Modem Brand Spotlight:
Geoffrey B. Small
by Modem – Posted June 17 2023
© Modem

“I guess I always just wanted to keep the art of making clothes alive. In Boston, I learned and became well-known there- but I found that people greatly undervalued what it took to make clothes. So in 1992, I became the first designer from the US to try to make a name in the Paris avant-garde. I brought a suitcase of samples I made and a dream- inspired by other pioneers from other countries before me who had gone to show there.”

Could you please give us an introduction to GBS?
GBS “I started in 1979 in the attic of my parent’s house outside of Boston after working for 3 years as a blue jeans sales clerk for the Gap Stores and going to night school for design. I was named a winner of the ILGWU “America’s Next Great Designer Awards'' in NYC and then, after getting job offers to work in the industry there, decided instead to start making clothes for my friends on my mom’s old Singer sewing machine, and try to learn everything by doing it all by myself. I just wanted to make beautiful clothes like the Italians were doing at the time in Milan. Beautiful fabrics and men‘s tailoring, with good taste, that people beyond just the fashion world could wear and appreciate. I suppose the aesthetic is classic really- Balenciaga in the 50’s, Cardin in the 60’s, Armani in the 70’s, Jil Sander and Yohji in the 80’s and early 90’,and then- the whole industry just went corporate around 1995 and dropped the ball entirely, including destroying its long-term capability to make quality product. And soon, nobody in the world could make those kinds of clothes anymore. Except me.”

How has your business approach changed throughout the years and why?
GBS ''From 1979 to 1992 I was focused in Boston on doing beautiful tailored clothing and learning the craft. From 1993 to 1999 we started to build a name by showing in Paris and pioneering recycled design along with Martin and Xuly who had preceded us, albeit we took it much further because I was an actual tailor and knew more technique. America had no good fabrics to make new clothes with, but it was the right time to be doing recycled work on old clothes. By 1997, we were named the number one designer for young men in Japan by Fine Boys Magazine. Our name among industry insiders grew to attract many Italian manufacturers to approach us with licensing deals. Then Japan’s economy crashed in the late 90’s, good used clothing to recycle had become scarce and expensive and corporate fashion had made Italy the new dominant superpower in both production and fabric. So in 2000, along with every other designer at a certain level, I signed a licensing deal with an Italian producer near Venice at Cavarzere and moved my family to Italy. The license went poorly and after a year and a half of working in the Italian fashion system as a licensed designer, I lost everything. To support my family, I decided to restart from zero on my own again, with a Singer home sewing machine in the kitchen of our apartment in Cavarzere. The idea was to recreate what we had in Boston- a totally focused, research firm that did everything in-house by itself but this time- do it in the heart of the world fashion production system, and eventually lead the industry in a new direction. I also vowed that I would never ever give up my independence again.

I worked with my wife Diana for 10 years in our apartment workrooms creating some 40 Paris research collections and developing every aspect and process that could go into making beautiful artisanal modern clothes. I learned about and researched the best people in the world still making fabrics and components in Italy and, one by one, I went to them and asked if they might work with me to build a great research company that could show the world what the very best in Italy still could offer when they worked together. By 2008, when both the financial and sustainability crisis began to really hit the world, I knew in my gut that everything I had gone through and done for the past 30 years of my life was destined for this and after all the trials and work, I now had the solution all coming together in my hands and in my head. I decided to return to my Boston work and do great tailoring again, and by 2013, our sales and deliveries grew by almost 400%. It was time to build an organization to carry forward the solution in a bigger way. My model became Enzo Ferrari and I set out to build a great tailoring organization for the 21st century. We would hire people for the long-term, invest in their training and well-being, scale our technologies and commit ourselves to making the best handmade designer clothes on the planet. With no compromises. The world had completely changed since I had started, there was no more middle class, only increasingly more marginal middle class and poor- and a growing super-rich ruling class, and we were all hurtling towards environmental catastrophe. Our industry was contributing to both of these problems enormously and our firm had the answer. Our mission became to teach the world how to make clothes for the 21st century. That meant everything needed to be done apart from the existing system to allow a new system to be built from scratch. And all aspects of creation had to be 100% controlled in-house. We moved out of the apartments to a 300 sq.meter garage nearby that used to be a leather factory in the 1980‘s for Sicons and Gian Marco Venturi, and by 2020 until Covid hit, we grew dramatically from 1 to 35 employees and over 500% in annual sales & deliveries.

Covid changed everything except our commitment to take care of our customers and continue our Art. We decided to invest in the future with the 1300 sq. meter GBS Superworkrooms in 2021, which represents the next level of development of our mission but is only one more step on the way to our vision.

For distribution, our customers need superior service and attention, therefore less retail points who are more concentrated and focused on serving the customer with only the best- value, selection and service of our work- is fundamental. And since we must be committed first to serving the wealthy market during these challenging times for our own survival and to keep the art alive, exclusivity is paramount. Nobody with any serious money to spend on clothing these days, wants the same thing as everyone else. Wardrobes must be increasingly personalized. This is contrary to opening many doors and selling a brand through many many points and we must avoid making that mistake and lowering our standards of excellence to do so at all costs.”

Having a large part of the business in Asia, how did the recent restrictions lead you to "reinvent yourself" and what have you done concretely?
GBS “Since the ‘90’s Japan, Hong Kong and later mainland China, have represented more than half of our worldwide turnover, and Covid had enormous impacts wiping out different markets at different times whenever lockdowns occurred. So as we battled through Covid in the first year, we just focused on mastering Covid-safety protocols and operating procedures for our customers and employees and successfully delivering all orders in our backlogs to our customers. Then in 2021, we launched the revolutionary "Evolution" concept from our new GBS Superworkrooms at Cavarzere Venezia, completely defying all current industry practice to create ongoing multiseason delivery drop programs custom designed and built for their stores- starting with Darklands in Berlin. We also developed a very focused and disciplined approach to Instagram and listened to our key partners in Asia. Particular design emphasis was on extreme long-term value and product quality. Our advanced in-house production and design system also enabled each of our store partners to custom-build their GBS deliveries to match their individual clientele and situations. We were able to continuously offer a level of services and product for our dealers that is unheard of for any other firm in the designer luxury industry, and overall we were able to maintain our business and help support our partner’s businesses successfully..”

You’ve just had your very first digital presentations during PFW Men’s FW23 and PFW Women’s FW23, which was a great success. How will this impact the upcoming collections and their communication to press and buyers?
GBS “It was indeed a very exciting development and part of a new movement that allows creativity to be accessed beyond just cities hosting fashion weeks. Perhaps even a new medium as well for artistic presentation and how to work directly with our factory. We view it as a wonderful new tool to inform, inspire and enhance our other modes of presenting our design work and helping buyers and journalists to learn more about our amazing GBS Superworkrooms and Evolution programs.”

What are your plans for the upcoming months and where do you see GBS in the future?
GBS ''We are currently feeling a new growth period for 2023. Next month our 7th Evolution presentation and sales campaign will feature our first return to Paris in over 3 years, as well as our biggest GBS Superworkrooms Cavarzere Venezia presentation and session to date which will run all the way into July and is fully booked already. At the request and invitation of our clients Armand and Martine Hadida- owners of Leclaireur Paris, I have had the great honor to have been asked to come to Paris for the first time in over 3 years to present a special new GBS collection at their legendary 10 rue Hérold store during men’s fashion week. This will be a very exclusive and private invitation and appointment only event for 2 days in the city. As we have not been able to see many friends, colleagues and clients in these years since the onset of the pandemic, it might be a wonderful opportunity to do so and the new collection is going to be a lot of fun''.

Paris: Spotlight at Leclaireur
“Tasting Menu at Hérold”

Presentation Evolution VII
10, rue Hérold
75001 Paris

Friday 23 to Sunday 25 June,
By invitation and by appointment only.
Rsvp here

© Modem