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My Fashion Life: Barbour’s head of menswear Ian Bergin

From dream collaborations to turning up to trade shows in a caravan, Barbour’s Ian Bergin on a life in menswear.

Ian Bergin, director of menswear and accessories at Barbour

Ian Bergin, director of menswear and accessories at Barbour

Having started his working life as an electrician, Ian Bergin made the move into fashion after a chance meeting with Paul Smith. Thirteen years later he was heading Paul Smith’s jeans and accessories business until he set up his own business with two friends, designing, launching and selling a selection of brands including One True Saxon. In 2010, Bergin joined Barbour and is now director of its menswear and accessories business.

How do you stay inspired?

I really like the fact that our brand stands for something real – beautifully crafted, rugged clothing is at its heart, as it always has been since 1894. We have a great archive and there is a real sense that you’re taking care of a national icon. That’s pretty motivating in itself.

You have managed a large number of collaborations including Jack Spade, Adidas and Land Rover. Why collaborate?

You can learn a lot from collaborations, whether it’s with a big brand or with a smaller, more niche partner – they all help to further develop you in some way. The reasons for collaborations are really twofold: to offer a new interpretation of our story for press and to increase our profile in the appropriate market, gaining space in opinion-forming stores.

If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?

It’s got to be Massimo Osti [founder of brands such as Stone Island and CP Company]. I think anyone in menswear who grew up in the late 1970s and 1980s, and was really into brands in the 1990s, has got to give real respect to Osti.

What did you do before joining Barbour?

I studied history and modern politics at the University of London, worked as an electrician for a year during the housing boom in Buckinghamshire and then moved back to London to get a “proper job”. I got one based on Strand at a management accountants and I hated it. I resigned after only half a day and, on my walk back to Covent Garden Tube, I saw that Paul Smith was hiring. I popped in, met Paul and ended up working for him for 13 years, moving from managing the stores right through to becoming director of the jeans and accessories business. I then left to start my own business with three friends. We set up a number of brands, including One True Saxon, and acted as designers, distributors and agents.

Barbour autumn 16

Barbour autumn 16

Barbour autumn 16

Do you find Barbour’s heritage a help or a hindrance?

I believe you should use heritage for a reference point but, if you focus on it too much, you’ll just end up in a cul-de-sac producing costume.

How has the industry changed over the years?

I think there’s a complete transparency about style, trends and brands now. The digital age has made everything very accessible to consumers, so they are savvy and well informed, and that’s led to a really healthy, eclectic way of shopping and wearing brands.

Have shopping habits changed?

Younger men are much more relaxed in where and what they buy. They are less brand loyal and more prone to using good basic items with a few brands mixed in to say what they are about.

What’s your favourite part of the fashion season?

Winter. Everyone in menswear loves the winter season and the fourth quarter. It’s about great outerwear, knits, scarves and boots. I’m originally from Manchester, so the wind and rain are my default setting.

What’s your favourite thing about your job?

The product. To work successfully for Barbour, you have to get that under your fingernails. [Barbour chair] Dame Margaret Barbour is a passionate product person and that culture permeates throughout our business. Our MD, Steve Buck, is the same.

Ian Bergin, director of menswear and accessories at Barbour

Ian Bergin, director of menswear and accessories at Barbour

Ian Bergin, director of menswear and accessories at Barbour

What’s been a career highlight so far?

Most recently my team was tasked with designing a new directional women’s heritage range for Barbour and that was a nice project. I loved the trips to Japan when I was a director at Paul Smith. Plus, when we had One True Saxon, we drove to Berlin trade show Bread & Butter in a customised caravan and put it on a stand covered in grass like an English garden and then sold from it, which was also lots of fun.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

I’ve learnt to approach designing and developing commercial ranges in a very analytical way. This doesn’t mean that you are any less creative but if 70% of the shirts that you sell are basically blue, then 70% of your shirt range should reflect that. Obvious stuff but it makes a world of difference.

You’re surrounded by clothes all day. Do you still enjoy shopping?

I love when shops are cared for and the people running them want to make them shine. I used to travel with Paul Smith to Paris for the shows and he used to point out how old retailers in Paris used to wash their windows and pavements in the mornings – that’s total pride in what you do.

What’s the most extravagant purchase you’ve ever made for yourself?

The most expensive is probably my car. I love cars and am committed to buying ridiculous ones. Life’s pretty short. You have to have a V8 before they outlaw them.

Barbour autumn 16

Barbour autumn 16

Barbour autumn 16

If you weren’t working in fashion what would you be doing?

Landscape gardener. Ideally with a Land Rover Defender and the sun on my back.

What do you do to switch off from work?

Cook and run.

Tell us something not many people know about you.

I used to teach ballroom dancing. I can rewire a house. I’ve had tea with [actor] Jack Nicholson. I’ve canoed across a lake with [explorer] Chris Bonington. I’m a proficient juggler.

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