THEHOUSE THAT JAC+ JACK BUILT

NEIGH­BOURS, FRIENDS AND BUSI­NESS PART­NERS JACQUELINE HUNT AND LISA DEMPSEY HAVE BUILT A BRAND AROUND CA­SUAL LUXURY KNITWEAR. THEY TELL US WHAT IT TAKES TO LOOK SO EF­FORT­LESS

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - W - STORY MI­LANDA ROUT

The late sum­mer sun is stream­ing through the large win­dows of Jac + Jack’s light and airy con­verted ware­house space in Syd­ney’s Surry Hills, where co-founder Jacqueline Hunt is talk­ing about her in­spi­ra­tion for the lat­est col­lec­tion. Seven­teen thou­sand kilo­me­tres away, Hunt’s busi­ness part­ner, Lisa “Jack” Dempsey, is in win­try Lon­don and “freez­ing [her] butt off” with not enough of the Aus­tralian luxury brand’s trade­mark cash­mere jumpers. “I got an emer­gency phone call from Jack [for a res­cue pack­age],” re­calls Hunt: “Send lots of cash­mere and send it now.”

The rea­son Dempsey is freez­ing in Lon­don is that, 11 years af­ter they be­gan their luxury knitwear busi­ness, Jac + Jack has just opened their first in­ter­na­tional store, at Lon­don’s Ham Yard Ho­tel. She is mak­ing the most of her lack of pre­pared­ness for the Lon­don cold.

“It’s a good learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” she says. “You think about what might be re­quired [for the store], sit­ting at a desk in an­other coun­try where it is 30C, com­pared to freez­ing your butt off here and think­ing, hang on a sec­ond, this is not go­ing to work. I am go­ing to need lay­ers, fine close to the body lay­ers, rather than a big chunky knit with a big puffy jacket over the top, walk­ing around look­ing like a Miche­lin man.’’

It is the fifth store for Jac + Jack, with two stores in Mel­bourne and two in Syd­ney, as well as be­ing stocked in David Jones around the coun­try. The la­bel has also moved be­yond knitwear and wom­enswear, and now stocks bot­toms (much to the re­lief of those cus­tomers who kept ha­rass­ing the pair for some­thing to wear be­low their prized cash­mere jumpers and shirts) as well as ven­tur­ing into menswear. Over the past decade, the la­bel has be­come syn­ony­mous with pared back, ca­sual, ef­fort­less luxury, with a fo­cus on the most beau­ti­ful fab­rics and con­sid­ered de­sign.

“It looks like some­one has just picked up some­thing off the floor and not given it much thought. That you have taken no work to look in­cred­i­bly chic,” says Hunt, when quizzed on what the term “ef­fort­less” ac­tu­ally means to her as a designer. “Re­al­ity is that it doesn’t re­ally hap­pen. ‘Ef­fort­less’ is that ev­ery­thing has ac­tu­ally been con­sid­ered by us and I have spent a hell of a lot of time think­ing about it, sourc­ing it, designing it, fit­ting it.’’

The ef­fort­less look is achieved through good fit, beau­ti­ful colours and the high­est qual­ity fab­rics. It is, ac­cord­ing to Hunt, about the “lit­tle de­tails” and the small de­ci­sions she makes that gives the la­bel a “bit of an edge”. She grabs one of her new sea­son shirts as an ex­am­ple, point­ing to the ex­tra wash of the Ital­ian cot­ton, or a tiny col­lar or the de­ci­sion to make the stitch­ing tighter, which gives the shirt a more crum­pled feel. “They are re­ally sub­tle nu­ances but they make a huge dif­fer­ence,” Hunt ex­plains. “And peo­ple dis­cover it slowly. They say ‘I love that, it looks amaz­ing’ and they put it on and ‘oh, I re­ally love this’ and then if they buy it and put it in their wardrobe, quite of­ten I get feed­back that ‘oh my god, I wore it all sea­son be­cause it just worked’.’’

For Dempsey, ef­fort­less is about be­ing un­der­stated, re­laxed and time­less. A piece from Jac + Jack can go with other clothes in your wardrobe and you can pull it out at any time, even if it has been worn across many sea­sons.

“It doesn’t have to wear you, you can wear it and it will feel amaz­ing,’’ she says. “Ef­fort­less, to me, is not hav­ing to think too much about it but know­ing you can rely on it. You shouldn’t have to put much thought it into. It’s like wear­ing a great white t-shirt and pair of jeans.”

Jac + Jack’s strong ethos on us­ing the best qual­ity fab­rics from around the world can be traced back to Hunt’s train­ing as a fash­ion designer. Her first job straight out of uni­ver­sity in Mel­bourne was in New Delhi, work­ing for a fash­ion pro­duc­tion house, sourc­ing fab­rics from around the re­gion. In­dia was a bit of a cul­ture shock for a girl who grew up in re­gional Vic­to­ria.

“I re­mem­ber fly­ing into Delhi and quickly grab­bing the in­flight mag­a­zine for the world map and go­ing, ah­hhh … there is In­dia,” she says. “But it was just amaz­ing and it taught me how to be re­ally re­source­ful and gave me a real ap­pre­ci­a­tion for a cul­ture that is very dif­fer­ent from ours but also has a huge his­tory of ar­ti­san tex­tile cre­ativ­ity. I think that was re­ally the start of my love af­fair with fab­ric, with tech­nique, qual­ity and work­man­ship.”

Hunt spent five years trav­el­ling around In­dia work­ing with the ar­ti­sans on tech­niques like block print­ing, em­broi­dery and tie-dye. She would take sam­ples back to the cap­i­tal to be eval­u­ated. “There was a very so­phis­ti­cated, chic, older designer/buyer that would fly in ev­ery four weeks,” Hunt re­calls of one of her first bosses. “She would sit there and go ‘no, yes, no’, and I used to be in awe of her. She was this very so­phis­ti­cated lady.”

A designer job at JAG beck­oned and then one at Marcs. It was there that is she met Dempsey, who was a buyer and brand manager. Orig­i­nally from New Zealand, Dempsey took a very dif­fer­ent path into fash­ion, by­pass­ing uni­ver­sity. She moved to Syd­ney when she was just 18 and got a job in a cloth­ing store. “I started off as store manager, then buyer, the brand manager, I re­ally just worked my way up the lad­der,” she says. “I al­ways loved fash­ion, but rather than be­ing be­hind the scenes, I am very much front of house. I love work­ing in that en­vi­ron­ment, with cus­tomers. But I am also pas­sion­ate about fab­rics and yarns as well.”

She and Hunt be­came close friends and col­leagues, trav­el­ling around the world to­gether for work. This is where their la­bel had its ge­n­e­sis — even its name, when Marcs founder Mark Keigh­ery nick­named Dempsey “Jack” af­ter the fa­mous 1920s Amer­i­can boxer with that sur­name. “There was a lot of ‘Jac and Jack’ when he was yelling out and look­ing for Jac and me,’’ Dempsey says.

Dur­ing their trav­els for Marcs they no­ticed a gap in the Aus­tralian mar­ket for luxury knitwear. “We were in­spired by beau­ti­ful knitwear brands over­seas [and we thought] why shouldn’t we be able to of­fer that in Australia?” says Dempsey. “We did so many world trips to­gether, so even­tu­ally af­ter a few years, we started talk­ing about what our own la­bel would look like,” adds Hunt. “We both have a sim­i­lar aes­thetic and felt there was no one re­ally do­ing the qual­ity knitwear we wanted to do.”

They worked on a busi­ness plan for a year be­fore resigning from Marcs and launch­ing a 20-piece col­lec­tion of knitwear and t-shirts in 1994. Hunt was in charge of de­sign, fab­rics and man­u­fac­tur­ing and Dempsey looked af­ter the sales, re­tail and mar­ket­ing.

“We just wanted to cre­ate a qual­ity la­bel that was easy to wear and that peo­ple would fall in love with, and make some­thing that was sea­son­less,” says Hunt. “We were re­ally for­tu­nate, we got into the right doors at the right time be­cause we were do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent. At the time, it was all em­bel­lish­ment and t-shirts with a lot of treat­ment so we were do­ing this min­i­mal­ist thing and it hadn’t re­ally been done in a ma­jor way.”

The la­bel has grown and ex­panded be­yond the orig­i­nal fo­cus on knitwear, but slowly enough for Hunt and Dempsey to feel they had some con­trol over its di­rec­tion. It took a few years for Jac + Jack to get into David Jones (a key goal) and the pair did not open a stand­alone re­tail store un­til their sixth year of op­er­a­tion.

“It’s evolved re­ally nicely,” says Hunt. “The open­ing of Lon­don has come at the right time for our busi­ness, 11 years in. It’s a small store, but strate­gi­cally [very im­por­tant]. We have our four stores in Australia, we have our on­line store and our next idea was to get this great lit­tle store in one of the in­ter­na­tional cities of the world.”

The duo were open to try­ing New York or LA, but an “op­por­tu­nity pre­sented it­self” at the new Ham Yard devel­op­ment in Soho, a pur­pose-built ho­tel with 13 re­tail stores. “This site came up for­tu­itously,” says Dempsey on the phone from Lon­don, where she has been “work­ing like a de­mon” since Jan­uary. “We were over here show­ing for Net-a-Porter, we were stay­ing at the Ham Yard and saw what they were do­ing ... We were in­vited to go in as the last re­main­ing store.”

De­signed by Syd­ney in­te­ri­ors ar­chi­tect Ge­orge Livissianis (who also de­signed the lay­out for Jac + Jack’s Aus­tralian stores), the Lon­don store will stock sig­na­ture shirts and cash­mere jumpers all year round to cater for trav­ellers and ho­tel guests. “It’s re­ally ex­cit­ing,” says Hunt of mak­ing the leap over­seas. “It doesn’t feel too over­whelm­ing. It is not like we are open­ing on Bond Street, a 1000sqm store. It feels small and work­ing with the ho­tel and their clients, our range has a real travel, sea­son­less qual­ity about it.”

And af­ter more than a decade to­gether, the pair, like their clothes, seem to have an ef­fort­less qual­ity to re­la­tion­ship. It doesn’t look like hard work. They are best friends, live in the same street in Bondi, work to­gether and yet still see each other so­cially. Ap­par­ently there has ever only been one fight — over some­thing Hunt de­scribed as “ridicu­lous”. Dempsey adds that they have a lot of re­spect for each other.

“We are end­lessly chat­ting and it even sur­prises me that we still have stuff to talk about,” ad­mits Hunt, laugh­ing. “The busi­ness has been such a bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It is such a shared jour­ney. At times it’s re­ally chal­leng­ing, other times it’s re­ally eu­phoric if some­thing goes re­ally well. I couldn’t do it on my own. It would be weird and lonely and not fun!”

“EF­FORT­LESS, TO ME, IS NOT HAV­ING TO THINK TOOMUCHABOUTIT BUTKNOWINGYOU

CAN RELY ON IT”

Lisa ‘Jack’ Dempsey, left, and Jacqueline ‘Jac’ Hunt

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