“A TOTE BAG… FOR MEN?” Jeremy Hershan smiles as he recalls the exchange. A few years ago, while designing for a well-known heritage brand, he proposed expanding the accessories line to include a hard-wearing, deftly-made canvas bag… for men. Suffice to say, it was a ‘no’ from that particular board of directors. But Hershan didn’t let the feedback dampen his quest to make the bag he couldn’t find. “I’d noticed that all the bags I carried were old bags, like old American boating totes, or American tool bags from the ’60s… these really durable things,” says Hershan.
It took him almost two years to perfect the design, but today, a rainbow of suede and canvas utility tote bags in varying sizes are what make his brand, Haulier, so recognisable. Those who own them swear by them; as well as looking cool, they’re virtually indestructible.
But I’m not just here to talk to Hershan about his bags. Instead, the reason for our meeting is Hershan’s catalogue of source material; his extensive collection of archival American workwear, sportswear and vintage military surplus, which spans hundreds of pieces.
“I keep some of it at home, some in my studio, under my bed,” Hershan jokes when I arrive at the Haulier International store in Paddington, Sydney. “It’s becoming a real problem.”
On this particular morning, however, Hershan has done a cull. He’s selected 30 or so pieces from different decades, ranging from 1960s track and field kit to a pair of tight leather pants from the ’90s. While he admits the leather pants are more of a show piece, it’s not uncommon to find the designer wearing pieces from his archive—like the Burberry trench coat he wore to his studio this morning. “I would’ve picked it up at an op shop during university 20 years ago. It would have been from the ’70s or ’80s, and I still wear it today.”
Hershan has been collecting vintage clothing since he was a teenager, when op shops and army surplus stores in Melbourne became the sites of his education. But unlike many archival fashion junkies, whose objective is to acquire rare pieces from luxury labels, Hershan was more obsessed with how old stuff was made. And so the basis of his burgeoning collection wasn’t old Prada or Ann Demeulemeester, but durable pieces made for withstanding extreme conditions. “I would find these Australian military pieces from the ’60s and ’70s, and you couldn’t really tell they were that old, because they were made so nicely,” he says. “I think I’ve always kind of been drawn to things that are from another era, but could be contemporary.”
At university, his interest in the anatomy of clothing extended to the world of tailoring. His tutor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) encouraged him to find old blazers and unpick them at the seams, so he could take a closer look at the construction. “I remember finding these old Yves Saint Laurent jackets, and I couldn’t bring myself to pick them apart because I wanted to wear them. But I was always searching for interesting things like that.”
Shortly after graduating, Hershan moved to Antwerp and later Paris, where he worked for the titular label of Belgian designer Kris Van Assche, who was also the creative director of Dior Homme at the time. Then he moved to London, where he took a job working for Gieves & Hawkes, one of the oldest high-end tailors on Savile Row. “I was given the opportunity to work in a really traditional space with lots of history and these extensive archives. I’m a firm believer that you need to know the rules before you break them, so I wanted to put in the yards there,” he offers.
Then he got a job at Dunhill, the historic British brand that was in the process of reviving its image and offering. “I kind of did a tour of British heritage brands, and that became a thread—working for dusty old brands that were being revived,” Hershan says with a chuckle. All the while, he was adding to his vintage collection; he formed connections with collectors from London to Tokyo, and expanded his archive to include pieces from the ’80s and ’90s.
AS HE’S DESCRIBING this time, he reaches for a pair of leather Adidas track pants. Complete with three red stripes running down the seam of each leg, the style was popularised by ’80s hip-hop icons Run-D.M.C. “You can see where someone has put a wedge in the back there, to make the waist bigger,” he says, as he holds the pants up for me to see. “I love finding those little details, where people have altered and mended things along the way.”
Hershan found the Adidas pants in Japan. “Japan is the place where it all comes together,” he explains. “Because Japanese collectors go to the US and they go to Europe, they scour the world for the best stuff and it all ends up in Tokyo.” Japan’s love of the postwar American look is a touchstone for Hershan. The designer has a library of rare Men’s Club magazines. “They’re all in Japanese, but it was this amazing title in the ’60s and ’70s for Japanese men interested in American fashion. They really cultivated this whole culture around that look.”
Another formative source of inspiration is what Hershan calls “the golden age of travel”. “It was before celebrity stylists, before the 2000s, when musicians and actors would rock up at the airport in their own clothes—they travelled in style.”
In 2016, after nine years abroad, Hershan moved back to Australia, where he took a job as the head of design at R.M. Williams. At home, his desire to start his own thing grew stronger—he saw an opportunity in the market for a menswear business, as well as a brand that “made things the way they used to be made”. Having worked for big fashion houses, Hershan knew that to launch a brand with longevity, he should start with a core product. And so his collection of old, sturdy bags provided the blueprint for Haulier’s initial offering: those indestructible suede and canvas tote bags, which hit the market in 2020.
But the long term vision for Haulier included a clothing line—a collection that drew from Hershan’s love of old sportswear, workwear and tailoring, and took its cues from his own vintage archive. Today, the brand’s mesh T-shirts are among its bestsellers. They feel inherently modern—Hershan has developed a sporty mesh fabric from pure cotton mercerised yarn—and speak just as clearly to the bootcut jean, bomber jacket diehard as they do the preppy sportswear guy. But the look and silhouette of these mesh tees is inspired by racing jerseys of the past; pieces that live in Hershan’s own vintage collection.
In May, Hershan’s vision of a contemporary brand that could be from another era came together in one of Australian Fashion Week’s standout shows. At the foot of 25 Martin Place, a landmark designed by Australian architect Harry Seidler in the 1970s, a cast of characters wove around the space as if in transit. They were travelling in style.
“The Haulier collection is quite personal, really, because it’s really about things I want to wear, or pieces I feel are missing,” says Hershan. “And often the inspiration point is an old piece of clothing, where I think, ‘that’s an incredible silhouette, or that’s a fabric I want to wear in summer’.”
As we say our goodbyes Hershan shares a poignant memory. “I remember searching through my parents’ wardrobe as a kid, because I loved studying the pieces in there. And I really want my stuff to be hanging there in great condition for the next generation. I want to make stuff that endures.”