Our most treasured garments are often those crafted from material so soft, with tailoring that sits so perfectly, that it’s almost a shame to take them off at the end of the day. This tactile attachment to clothing is common to wearers of Jac + Jack. The Sydney-based fashion label launched in 2004 as a purveyor of luxury knitwear and has since expanded to include an extensive range of clothing for ladies and gents. As well as donning the cap of the brand’s creative director, Pat Blue is also the artistic mind that has shepherded the label’s menswear range (stocked locally at Dirtbox) from fledgling to coveted.
“I don’t think I really had a childhood dream,” Pat Blue laughs when asked of his aspirations as a young lad. “I think my childhood was a dream – I grew up in a family where you could really be whatever you wanted.”
The son of wanderers, Pat spent his childhood living in all manner of places, from the country to the city and even, during his teenage years, in India. “Now that I look back on the experience, I think it was quite influential,” he reflects. “But at the time, I was just a kid going to school. I wasn’t that interested in spirituality or any of that stuff that people think about when they think about India!”
Pat’s foray into fashion, by his own admission, “kind of just happened”. He’d always had an interest in the sartorial craft, but had never really considered it as a career. “The thing that I like about fashion is that it says something about everybody,” he explains. “Even if you don’t like fashion, what you’re wearing shows that you don’t care about fashion. And I do like beautiful things and a lot of the concepts and ideas that fashion encompasses as well.”
His inner aesthete led him to follow a more artistic path at first, studying fine arts at university majoring in classical painting. Musing over ways he could turn his talent into a living, he thought he might find work doing illustrations for fashion designers, and enrolled in a series of fashion illustration courses. He soon realised he had found his creative fit and, after taking several more fashion courses, transferred over to a fashion degree.
Pat’s first job in the fashion industry was as a sales assistant at a Marcs menswear boutique, which eventually led to a position working two days a week in the label’s menswear design room. Perhaps even more significant about that job at Marcs was the fact that it was also where he met his soon-to-be wife and business collaborator, Jac Hunt. He was still an intern learning the ropes; Jac was the experienced sage, designing womenswear for the brand. “Marcs was a very social business then,” Pat recalls. “Everyone used to go out all the time and Jac and I were friends for years before we eventually got together.”
It was during that time when friendship was blooming into courtship that Jac was also starting her own label, Jac + Jack, with business partner Lisa ‘Jack’ Dempsey. By 2004, when she and Pat finally became a couple, the label was in full swing.
A couple of years later, Pat began doing freelance work for Jac + Jack, lending his hand to various bits and pieces as the label grew. As menswear was only a very small component for the brand, it wasn’t economically viable for Pat to work full-time. But ever so slowly and cautiously, the gents range began to blossom. “Menswear is a lot harder than womenswear in the sense that there’s not as many accounts and not as much revenue to be pulled out of it,” Pat explains. “With womenswear, there are lots of wholesale accounts. So we just started really slowly.” Pat has now worked for Jac + Jack for four years, the past two of which he has been full-time as the creative director and menswear designer.
Peruse the lookbooks of both the men’s and women’s collections and you’ll quickly ascertain a similar creative undercurrent between the two. While working in their own creative headspaces, Pat and Jac do collaborate rather closely when envisaging the aesthetic for each collection, and the brand in general. “Both of us design separately, but we do kind of meet in the middle every now and then and compare things,” Pat says. “I don’t really start a collection with an exact idea. It’s more about collecting bits of information, whether it’s fabric I see or yarns I’ve found at shows. Then you get a feel for colour and things like that.”
The basis for each Jac + Jack collection is its knitwear – the premise upon which the brand was originally founded. “Yarns are some of the first things to be shown in the fashion season, so you get a good sense of what is happening in the fashion industry,” Pat explains. “When you go to places like Pitti Filati and see all the yarns from the different mills, you get a good sense of where people are wanting to go.”
But while the label works with an awareness of the fashion zeitgeist of each season, Pat says Jac + Jack is less trend-driven in its aesthetic. “I don’t really worry about what’s happening with the collections overseas,” he says. “But, inevitably, you’ll be influenced by what happens, whether it’s conscious or not. When I look at other people’s collections I can see what they’ve been influenced by and, undoubtedly, you could say the same thing about us but it’s not something I’m too worried about. Trends are happening so fast these days and they’re only valid according to your own personal perception of them.”
The creative seedlings of Jac + Jack’s spring/summer 2012 collection took hold during a holiday Jac and Pat took to Italy’s Amalfi Coast following one of their biannual trips to Pitti Filati in Florence. “What really inspired us was that the fashions were a lot more relaxed and fun,” Pat explains. “And it wasn’t that the whole idea was based around the Italians. Jac came up with the concept of the ‘holiday in Italy’ and what you feel like wearing while you’re there, as opposed to what the Italians wear. It’s a little bit preppy but also fun. There are a lot of wealthy American students who go there and they wear that kind of preppy Italian style. And then there’s also that gelato palette and really soft beautiful Italian tailoring.”
Further overseas, Jac + Jack also employs women artisans in Chandroti, India. In a curious coincidence, Jac happened to live in India at the same time as Pat, although their paths didn’t cross until later in life. The mother of one of Jac’s friends in India ran a knitting collective for untrained or illiterate women in a hill village. When Jac happened to visit the project, she fell in love with the simple blankets and scarves the women were knitting, but soon realised that the yarn was of a very poor quality. She soon arranged for Jac + Jack to send over Australian wool, which the women knit into the label’s designs, with all the profits going back to the women themselves, empowering them with a better quality of living.
Pat is self-effacing when pressed about his humanitarian inclinations. “We would like to incorporate more of these sorts of things into our business, but we’re a bit sceptical about harping on about it, because everybody seems to do it,” he says.
Unsurprisingly, Pat is inspired most by the people who do things with integrity and honesty in their creative field, and who make the most of their lives. After all, he muses, you never know which
day might be your last. “You can go anytime, so make the most of what’s happening right now,” he says. “You really have to live your life as well as you can.”