Kenneth Mackenzie of 6876
“I never understand it when people want to stop. Punk was my thing and I could just never understand it when people were still going to see the UK subs in 1979, when actually, in retrospect, all the brilliant music that came from punk was post-punk. It was merging other forms of music and moving on.” Conversations with Kenneth Mackenzie about fashion rarely stay on topic – often wandering off into football or music instead – but the ethos of post-punk which he spoke of is not too distant from the embodied by his modernist menswear brand, 6876. The rebellious ethos of punk certainly exists within the company set up, as does the focus on a continual evolution in terms of product and aesthetic.
We are sat in Mackenzie’s studio, located in the fittingly modernist Brunswick Centre with its tiered concrete façade. A polarising building, which many would class as ugly, yet something which seems to work harmoniously with the values of 6876. Pacing the modest space in a plain navy t-shirt and Patagonia shorts – Mackenzie’s favourite brand – he takes me through each of the thoughtfully designed items from the brand’s rolling product set up. “I had this idea that 6876 studio would be like a design office; we’d do consultancy and collaborations. At the start people thought it just wasn’t possible. It’s not going to work, they said.” They were wrong. Mackenzie has not only taken an unconventional path – eschewing biannual collections in favour of a continuous design and release cycle – but he’s also managed to make it an extremely viable and multifaceted business.
Today, he is preparing for the release of his collaboration with Good Measure, part of the Black Project- a two year long project consisting of all black collaborative efforts, which ranges from clothing to printed matter. Each collaboration is born from a genuine relationship, not some lazy marketing ploy – a refreshingly straightforward idea. “To me that’s the best thing about the Black Project and something I think is far more relevant. With Thom from Mamnick (who collaborated with 6876 on their Eyam jacket), I saw a picture of his steel chip fork he’d released and commented that I wanted one. He said, ‘I’ll give you one if you do a collaboration with me.’ Of course that’s not always how it works, but to me, that’s more interesting.”
Next year will mark the brand’s 20th anniversary, something which Mackenzie – never one to dwell on the past – has been grappling with for some time. “Originally we had all these plans; we we’re going to do a book and reissue this and that,” he admits. “Now, we’re probably going to sack it all. I had a good conversation with Craig (Ford, formely of 6876 and now C.E.O of A Number of Names*) about it. He said, ‘that’s not your style, don’t do it.’”
Since day one, when the brand was named partly in reaction to the number of ego-led eponymous labels, 6876 has never been about vanity. Celebrations will likely remain muted, with subtle nods to the past and the reissuing of certain cult-favourites. “There’s one jacket that all the guys from back in the day know about, which is this Double Harrington we made in Italy. We’ll probably make about 20 of them in England. And we’ll do the ‘Some People Talk About The Weather’ towel because that’s funny. But we can’t do any Paris 68 stuff because that’s been totally bastardised and fetishised.”
The reactionary element to Mackenzie’s design is not just relating to the appropriation of Situationist imagery, but almost every nuance of his work. An outsider, in the sense that he does not do trade shows or other tedious aspects of being a designer, Mackenzie has moulded a career from going against the grain. “The Heritage trend had a great effect on me, design-wise, because I was like, ‘right, I’m just going to go so far off it, that I’m actually going to design things that are functional but almost ugly,’ just to react to it. It was this very brutalist, modern design.” And it was all done with a knowing sense of humour, another aspect integral to the brand. “It was the idea of taking very classic British fabrics and making them in very hardcore, modernist designs. That was my reaction to it; ‘I’m going to use all the same fabrics as you and I’m going to do stuff that almost looks ugly because it’s so modern and bold.’” Such reactionary ideals are what has kept 6876 from going stale whilst also giving their output genuine integrity, because there is no pandering to trends.
Mackenzie applies the same approach to 6876’s PR, planning to reduce press releases next year in favour of in-house website features, a response, in part, to the quantity over quality approach applied by so many blogs. “They’re so badly written,” he says. “It’s all this friendly, jazzy, Americanised stuff. You’re writing about a fucking Ventile jacket. If you’re going to write, either report in a classic, well-researched way or be totally irreverent like Four pins.”
His solution to this is quite simple and one he feels will properly reflect the values of his brand. “Every month or so, we’re going to have a feature on something we like. Not some nonsense trying to make yourself look artistic, like ‘ooh this is a wonderful exhibition.’ We’re going to feature someone we know, who we like and is doing something interesting. And if people are interested or not, it’s going to be real. It’ll be something decent and well written. And it’ll be like our little newspaper.” They’ve even discussed plans for a physical, biannual newspaper, perhaps a subversive nod to Situationist International.
There are many layers to 6876, and one suspects they can owe much of their longevity to this. The brand cultivated an extremely loyal following in a market where there is staggering diversity. While the days of selling to Barneys and Selfridges are long gone – and certainly not missed by Mackenzie – the brand still holds the attention of many. “It’s hard doing what I do, but the one good thing about the internet is the immediate feedback. They give you bits of advice as well, and if it wasn’t for all that it would be very hard to do it in this day and age.”
His work with Fred Perry last year gave Mackenzie a gentle reminder of the demands of large-scale corporate operations and – although, it was a process he admits he enjoyed – perhaps affirmed his decision to stay working on a small, independent level. “When I went to Fred Perry all the product people thought I was too laid-back and irreverent, telling me, ‘you can’t talk about football to the fit model at fit meetings or joke around’ and I was like, ‘Why not?’ By the end of it they absolutely loved it. They realised that I just wanted to relax and enjoy myself because I am so deadly serious about what I do.”