Robb Interview: Christian Kimber

The Englishman shows he understands Australian menswear and knows what he’s doing.

By Josh Bozin 07/10/2021

The past decade has been a busy and largely exciting period for Australian menswear. And few brands can hold claim to have cut through the zeitgeist to define a movement like Christian Kimber.

A Melbourne-based label led by husband-and-wife duo Christian and Renuka Kimber, it’s captured the attention of a wide range of enthusiasts in a way that’s led to natural growth, two bustling Melbourne boutiques and a thriving e-commerce platform—all in the midst of a global pandemic.

So what makes Christian Kimber the success that it is? For starters, the brand commands the attention of those looking to bridge the gap between casual and tailoring, resulting in design-driven, thoughtful and elevated men’s lines that ultimately fill a void with a sophisticated and proudly Australian aesthetic.

Robb Report: Can we begin things by understanding how Christian Kimber the label came to be?

Christian Kimber: Ren and I started it in 2013 after seeing a gap in the Australian market for products that fit between casual and formal menswear. We started with a small run of footwear and accessories, which sold out immediately … Our taste in product design just grew and grew and grew and we slowly started from there and over time, we started offering full looks, and through that, discovered who our customer was and what they wanted.

RR: It would have been a shock to see the way Australian men dressed 10 years ago. Did you find it challenging heading into a market that wasn’t yet established, and then steering guys in the right fashion direction?

Renuka Kimber: We had to establish what the brand stood for but also develop the education around why you’d spend a little

more on our product offerings. It was more than just how to dress to articulate style and personality, there needed to be that education piece. At the time, there were only top-end and bottom-end options available and we were positioned somewhere in the middle.

CK: The way men dress has changed so much—now it’s acceptable for men to care. about how they dress. While our products are very different from when we first
started out, the concept is still the same; we want Australian men to dress better, so we create the products for them to do so while catering to their specific lifestyles.

RR: Since the beginning, the Christian Kimber label has been popular among niche menswear enthusiasts. Did you feed off the hype and perhaps evolve
the brand from that feedback?

RK: For sure. Christian spends a lot of time with clients on the shop floor and that’s part of his process—the feedback loops feed his creative process. He gave Australian menswear a context that the average guy could see and understand, and it’s these guys that contextualised the brand and opened the market for us.

RR: Christian, you speak of wanting to define the idea of modern Australian style. What aspect of the brand makes it quintessentially Australian?

CK: We’re trying to create something that feels really Australian in terms of product, so I think in the way Australian men live, our garments fit into their contemporary lifestyles that are built for Australia’s climate. Provenance is important to us, too. We want to make as much as we can in Australia but we also want to make our products in the best way that we can.

RK: For sure. Christian spends a lot of time with clients on the shop floor and that’s part of his process—the feedback loops feed his creative process. He gave Australian menswear a context that the average guy could see and understand, and it’s these guys that contextualised the brand and opened the market for us.

CK: It’s interesting how we started out making beautiful, different things for this group of guys that were really into menswear, and now we’re catering for guys who are captains in their industry, literally running some of Australia’s biggest companies. It’s interesting how we’ve grown to the point where those guys are really interested in dressing in our clothing now.

RR: Talk to us about your take on modern menswear here in Australia and the uptake of “casualisation”.

RK: We won’t lie, there were many conversations had about whether we should go down the path of made-to-measure suiting and whether that would be right for us. Fortuitously, we haven’t and there has been this mass casualisation where you just don’t see suits anymore. The majority are smartly dressed and that’s the norm here. I think it’s been the right path for us and it’s worked really well.

RR: Ten years on and you now have the flexibility to move around in the market. Can you explain the label’s focus on product innovation, range expansion, sustainability and customer experience.

CK: On the product side of things, we have significantly developed our offerings since we’ve started. We’re doing really cool things like beautiful knitwear and polos, summer shirting and a range of outerwear options developed to really have an elegant yet smart-casual feel. In terms of sustainability, it’s such an interesting point. We like to think we are doing the best we can. For a fashion business to say that they are 100 per cent sustainable right now, it doesn’t really make much sense. So we try to make the best products we can with small family businesses and minimise waste in every aspect where possible.

RR: How have the last 18 months been for the label amid Covid-19 and all that it’s brought?

CK: There’s no retail business in the world that can say they haven’t felt the pressures of being closed for nine months. But it gave us the time to think about where we want to be in five to ten years. We’ve actually been really lucky because this casualisation of the wardrobe was expedited in a way that people still want to look and feel as good as they did in their suits, but they’re looking for garments that are appropriate for their current lifestyle.

RK: Covid-19 disrupted the market economically and socially, which was initially really daunting, but we’ve been able to pivot a couple of times in the midst of the pandemic to open up opportunities, which I think is unheard of in Melbourne as a small business of this size in fashion. We’ve really focused on our online offerings and giving clients as much detail on the products as possible. I don’t want to discount the personal toll it’s taken on Christian and I, though. It’s been hard. But one thing we always talk about is to compare yourself to only yourself, and only yourself in the last year.

RR: Your proudest moment to date?

CK: Winning the Melbourne Fashion Festival National Designer Award was pretty extraordinary for us. It gave me a lot of confidence in the business and what I do as a designer. But I also get proud every time someone walks into one of our stores head to toe in our garments.

RK: The Design Award was pretty big. For context, Christian wasn’t trained as a designer—his capabilities in design are self-taught. So to have the validation of the industry and his peers at that level was a significant achievement for the brand and for Christian personally.

RR: What can we expect to see next from the label?

RK: There are some really exciting partnerships we’re exploring which will help broaden our brand awareness …

CK: Product-wise, we have some beautiful garments coming out ahead of spring/summer. As we grow and develop as a brand, we just get better at it, and personally, I think the products we’ve worked on for next season are the best products we’ve done to date.

christiankimber.com

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