Tangent And Company
Tangent's owner Graham Hughes talks Swanndris, ceramics and time-travelling clothes.
April 12, 2017
Tangent + Company's owner Graham Hughes isn't afraid to admit that his shop is an overflow of his personal retro collection of over 15 years. A longtime collector of iconic New Zealand-made menswear of the '70s and '80s, Graham says his childhood on a King Country farm inspired his love of classic Swanndris and bush shirts. He brought this passion to Cuba Street's well-dressed fellas about five years ago after a search for the perfect spot on the perfect block.
"I grew up rurally and have a close family. My mum and nanna are chronic knitters and into wool, so I have a passion for Swannies."
Graham has always believed in the concepts of of craftsmanship, authenticity, quality and a short supply chain. Tangent stocks exclusively menswear— it formerly had a small collection of womenswear, but Graham says he prefers very kitschy retro looks which didn't appeal to the city's female shoppers. Graham has always worn vintage clothing and could never find the retro style that he preferred while shopping in Wellington's second-hand shops.
The store's name— which Graham points out actually contains the word 'gent' – is in part inspired by the tangents that customers often end up going on when they see his racks of muted printed shirts, checked bush shirts with alpine-inspired brand names like Ruapaehu, Egmont and Mountaineer, and impeccable wool knit cardigans.
"People come in and look at the clothes and go off on a tangent, saying they remember themselves or their fathers or their grandfathers wearing similar things. The other idea is that these clothes are kind of travelling through time, and every time they get a new owner, that's when a new tangent begins."
The long, narrow store has a room at the back with formalwear, which Graham isn't as passionate about— although it is popular for folk shopping for special occasions, as well as Lambton Quay types whose office style skews towards vintage. Customers also include film costumers working on period movies or television, plus the occasional shopper with a costume party to attend. He prefers to focus on daywear, which is harder to find than rarely-worn suits, as cardigans and flares were generally worn until they were thrashed.
Graham's favourite items in the shop are the Crimplene 1970s shirts, which he has well over 100 of in his personal collection. Although he doesn't pay much attention to trends, he notes that breezy rayon abstract printed short-sleeved shirts are favourites with customers, and Swanndris and their ilk sell consistently year-round - a 10-year-old customer bought his first one a few days before I chatted to Graham. Even at last year's Newtown Festival, the 25-degree day didn't put off customers, some of whom bought up multiples of these cosy woolen numbers.
The store also stocks a small selection of contemporary goods that fit into Graham's ethos— everything is locally made using high-quality materials. Having formerly managed a tile store, his ongoing appreciation for ceramics is clear by the selection of Neville Porteous tiles available for purchase. Porteous' tiles can be found adorning on many Cuba Street shopfronts, so it's fitting that they're also sold from this historic building. Tangent also has a beautiful selection gents' hats by Hills Hats in Petone, who still use the same machinery as when they were established in 1875.
Now that Tangent has been up and running for four years, Graham doesn't have to look hard for stock - customers regularly offer him stock, and he purchases from estates as well as taking items from his own wardrobe. However, he is picky: "everything in the shop I would wear myself personally - if I wouldn't, then I wouldn't let it in the shop."