UNION and Canada Goose Come Together for NBA All-Star 2023 Collection

Chris Gibbs speaks on the collaboration’s SoCal influences, family-led production of the campaign, and more.

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As part of their multiyear partnership with the NBA which saw a collaboration with RHUDE in 2021 and Salehe Bembury last year, Canada Goose now taps designer Chris Gibbs of UNION LA for a limited-edition collection. Described as a modern take on classic Americana designs, the joint series blends adventurous West Coast attitudes with Canada Goose’s signature luxury performance. Sharing a steadfast belief in the importance of community, culture, and craftsmanship, the robust garments were designed with varying outdoor environments in mind, functioning well as standalone pieces for the seaside as well as all together on the ski slopes.

The largest of the five-piece series is the Toussaint Coat, inspired by French military uninsulated parkas with drawstring hoods and adjustable bottom hems. Found in a relaxed silhouette, the coat can be paired with the onion-quilted Breda Liner jacket via built-in button closures. Reversible Bullard Bombers arrive in two colorways, taking inspiration from classic MA-1 jackets while adding varsity-style cuffs and patch logos. Rounding out the assortment are Legion Vests featuring flannel prints nodding to the West Coast with burnt orange, blue, and earth tones.

Directing this year’s Play in the Open collection campaign is Chris Gibbs’ partner and fellow creative Beth Birkett Gibbs. Starring in the off-beat shots is Philadelphia-based singer Tierra Whack who’s seen heading on a journey of discovery, venturing through various scenes and cultural moments that inspired the collection. Whack is joined by British poet Kai Isaiah Jamal, Canadian R&B duo Majid Jordan, and NBA All-Star Fred VanVleet.

Below, Chris Gibbs sits down with Hypebeast to walk us through the underlying ideas behind the collaboration, his thoughts on the ties between basketball and streetwear, future plans for UNION, and more.

What role did UNION play in creating the campaign and the collection?

Canada Goose gave us a lot of agency from the inception of this to create the collection that we believed in so it’s been really great working with them. Thankfully they also gave us a lot of agency with regard to creating the marketing assets. My wife directed the video we’ll be using and I worked really closely with the photographer we chose to shoot the campaign as well, so it’s been as it usually is with UNION, a family affair.

Could you talk us through the idea behind the collection and its “Play in the Open” tagline?

“Play in the Open” is Canada Goose’s way to inspire people to get out and experience the great outdoors. I, being Canadian, and that kind of being the Canadian way of life, the motto definitely resonated with me. That’s also coincidentally, a big part of the Southern California lifestyle of just getting out. It’s not a myth because it can really happen — although I don’t know how many often do it — you could wake up in the morning in California and go surfing, and later be in the hills in the afternoon skiing. I like to get out and am a big skier from my youth so I definitely wanted to embrace that. I think what’s happening from a more zoomed-out layer is this juxtaposition and handshake between what people think of Canada and California, so the cold versus a warmer, desert climate. It’s been fun to play with where that shows up.

What Canada Goose is typically known for is a big heavy goose-down jacket to keep nice and warm. I really appreciated that they gave us the agency to reimagine what the brand would do through the lens of Southern California. So what we chose to do is make a lot of pieces that could layer. If you’re in a cold weather area, you can take multiple pieces that would work with each other. If you’re in California where it’s not so cold, you could also just wear one of the pieces and it would still work, so I really love that we got the opportunity to do that.

It’s been as it usually is with UNION, a family affair.

I could definitely see the SoCal influence in the lookbook with the flannel prints and other more casual silhouettes. Not necessarily something Canada Goose would typically release.

We wanted to have fun with prints so we kind of juxtaposed a flannel shirt with a polar fleece as a vest. Vests are something that really works well here and in Southern California because it’s kind of an in-between garment. We also took a traditional military parka as a key piece in the collection and thought about how Canada Goose might make that a bit more contemporary than the vintage piece. I’m happy with the result and I was wearing that in Paris during Fashion Week a lot. We created a liner for that jacket so it could be sold separately if you wanted to. The highlight there for me was that most liners are done with a kind of cheap nylon.

With Canada Goose, we looked at it through a luxury lens and really made a high-end sophisticated liner that can be buttoned into the parka. The last piece we made which is reversible and what ended up becoming my favorite piece in the collection is a hybrid between an MA-1 military bomber with a varsity jacket. It was designed partially in the lens of how CG would attack that with a nod to outdoor technical fabrics and materials.

Was it a big shift for your team and the Canada Goose side to create pieces typically not found in its in-line offerings?

I wouldn’t say hard. Whenever you have the day-to-day challenges of creating product, finding the right fabric, finding the right hand-feel, weight, colors, and all that kind of stuff, that’s just the daily hurdle. I didn’t find it any harder to produce this than any other collection that I’ve done in-house or with other collaborators from the past. There were a couple of back-and-forth moments and a couple like, no that’s not quite right and how do we get it right? But they were really committed to making sure that we got this how we wanted it and we’re super happy with the end product.

Where does the NBA fit into all this?

So the collection is UNION x Canada Goose for NBA All-Star Games. One of the things we’ve been talking about is where we’re aligned with all three of us. For me, basketball culture is a huge part of fashion and streetwear. I don’t think you can really tell the story of streetwear without talking about how basketball culture has influenced it and how we’ve influenced each other. You’ve got the tunnel fits now for all the guys in the NBA and I think if you take NBA versus other sports leagues, it’s the most visible and fashionable. You’re not necessarily taking a lot of cues from football players or even baseball players, but basketball is a part of that whole community so I thought it was a pretty natural and organic fit.

In the campaign, we see Fred Van Fleet, Tierra Whack, and others. What was the story behind putting the cast together?

We definitely wanted to take a nod to Canada so I’m psyched we got access to Freddy, and my wife, who shot the campaign, was looking forward to meeting him and going up to Toronto. Unfortunately, due to inclement weather, she couldn’t make it up for the shoot so we didn’t get to meet but I’m hoping we get to during All-Star Weekend. I know my wife enjoyed writing him into the piece.

Tierra Whack is kind of our lead on the campaign and she was incredible to work with. Sometimes you meet these celebrities and they’re kind of off-putting. Like they say, never meet your heroes, but sometimes you meet some really incredible people where you’re like, oh, I know why you’re successful and famous. You just have this glow, this energy and she definitely had it so it’s been a really dope collective.

 

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How do you see the UNION community evolving? We see you expanding with new first in Tokyo and now Osaka. Where do we go from here?

I’m really excited for us to grow. I think UNION as a mixed branch shop and what we’ve been for the last 30 years is worth mentioning. What we tried to do is as we see the market evolving, we see a void for our point of view that we can fill. We see our growth really happening more through the lens of what we’re making as opposed to what we’ve been known for over 30 years — our curation. As we grow and become a stronger UNION brand, I always want to leave space for us to be a place where we can break and stock new upcoming designers. I really want to showcase that but I do also think we need to grow on our own so we’re not so reliant upon other people and brands. We have to have something that we have a bit more control over to lean on when times are tough.

Since the first days of UNION, we’ve always had a really good relationship with Japan as you mentioned. We opened up our second store in Osaka in October and we’ve had our Tokyo store for five years now. It’s been really great. Japan is like a second home for me so I love going there. We’ve had conversations about growing into China, Korea, and America as well, getting back to New York where it all started. We were this close to opening up at least a temporary pop-up this winter, but a couple of things didn’t line up. We couldn’t get our production all lined up to open right and I just didn’t want to open up half-a**ed. I think as a brand making our own product, we’re still pretty young so what I’m hoping to do is take this time to really dial in our own product and vision before we branch out too big. I want to make sure when we step, we step right.

Do you have any activations coming up for the collaboration?

I’m flying up to Toronto and going to a Raptors game next week, so that’s going to be fun. As I mentioned, I’m from Canada and I look forward to seeing and breathing the new Toronto since it’s a lot different than when I grew up. We are also going to be doing a big activation at our store here in LA. I know CG has pop-up activations planned for the New York store and there’s one for Tokyo later in the month. Then my wife, my son, and I are going to fly out to Utah for the NBA All-Star game and do a bunch of stuff out there as well.

Canada Goose‘s collaboration with UNION for NBA All-Star Weekend will be available worldwide on February 9, excluding Japan which will launch on February 18, via the Canada Goose website and stores.

In other news, The North Face Urban Exploration launches SS23 “Reawaken” capsule.

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