Nin Truong, creator and designer of the men's label Maiden Noir, is no stranger to the term overtime. WKND, the design studio that he co-founded with his partner Christa Thomas, not only houses Maiden Noir but also their bag line Blk Pine Workshop. And there's Cafe Weekend, their coffee shop, which was also started under the WKND umbrella. Add to that a substantial number of outside clients for which WKND seemingly does everything from branding to interior and built design. Nin and Christa's concept behind WKND is one that resonates with us very much: The idea that people generally wait for the weekend to do the projects they want to do, and the studio (aptly named) was created as a place where the two of them could do these projects all the time. And with the success and following they've garnered in each individual division of their business, it has definitely become a full-time work load. It doesn't take a discerning eye to recognize the immense amount of time, thought and care that is put into every single aspect of what they produce. Walking though the stunning Maiden Noir Autumn/Winter 2014 collection with Nin, it was overwhelming just hearing the process of creating each detail- that hidden pocket here, the pattern of a quilted garment there, the decisions that go into choosing materials and so on. It begs the question, 'how does this guy get any sleep?' We spent a Saturday afternoon in his quiet studio discussing the Maiden Noir line, the evolution of menswear, and his approach to design. The WKND space is straightforward and cool, not unlike the many things designed there. A nice seating area, a few rows of desks, lots of natural light. On one wall: a small library of books from around the world. On another wall: renderings of a Spring/Summer 2015 line he is currently designing for streetwear label Stussy. And then there's Nin- calm, collected and smiling as if he didn't have a million things on his plate.
"Maiden Noir started as a creative project. I had a friend who introduced me to a group of guys based out of Japan who wanted to start a clothing line. Initially they only wanted t-shirts and denim but I had presented the idea of doing a full line. I wanted to see how I could push myself in terms of my own design explorations. And that was our first collection. It quickly shifted from being solely a creative project to becoming a business because we had to actually sell the product. I think what keeps me motivated season to season is the idea of story-telling with each collection. The original concept and very first graphic that I ever created for the collection was an image of this hawk perched on a skull. That's how I envisioned the beginning of this story. Much like the beginning of a movie- the camera would pan over, blurry, and it would focus in on this skull. Moving up you see the hawk perched above right as it takes off in the air. Every season I create a storyline to help me bring the collection together. On top of that I try to find fabrics that support the story. And sometimes I'll come across a fabric that I feel is just too good to pass up and so I'll find a way to make it fit in with what I'm developing. So there's the designer role of it but in some ways its sort of like being a movie stylist where you try to set the mood and communicate the story through clothing. And that's a really fun aspect of it."
"Right now I'm designing Spring/Summer '15 for Maiden Noir. That season will mark our 10 year anniversary. It's weird how it all goes by so fast. It seems just yesterday we were celebrating our seventh anniversary. But we don't reflect so much, we're always thinking so far in advance. The industry has changed a lot in the last 10 years. Especially in menswear. It's much more competitive. The hardest aspect of it all is still creating something that you believe in, that other people believe in and at the same time building quality into it. 'Fast fashion' is so prevalent now. It used to be more on the women's side but its so much easier now to tap into the men's category. It makes it very difficult to compete and create a brand with integrity. Competitiveness aside, I think menswear is much more fun now. What excites me most about menswear today is seeing how the industry has allowed for more creativity and unconventional design. In the past, design that was not in the traditional lane was overlooked. So i'm very excited by the idea that you can experiment and people are very much paying attention to it and accepting it. I love that. But at the end of the day, regardless of the spectrum of what is be designed, I do believe it has to be wearable. Because we all still put our pants on one leg at a time."
"I believe what you wear is an extension of your personality. When I see someone and they're well put together and on top of their game then my first impression is that they care about themselves. I feel if someone just throws something together and walks out of the door looking disheveled it's almost as if they're doing themselves a disservice. Because thats how you present yourself. In terms of my personal style, I'm really excited to live in the pacific northwest where you can explore seasons with clothing. I love being able to get excited at the beginning of every season while pulling out pieces I haven't worn for a while. It's almost like picking it up for the first time- it gives you the opportunity to see your clothes with fresh eyes."
"My approach to design comes from my background which is in landscape architecture. It's what I studied in college and practiced for a while. I went back and taught for 10 years at the University of Washington. I originally wanted to be an architect then I discovered landscape architecture and was fascinated by the idea of creating something that grows and matures over time. Creating something with value has always been really important to me. That and also being able to tell a certain story through design so that people can connect to it and embrace it. We live in such a buy-and-thowaway world so I want to create things that people can build an experience with and ultimately want to keep and pass down to future generations. Extending that idea into my design practice and making products that people love in that way is all I can hope for."
Photos by Andrew J.S.