My mission was to bring back good jeans. [Laughs] Each assignment brought me closer to concept development and design, but I wasn’t a designer when I arrived at Gant. In fact, in my interview with one of the owners at the time, the first thing I said was, “I shouldn’t even be here, because I don’t have a design degree.” [Laughs] Clearly, that didn’t bother him. And that’s how I ended up working at one of the rare companies that has been around since the birth of American sportswear.
É. Did you spend all your time in the States?
C.B. I soon found out that many of our former factories were still standing in New Haven, which is where the brand was founded. I started going there regularly to look for archive pieces. I discovered that for the first 25 or 30 years of the brand’s existence [Gant was founded in 1949], it only made shirts. In the 1950s, every Gant shirt had the name of the shop on its label. And at one point, we had over 600 customers in theUnited States. I spent a crazy amount of time researching the brand. One day, I was rifling through a dusty old box we’d found and were just about to throw away when I came across a recording of a two-hour interview with Marty Gant, the founder’s son, on which he told the entire story of the brand in so much detail that it still gives me goosebumps. What he said on the tape answered every single question I had at that time. He talked about all the brands Gant had ever manufactured for, the management’s interactions with Ralph Lauren, the Kennedys and the birth of the Ivy League style. That tape was a gold mine.
É. What role did Gant play in creating the preppy Ivy League look?
C.B. Brooks Brothers invented the button-down oxford shirt, but to get one from them you had to order it, whereas Gant supplied them for the mass market. More importantly, Gant made a name for itself with stripes, colors and checked patterns that other brands didn’t do. Legend also has it that Gant added the loop on the back of shirts and a button on the back of the collar. Everyone in the office is sick and tired of me going on about our heritage all the time [laughs], and they’re right. The truth is that it’s my job to find the balance between our heritage and modernity. It’s not easy because our clientele is very diverse. For example, my father has been wearing Gant for 35 years, and he was pretty rattled when I took over. “You’re going to screw it all up!” he told me. [Laughs] I want us to always have products that will appeal to him, but I also want to attract people with a more contemporary style. You need strong pieces to make that happen. That explains the fur coat in our winter collection. People may well ask, “Is it really Gant, that coat?” But I have a Gant ad from 1975 with a very similar fur coat, so the answer is yes.
É. How has your own style evolved since you worked at Solo?
C.B. There have been various stages. At one point, I decided I’d make my own clothes, to be “different.” I borrowed my mother’s sewing gear and made some horrible pistachio-green-and-black pants with an elastic waistband. [Laughs] Today, they’d almost be fashionable, but at the time they were really weird. I have a vivid recollection of a girl I had a crush on telling me that my pants were repulsive. She broke my heart, and I never wore them again. But I did love those pants. Thing soon got back on track, though. In the early ’90s, I settled on my staple outfit: jeans, faded T-shirt, oxford button-down, jacket. Very simple, very accessible things.
É. Apparently, you also went through a very black period.
C.B. In 2014, I threw everything out and bought myself five pairs of black jeans and 50 black T-shirts and started wearing chunky sneakers. Hands up, I admit it. Everyone hated them, but they’re so comfortable—for running, for exercising, for going to work.
É. When did you finally find your way back to the classics?
C.B. I left Gant for four years, between 2016 and 2020, then returned. As I started to think about renewing the brand, I found myself wanting to dress in jeans and oxford shirts again. One day, I came into the office like this, and everyone said, “You look so colorful today!”
É. If you could only keep a few pieces, which ones couldn’t you live without?
C.B. The button-downs I’ve been wearing for the last three years, which are nice and faded. Jeans, good shoes—English, handmade, in cordovan leather if possible. And a nice watch, naturally. Any Rolex from before 1984 is perfect. I really like the Patek Nautilus 3700, too, but its price has gone up so much. I’m glad I started buying old watches when I did. Now, if I want to refurbish my house, all I have to do is sell one!