At Ease with Alan Victor, CEO and James Watson, Creative Director DTC

Alan Victor and James Watson Sitting Down for an Interview

 

The following interview is with Alan Victor, the third generation CEO of Jack Victor and James Watson, the brand’s DTC Creative Director whose responsibilities also include expanding into new categories and enlarging the brand’s presence worldwide.

 

 

How would you describe Jack Victor’s mission?

AV- Ultimately, our mission is contribute to our customers’ success by making them look and feel great in their everyday lives, empowering them to be their best.  To do that, our objectives are to create exceptional menswear collections and to be an important brand of choice in men’s fashion. We want to inspire men with what we offer, and we strive to make items that they are comfortable with, both physically and in terms of style. We want to make clothes that they can look at and say, “that’s great quality and a modern look that fits my lifestyle”.

JW- It’s an exciting mission for sure. As a designer, I‘m always thinking of our customer’s lifestyle. Our understanding of that lifestyle is definitely behind the brand. It’s a matter of creating products in multiple categories for him and imagining him enjoying them. We show him we know how he lives, and then offer compelling wardrobe choices that reflect the style, taste and values of the brand. It’s a proposal of how he can look, in step with the times. Every man has what I would call a ‘natural sense of style’, simply meaning what he is comfortable wearing. If our collections are right, it’s a vision he will relate to and believe in. We are there to fulfill his need for self-expression, and a big part of the mission is to earn his trust. Menswear rules have evolved so much recently, at both the workplace and at leisure, and men need a brand they can trust to keep up. 

What does the JACK VICTOR brand represent?

AV- When I think of the JACK VICTOR brand, I think of an innovative and forward-looking perspective, a family heritage, a Montreal-inspired approach, authentic quality and value, responsible manufacturing, luxurious materials, and consistent excellence in craftsmanship. These are the pillars that underpin the brand. It’s a unique combination of attributes and together they represent our competitive advantage.  It’s a modern brand with deep roots and a rich culture. Our design codes are about timeless and elegant clothing that is up-to-date, casual items that are still smart, with an emphasis on relaxed shapes and a subtle flair. But while styles evolve, the cornerstones of the brand remain the same. The brand is also represented by our signature elements: our stripe, flag and monogram for example, which are symbols of what the brand stands for.  

JW- Yes there are those strongly established brand values, and they are represented in a men’s collection of modern accessible luxury. It’s a North American brand with a European heritage, focused now on new generations of men.

How would you describe Montreal and its influence on the brand?

AV- It’s a very international city, the second largest French-speaking city in the world, and culturally very diverse. I grew up here, but I lived in Los Angeles for 12 years as well.

Montreal City View

Montreal is truly a bridge between Europe and the Americas and Jack Victor stands for this synthesis of the best elements of European and North American fashion, interpreted for an international audience. And we actually make our tailored clothing here, right in the middle of the downtown core, and that is just so unique. It’s a key part of what makes the brand authentic; we are not an anonymous factory in a faraway place. For today’s consumer, this kind of responsible, traceable manufacturing is important, and we’ve been doing it for 109 years. We also love our city’s geography as a metaphor for the brand: it has a mountain which conveys permanence and consistency, and we are surrounded by rivers which symbolize change and evolution.

JW- I agree with Alan, Montreal is a unique mix of style and culture. I’m from the UK and have lived and worked in London, Milan and New York City. From my perspective, this city is a blend of North American practicality with a European sense of style. Montreal is also an old city by North American standards, close to 400 years old, but we mix the old and new seamlessly in terms of our architecture and neighborhoods. The brand also combines the past and present, often looking back through our archives for inspiration, but blending classic ideas with a 21st century interpretation. Then there’s our four very defined seasons, which focuses the team on the need for just the right fabrics for the time of year. The Jack Victor collections reflect a balance of practicality, flair and style.

Is the family history and ownership such a key point of difference for the brand?

AV- Absolutely. I’m the third generation to lead the company, and the family heritage is an important part of our culture. There are important values that have been passed down to me, because I worked with my father on and off from the age of 15.  

Alan and Herschel Victor

My grandfather Jack Victor was a real person, an entrepreneur. There are brands out there with made up names; the consumer often doesn’t even realize this. We are not that kind of brand. He came to North America with nothing really, he started as a peddler. He was a warm man, with a great sense of humor and plenty of initiative and common sense. He was an adventurer and an innovator, especially when it came to fabrics and marketing. My father was tough but fair, and particularly demanding about quality and results. He believed strongly in new technology and philanthropy.

They were different personalities, but both loved storytelling as way to communicate.  I can point to so many examples of their traits, beliefs and business practices which are still part of our company today. So the family culture continues, but it’s my job to keep it relevant and to add to it from my own experiences and values.

JW- The Jack Victor team in Montreal is world class thanks to the experience and skillset that’s been cultivated there. I experience the influence of the heritage as I interact with my tailored clothing colleagues. Many have been at their jobs for decades. They learned from the earlier generations and now are training a new class. I see the expertise in all the details. Proportions are scrutinized, every fabric and trim carefully selected, and the constructions are continually updated to offer high quality and a softer, lighter feeling. Every organization has a culture, and here you feel the harmony of the past, the present and the future. It’s exciting to see our younger staff working with our seasoned experts and absorbing the knowledge.

Can you mention any part of the early culture that still resonates?

AV- The first two generations insisted that no business can succeed without strong, direct and personal communication with your customer, and it has to come first and foremost from the top of the organization. So that key belief has been a part of our culture from the beginning. In their times, that meant face-to-face meetings with a retail store owner, and I still do a lot of that with my team. But this is now a new era, where brands must have a direct-to-consumer relationship as well. So with ecommerce we are really just applying that core value in a different way. That’s why I wanted to do this interview, so the consumer can understand who is behind the brand and what we stand for.

But does a consumer experience these values?  

AV- Yes definitely, because our products reflect our values. As an example, we say the brand is about authenticity.  

Jack Victor Clothing Being Manufactured in Montreal Factory

There’s no place here for fluff or cutting corners, it has to be authentic value. That means luxurious fabrics and quality trim, components and workmanship. Another example: we say that we are “forward looking”. That sounds great on paper, but the brand and the company can only evolve by remaining curious and aware of the changes happening around us: whether its industry practices, consumer preferences, technology, the environment. I insist that our team be “noticers”, to pay attention to the little things that may have changed in their daily existence. But to do that, you must have your eyes open, and be willing to think about what you are seeing and why it is there. It’s the way to stay connected to popular culture, including through sports, entertainment, music and art. Early in my career, I had a mentor who once told me: “you don’t drive the car looking in the rear view mirror, you look through the windshield”. It’s the same idea.

JW- The brand is quality-focused, without a doubt. We have a rack of suits and blazers that are selected randomly from daily factory production, and then brought to the executive offices. Senior team members look it over every day. That’s the benefit of having the tailored factory on site. We want to know exactly what we are producing and delivering, and we step in if we see issues. The people running the company get their fingernails dirty and are deeply involved with the products.  The factory operation alone is almost 800 people, and a blend of state-of-the-art technology such as robotized cutting machinery, through to more traditional sewing and pressing tasks that require skilled hands. Our ownership of this facility is a huge differentiator for the brand, certainly a competitive advantage.   

Where is the Jack Victor collection positioned in the world of menswear product? 

AV- It’s clearly targeted to the upper premium/accessible luxury segment. We are looking to create elevated products, this is our passion. To do that, we believe strongly in using sophisticated design, high quality materials and superior manufacturing methods.

Jack Victor Collection in the Jack Victor Montreal Showroom

If we start with a beautiful fabric, we can’t trade down on workmanship or the aesthetics. So we aim to far exceed the look or feel of a basic or typical product, yet we keep the price reasonable and there is a high expectation of value. We are trying to reach a large group of men but with a truly focused collection. I would call it refined, realistic and steadily evolving. 

JW- In terms of where we sit, it’s a brand and a collection that leans to the right of center. Modern, but not advanced and certainly not classic. It’s a fashion proposal that’s easy to understand. We aim for a curated offering of casual and sartorial staples, as well as seasonal fashion. The fits are what we call “democratic”, meaning not too trim and not classic either. People fall in love with the proportion of the Jack Victor blazers because they’re fitted in all the right places, flattering yet comfortable; roomy without being baggy. Our pattern designers at Jack Victor are arguably world class. The customers are discriminating, so we care deeply about quality, both in our Montreal tailoring factory and with our supply chain. In terms of suiting and blazer fabrics, we work with only the best weavers in the Biella region of Italy. For the more casual offerings that are not made in Montreal, we work exclusively with European partners to source superior knits and woven fabrics that are made in high quality facilities.

Is there a way to describe the collection in terms of its fashion and design proposals?

JW- We do have a design ethos that focuses on modern, understated elegance. So as a brand we are drawn to easy pieces with a particular flair. The extra ingredient could be a design detail or a special pop of color that moves through the whole collection from tailoring to sportswear. But those flourishes are never overbearing; our brand is about clean details, as well as exciting but sophisticated colors.  I also like to emphasize wardrobe building essentials along with the seasonal fashion, always with a sense of ease. Touch is very important to me and our whole team, and a soft hand is a key element with our fabrics. So this is the brand DNA, or what I would call the “core design aesthetic”. But we are not trapped by these design codes, because the brand is a blend of heritage and innovation. Locking a brand into a very specific look means it can never evolve and progress. So we reject that approach, and we challenge ourselves to offer new ideas each season. The styles we show are an interpretation of the brand for that season. In the world of suiting for example, the boundaries between casualwear and dressy have become increasingly blurred. We’ve now been updating the classics with new fabrics and focusing on a blend of luxury, performance and comfort.

How do you see the collection evolving?

JW- Now the Jack Victor collection emphasizes blazers, suits and outerwear. From the Spring 2022 season onwards we’re starting to introduce additional product categories to compliment the tailoring offer.

James Watson and Alan Victor Discussing the Jack Victor Collection

Namely shirting, polos and spring sweaters. In the upcoming Fall Winter collection this product mix will grow to include additional categories such as Italian knitted silk ties and bowties made in Como. We will also have an expanded offer of sweaters to include chunky Alpaca roll necks and wool-silk-cashmere blend, fine gauge knitwear in core colors and multiple shapes. We’ve introduced dress shirts to complement our successful and expanding eveningwear collection that is available year-round. 

Who is the Jack Victor customer?

AV- He is anyone that appreciates genuine quality and is looking for comfort and value. It is certainly a multi-generational audience. My two sons are in their mid to late 20’s and they wouldn’t wear the products just because I offer it to them. But they like them. So we stretch from Gen Z’s and Millennials through Gen X and Boomers. He’s a busy person, and appreciates a brand that offers easy-to-understand options and versatile looks, and shows him different ways to put them together.

JW- He’s in all kinds of different work environments, from casual to more formal. He needs to look smart though and he might travel a lot. He enjoys learning and getting new ideas on how to style looks. He doesn’t want a brand that is either “too much” or too classic. He is paying attention to what his favorite celebrities or influencers are wearing. He appreciates anything that saves time and effort when picking what to wear.

What needs is the brand solving for the Jack Victor customer?

AV- Everyone needs a wardrobe, and most of us need a variety of choices for the different types of days and events in our lives.

The Jack Victor design team assembles the collection

A curated collection like Jack Victor offers multiple solutions for a man who wants to look sharp and feel comfortable at work or leisure. That is what our customers want. We aren’t just selling products; rather we are offering a style of dress. Men appreciate having a consistent, trusted source to guide them through the choices that they make with their clothing.  Our promise is to consistently fulfill their need to feel confident with their selections and happy with their looks. Our collection is differentiated from the competition through the influences of our heritage, modern approach, Montreal spirit and authentic value.

JW- Our plan is to build on the customer’s understanding of our silhouette, fabric and fit, and grow this across the categories to make their lives more streamlined.  What’s the go-to shirt for an important event? What to bring with you for a 4-day weekend trip? We’re also looking to help them explore different ways to wear a suit, so it becomes an evolved and integral part of their wardrobe, fit for all occasions.  We hope people fall in love with the blazer again after these periods of work from home. By making the collections easy to mix and match, we hope that people will find it easier to choose what to wear, spending less time getting ready and more time enjoying life.

What’s new for the Spring 2022 collection? 

AV- Our roots are in tailoring, so we start a collection there. The strongest interest has been in our new jersey and knit fabrics, translated into sartorial staples. It is a whole new experience to wear this kind of blazer or suit.  For this S22 season we’ve expanded the collection. I traveled to Italy last September (2021) to visit the key spinners, mills and factories who worked on our S22 sportswear. We’re pleased with the result and look forward to growing the partnerships as well as the product assortments.

JW- The Jack Victor brand has a long history. We looked to mix the past with the future by updating the proportions, as well as playing with the layering items to relax some of the traditionally formal pieces into looks that are easier to wear and enjoy.

The Jack Victor Merchandising Team Assembles the Collection

The #1 focus is on wearability: how can you look modern and new and at the same time be comfortable and elegant. The collection features versatile looks designed for a variety of occasions from job interviews, a night out, destination weddings and of course everyday suiting needs and core items. Color is also a key part of the message, how to wear color in a way that is appropriate, easy and modern. The blazer fabrics include the famous “Summertime” fabric from the renowned Loro Piana mill; a perfect woven blend of wool, silk and linen. New in this Spring line is a special stretch jersey version of the same wool/silk/linen for added comfort and wearability. I own a suit in this fabric and it’s my absolute favorite suit yet: ‘James-proof’ as it doesn’t crease, so I look presentable even when traveling, and don’t lose time steaming/pressing. Also, it has the ideal summer-in-the-city weight -- thanks to a fabric blend that keeps you cool and comfortable all day. Nowadays people are much more at ease wearing a polo with a suit, or a blazer over a dressy hoodie with casual trousers. People dress differently and we’re here to help them shop efficiently and effectively.

Where is Jack Victor currently in terms of its environmental footprint, sustainability efforts and social impact?

AV- In terms of our own manufacturing facilities, our downtown Montreal factories and offices use 95% renewable energy, and we are looking to move that even higher, hopefully eliminating our 5% reliance on natural gas. It’s a fully air-conditioned factory, so work can be scheduled comfortably year round. We’re fully compliant with all Canadian and Quebec labor laws and regulations, which include stringent worker safety codes and mandated benefits. The factory workforce is unionized and extremely diverse. Our dedicated team of skilled workers come from all over the world, and our people are critical to our success. We are extremely appreciative of their loyalty, hard work and attention to detail. Looking ahead, we’re committed to reviewing all aspects of the business. 2022 will be a big year for us in terms of advancing our understanding and management of the company’s environmental footprint. Our executive team will be completing the CDP (Climate Disclosure Project) Climate Change Questionnaire for the first time, which will involve measuring the company’s greenhouse gas emissions, setting reduction targets and disclosing key environmental metrics. Beyond our business activities, my family has a fundamental belief in giving back and for many years has been committed to philanthropy. We established the Jack Victor Foundation in 1982 specifically to support important projects in the fields of health care, medical research and education. The Foundation is now also evaluating new initiatives in the arts and in support of the environment. 

JW- Ensuring sustainable operations is an ongoing project that’s very close to my heart. I’m pleased to be able to collaborate with our supply chain, wholesale clients and logistics teams to work towards a fully traceable and responsible supply chain with our processes, packaging and products. We currently rely on various third-party organizations to determine the origins of yarns and fabrics, as well as labor working conditions. However, we continue to evaluate the methods used by these organizations and encourage them to apply the most rigorous possible standards to their work. In the Spring 2022 Sportswear assortment for example:

  • The cotton used in the sweaters and polos is 100% GOTS Certified Organic Cotton. Our sweaters are knitted in central Italy, and we’re happy to work with our Italian partners on this specific cotton yarn quality as it offers a luxury, ultra-soft product that’s from a carefully regulated source. 
  • We’ve introduced a core shirt made from TENCEL™ – the material of the future. Tencel is one of the most sustainable fibers because it's harvested from certified and regulated wood sources and is fully compostable and biodegradable. TENCEL™ is a natural cellulose fiber created from the wood pulp of eucalyptus trees. It is also ultra-soft, durable, breathable and moisture wicking.
  • Both the Spring 2022 shirts and the polos use special Jack Victor branded corozo buttons that are strong, durable, and biodegradable. Corozo is naturally sourced from South American Tagua palm trees, specifically from their nut shells that fall to the forest floor.

What does the future hold for the JACK VICTOR brand?

AV- We have a vision for the brand that includes expanding into new categories, opening new distribution channels as well as seeking out new markets. But I’m not really one to make grand statements of where we intend to be in 10 years. We keep these discussions to ourselves, because modesty is also part of the culture. It’s easy to talk, but we are a company that respects doers not talkers. But I will say that we will keep innovating and moving forward. And whatever we do, we will stay true to the brand’s identity and message while always keeping our eyes on the future.