Off Duty is a series of lively conversations with influential people, from celebrities to CEOs, on life, work and the art of taking time off.
As an avid traveller, Lyndon Cormack would like to tell you he’s one of those streamlined, carry-on-only pros. But if we’re being honest, he says, “I’m a little bit of a princess.”
That he needs luggage to accommodate a maximalist approach to packing, is on-brand: Bags are Cormack’s business. The backpack brand he founded in 2010 with his brother (and best friend) Jamie recently redesigned its entire hardshell luggage product range, as Herschel looks for continued growth.
But that is happening under newer leadership: In 2021, after years of being founder-led, Herschel hired its first outside CEO, Jon Hoerauf. The brothers have not exactly stepped back – they remain involved in the brand, including, in Lyndon’s case, designing the interiors of its retail stores – but are prioritizing the things they want to focus on. And (the dream) they don’t attend as many meetings.
Lyndon Cormack spoke to The Globe about the role travel has played in his life, how interior design has become a creative outlet, and why a pencil sketch of a giraffe takes pride of place in his Vancouver office next to a painting by American graffiti artist and designer Kaws.
Has hiring an outside CEO opened up the space for you to do anything different in your life?
I’m making a habit of fitness retreats now. Being out of cell range for four or five hours a day – those are things that have opened up. There’s an amazing spot in Malibu called The Ranch. You’re in the beautiful Santa Monica mountains. You wake up; do a stretch class for 30 minutes; eat breakfast; do a four-hour hike; a fitness class; yoga; get a massage; then you eat and go to bed. And you hit that on repeat. I’ve gone twice now and it’s an awesome reset. I always call it, “me getting out of my own way.”
You are an avid traveller. What do you love about it?
I’m stealing some things my brother says – but when you’re travelling, you try new food, you make sure you’re visiting museums and galleries, you’re taking more photos than you ever would in a regular day. That’s a really important part of getting away – getting out of your routine. I’m a creature of habit when I’m home. But when I’m away, I’m a bit more adventurous.
Was there an early trip you took that was particularly formative?
Fourteen days after my 18th birthday, I moved to Australia by myself. I had no money. I flew to Melbourne and got a job at a bike shop. That was in 1994. Melbourne at that point in time was going through the biggest cultural revolution. The food scene, and culture, for a kid from Calgary – Calgary is a great city, but it was eye-opening. I met friends who were fashion designers and had their own labels at 22 years old. It was the best education you could ever have.
Did that partly inspire what came later?
One hundred per cent. The other part is, in skateboarding and snowboarding, people created brands. People would create silkscreen T-shirt brands, and sweatshirts. Young people would open skateboard shops. That takes a lot. Surrounding myself with peers that were doing this stuff gave me the confidence to feel like it could be done.
Tell me where you got the name Herschel.
My great-grandparents immigrated to Herschel in 1906 through the homestead program. [As of 2016, Herschel, Sask., had a population of 30.] My dad was born in the town. We really loved our trips back in the family station wagon to stay with my grandparents. When you’re in a city, you grow up with borders and boundaries and curfews. When you go to the town of Herschel, you throw all those things away. You can drive the old truck on the dirt road when you’re 12 years old, you can rip around these fields. It was a really special place that meant a lot to us.
Your home in Whistler was featured in Architectural Digest last year. What got you into design?
My parents grew up in the country, and our family homes were a little country-style – not kitschy-country, but nicely decorated and always very comfortable. As a teenager, I really loved brutalism. As I’ve grown up, this love of minimalism and growing up in a country home has blended. It’s this beautiful eclectic thing that I’m into. I’m certainly not trained in interior design; it’s just trying to find all these objects that I’m inspired by, and to make them work within a space. I always was very artistic as a kid, but I could never draw. My brother is an amazing illustrator, but I was just terrible at it. So you find your ways to express yourself differently, and I find that creating spaces is something that also allows me to create a vision.
You’re a big art collector. Do you have a favourite piece?
It’s funny, because I have things that I never dreamed I would ever be able to have, so the natural answer would be one of those. A Warhol piece, or Lichtenstein’s pop-art pieces, I love. But my most prized possessions are all the little things my kids made for me over the years. My daughter drew this picture of a giraffe. She spelled it G-I-R-R-A-P-H-E. That’s the one I see all the time when I’m working. Those are the cutest things.
This interview has been edited and condensed.