Over the holidays, we took the time to speak to Jean Gauvin, the Senior Creative Director of Consumer Products over at Ubi Workshop. We spoke a bit about some of his favourite items, the challenges of staying fashionable and the expansion of products over the years.
I have a special place in my heart for the gear from Ubisoft, where quality is as important as the gear they create for gamers around the world. This is the type of clothing I feel comfortable wearing out to dinner or an event without facing ridicule. The sharp, sensible clothing is a welcome addition to my wardrobe and provides me with versatile options when assembling an outfit.
Q: Ubi Workshop has been in business for some time now and over the years we’ve seen a number of wonderful looking items. Is there a personal favourite of yours?
Jean Gauvin/Ubi Workshop: Although I have many favourites in our apparel collection like the Assassin’s Creed Legacy Edition Shao Jun ladies’ hoodie, I really like our Rainbow Six Chibi figurine Collection. We designed and produced the first series of five operators in a chibi style a year ago and it became an instant success. We will be launching our third series of five figurines next May.
Q: Purchasing several items from the Assassin’s Creed line, I noticed how exceptional the quality of the clothing was – how did you find the best material for your products?
JG/UWS: We have two very knowledgeable product managers on our team (Karine Rodrigue and Dominique Létourneau) who are fashion and apparel professionals. They each worked with major fashion brands before joining Ubi Workshop. We source fabrics and manufacturers across the globe and we follow our projects very closely with our suppliers. This is the key to getting the results we want and superior quality.
Q: With gaming culture coming into the mainstream unlike ever before, how important is it to produce gear that not only looks fashionable but features each game property?
JG/UWS: It is a challenge to stay fashionable while true to the game characters. We always try to create apparel collections that our fans would want to wear on any occasion. We call it everyday cosplay. Some characters from our games have features that we can use for our designs. For example, the Marcus jacket from Watch Dogs 2 was an almost identical replica from the game but the Bayek hoodie was a re-interpretation of AC Origins Bayek’s look since he was not wearing a lot of clothes J. We have to stay informed about trends in the market (fashion, colors, fabrics) and incorporate those trends in the products. It can be subtle but has to stay authentic.
Q: Over the years, Ubi Workshop has expanded from offering only clothing to now offering exclusive collectibles from some of the biggest Ubisoft franchises. What were some of the discussions you and your team had on what to expand on, items that weren’t as popular and how the process of bringing items to the storefront works?
JG/UWS: Our core business is still apparel and accessories, but we do look for other areas where we can expand and collectibles is a very popular segment. We work closely with the Ubi Collectibles team in Paris to bring their products to the North American market, but we also develop our own collectibles that are then sold in other parts of the world by Ubi Collectibles. I can explain how we work by taking the Rainbow Six chibi figurine collection as an example. As a team, we have regular brainstorm sessions where we all bring in new ideas of products we would love to create. We had identified the chibi style vinyl figurines as a product we’d love to test. When talking with the Rainbow Six dev team, they informed us that many of their fans were creating chibi style artwork and using these illustrations as their profile pics on Reddit or other social media.
With that info in mind, we started working with their team on a style that we could use for figurines and worked with our manufacturer to come up with a first 3D model of Ash, one of the most popular operators in the game, as a chibi character. While developing the style, another part of the team was looking at the business model and evaluating the quantities and costs to produce a first series of 5. We pitched the idea to other divisions within Ubisoft and soon everyone got on board and we were able to start production. We are now looking at other types of products to bring to the store, but we want to be careful about what we create. One of the areas we will also be expanding is the distribution of original and exclusive artwork. We have already done it with the Red Lineage collection for Assassin’s Creed and the Open World Series by artist Marie Bergeron, which have both proven to be very successful with our fans.
Q: Do you think the push for more consumer merchandise and collectibles will continue to expand in the future?
JG/UWS: I believe so. Our gamers and fans are eager to interact with the brands and games they love in many ways, and merch is one of the way they can show their fandom. With digital downloads becoming more and more popular, many of the retail outlets are now offering a larger selection of merch and apparel in their stores.
Q: Regarding your Legacy Collection – what are factors that go into what pieces are created? Are there any pieces that didn’t make the cut and could you tell us about them?
JG/UWS: We love working on items related to our classic AC characters. They have so much to offer and the Legacy collection celebrates these popular assassins from the past. Selecting which assassin will make the cut (no pun intended!) has to do with a few factors. It’s a combination of fan feedback, which character our designers would like to bring to life, and marketing opportunities. We also like to celebrate our assassins’ birthdays, so that may dictate our choice. Of course, not everything makes it to production. We designed cool items for Abstergo and main Templar characters in the past that were not produced… but we will see. We might have some surprises for you in the near future.
Q: Have you thought about doing more formal wear? There are the lovely dress shirts available, but would you do full suits, pocket squares, dresses and shoes?
JG/UWS: We do have nice dress shirts (with our own twist) and have started to test the tie market with an AC tie. We might expand (pocket squares is something we are looking at as well as cufflinks) in those categories but no suits or shoes are planned for the near future. Dresses are a different story. We do more women’s apparel now and it is something we have looked at.
Q: At one point, Musterbrand sold Assassin’s Creed gear, were you brought in to help them? What sort of consulting do you on other storefronts that are licenses to sell Ubisort merchandise?
JG/UWS: We did not collaborate with Musterbrand at the time. The licensees usually work from style guides that are approved by the brand teams but we (Ubi Workshop) mostly work directly with the dev teams with other assets before style guides are available. Needless to say, Musterbrands had real cool items and their designers understood how to combine fashion and game elements together. As far as consulting for other storefronts, UWS doesn’t do that but I personally oversee the creation of some of the licensing style guides for Ubisoft and take part in product development with our licensees on many brands. As a creative director, it is part of my role to be on both fronts: internal product development as well as licensed product development.
Q: Are there any of the older franchises, like Prince of Persia, Rayman, or more recent entries like Just Dance that might see gear in the future?
JG/UWS: Yes, we have been working on a vintage collection that we might offer in 2019. Just Dance is something we have been looking at for the last two years now and hope we can come up with cool products in the near future.
Q: How far in advance are you and your team informed of the locations, characters for games like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry?
JG/UWS: We have the advantage of working in Montreal within the biggest production studio. We have daily encounters and conversations with the dev teams and are aware of the upcoming games most of the time when production starts. But our real work starts when assets are being shared with us by the dev teams, which could be 12 to 18 months before a game is scheduled to launch. Since we are close to the dev teams, we can be very quick at coming up with new designs or ideas if a logo changes or a character’s outfit is no longer what it was supposed to be a few months ago. This is part of what makes Ubi Workshop a totally awesome place to work.