Kangol celebrates its 75th anniversary this year as the iconic British brand looks to build on a well-documented legacy. Kangol has played an intrinsic role in shaping fashion throughout the ages. With meticulous craftsmanship at its core, Kangol began its tenure catering for workers, golfers and soldiers. Yet, its unique wool knitted silhouettes soon caught the eyes of leading subcultures of the ’80s and ’90s. While those in Britain’s early rave scene embraced the Wool 504, overseas in the US, hip-hop icons like Grandmaster Flash and LL Cool J paired a Kangol bucket hat with their tracksuits. Encompassing people of different culture and personalities, the British brand extends much further than a headwear label, harnessing itself as a timeless staple filled with heritage. We caught up with Nic Harris of Kangol to learn more about the brand’s legacy, its production process, and how a label with such history stays relevant today.
Introduction, Kangol the brand, the unique element of each Kangol piece…
Can you introduce yourself and your role?
My name is Nic Harris and I’m the Global Design & Product Director for Kangol. I’ve been designing Kangol hats for 16 years and was initially based in the original factory in England, this gives me a unique understanding of how the hats are made and the complex process involved in creating each style. I’m currently based in New York, having moved here five years ago. In my current role as well as designing product for the ranges, I also oversee the design and product team. Together we create and develop hats, gloves, and scarves from concept all the way through to production. I’m lucky to work with a dedicated and passionate group of people who really care about every detail.
How would you describe Kangol as a brand?
I think our tag line sums it up the best: “Born British, Raised on the Streets of New York.” As a result of this Kangol is truly unique, it means something special to so many different types of people and encompasses many cultures. This has led us to design our current (2014) range into three different segments: Heritage, Sport, and Street. Each range is designed to focus on a different customer, but always sticks to the Kangol ethos making each segment distinctive but always Kangol.
What is the unique element embodied by each and every Kangol piece?
The simple answer is craftsmanship and quality. We are headwear specialists and we work hard to make sure that each hat fits perfectly while maintaining the quality & style we are recognized for. The iconic Kangol styles such as the Wool 504 or the Bermuda Casual are still made on the original knitting machines, and to make the comparison with selvedge denim the original machines really do have superior quality. Also many of the machines were designed and built especially for and by Kangol, so they do not exist anywhere else.
The process of making the styles has not changed and it requires a lot of skill to make our hats. The top of every seamless blocked hat — this includes Wool, Furgora, Tropic and Bermuda — is hand stitched. The felting process takes around 4 hours and the hats are hand blocked twice. I take great pride in the details of every hat we produce.
“I think our tag line sums it up the best: “Born British, Raised on the Streets of New York.” As a result of this Kangol is truly unique, it means something special to so many different types of people and encompasses many cultures.”
Nic Harris speaks about Kangol as a brand
About 75th Anniversary collection…
How did you want to differentiate product for your 75th anniversary?
For our 75th Anniversary collection we looked to the pivotal points in our history, specifically the ’30s when the brand was founded & the ’80s with the birth of hip-hop, graffiti and street style in general. The Kangaroo logo was invented during this time. The story is that people in America were asking for Kangaroo Hats instead of Kangol hats, the story got back to England and they decided if this was how the hats were being described then they should have a Kangaroo on them.
Any special details that go into this collection
For our 75th anniversary we created a hangtag that told a brief history of Kangol which went on every style. Plus a capsule collection of styles that celebrated our history featuring heritage styling details such as the original Knitting Needle Logo, as well as a new woven tip inspired by the original military tip design. The style numbers represent the year each shape was invented: The Spitfire 1938, The 504 Cap 1954, The Casual 1983, and The 575 cap for 2013. The 575 cap is a new cap shape that takes the 504 as inspiration but making it modern in shape & fit. Each hat took elements from our military history combined with less obvious details such as the red, white & blue stripe headband to represent our British & American flags.
For Fall/Winter we collaborated with Disney by taking three classic shapes from a significant Kangol era to create whimsical design, while staying true to the Kangol aesthetic. The Anglobasque Beret is one of the first shapes designed by Kangol in the 1930s, and the Disney style comes with detachable brooch bow in 3 different colors for a feminine touch. The iconic Kangol Casual shape has 3 interchangeable top buttons with each color inspired by different Disney character, and the inner lining features the characters breakdancing. The 507 cap is our classic yet modern shape and it features a detachable pin with classic Disney characters Mickey, Donald and Goofy.
Staying relevant, what should Kangol be most proud of & any upcoming projects…
How do you stay relevant as a brand with so much history?
By constantly innovating. While I deeply respect what has gone before they are always new treatments or materials we can use to create something new. We have a great story and history which draws people to the brand. Whenever I meet someone they always tell me their Kangol story, which I love. Also our collection has increased in variety with new styles. We have baseballs in all shapes such as flat brims like the Links, which was the name of our original blocked Trucker hat, and our 5-panel hat Supre. The history of the hats is told through the name and when we introduce a new style the name reflects either its inspiration or is a continuation of a theme that started long ago.
What things should Kangol be most proud of over the course of its history?
To me it’s the part our hats have played in the identity or uniform of so many different sub cultures like hip-hop, ska, ’90s rave culture, the madchester scene and have meant so much to so many people. I feel that this has been the inspiration for many of our collaborations over the last decade. I have been involved with many projects and it’s always the new twist on classic Kangol items that I find interesting. I’ve worked on collaborations with Nick Walker, D*Face, INSA, fragment, uniform experiment, SSUR, Undefeated, CLOT, and Marc by Marc Jacobs to name a few. There were early collaborations with The Beatles and Mary Quant and of course future collaborations to look forward to.
Any projects of interest upcoming?
I’m currently thinking about the up coming 60th anniversary of the 504 cap and how best to celebrate this including who to collaborate with. You’ll have to stay tuned and see!
“By constantly innovating. While I deeply respect what has gone before they are always new treatments or materials we can use to create something new. We have a great story and history which draws people to the brand. Whenever I meet someone they always tell me their Kangol story, which I love.”
Nic Harris speaks about how Kangol stays relevant