A Conversation with Peir Wu: “I re-think menswear classics and simplify what I find unnecessary” Words by Ben P. Images courtesy of Peir Wu I first heard of Peir Wu several seasons ago when Suspension Point began carrying her work. Since then, I’ve kept a close eye on each subsequent collection, and found something very appealing about the combination of precise tailoring and experimentation. The lines of Peir’s work suggest a certain attention of detail and a pursuit of perfection, qualities that also presented themselves during the interview process. Unlike my other interviews for StyleForum, Peir and I talked through Skype while continents apart, and the time difference between North America and China lent the entire process a layer of detachment and abstraction that I’ve never experienced before. During our conversation Peir repeatedly took pains to make sure her answers were precise, and that her unique perspective on the fashion industry came through clearly. Overall, I was left with the impression of a designer who knows exactly what she wants, and hopes that her customers share her vision. What's your background and how did you get started in the industry? I grew up in Singapore. After graduating from high school, I enrolled in a fashion design [program] in [an] art college on a whim. I wanted to experience something else outside of my comfort zone. Art college in Singapore is something kind of taboo – my classmates were secondary school dropouts. It was a completely different environment for me as I [had] went to an elite school. It wasn’t the most creative course, it was more technical, but I had an amazing time. I met a lot of interesting people. I then won a full scholarship to St. Martins. I was really lucky, everything just kind of fell into place. After my second year in London I went on to intern at Raf Simons for two seasons, which was an amazing experience. After my B.A. grad show, I was invited for an interview with Louise Wilson at the M.A, course and then went on to train under her for the next year and a half. After graduating from school, I made a little capsule collection to start, and it’s just kind of rolled on from there. Could you speak about the process of starting a new label? It's very difficult to answer that - there's no set formula, although it helps to have a healthy capital - I think everyone knows that. How would you describe your aesthetic? My aesthetic is a combination of sportswear and tailoring that is very futuristic or hyper-modern, stripped down, aspirational. I re-think menswear classics and simplify what I find unnecessary. I also work on some hand-crafted artisanal techniques that are completely unique to my label. It’s kind of a casual futurism, not something that you have to really dress up for. I aim for my work to have a more timeless, effortless translation. I’m very interested in the idea of transcendence, that a work exists in its own parallel plane in time or on an emotional dimension instead of being defined by existing styles or trends. A few years ago I was looking at a friend and he was wearing Teva sandals and a really nice pair of trousers with really interesting finishing, a t shirt and a backpack. He was just strolling down the street and looked great. We were chatting and I asked him where he got his trousers from, and he said they were vintage Margiela, and I liked that it was something artisanal and unique, but you could also fit it into your every day. You don’t need to be “fashionable” in that you wear the latest collection pieces. It’s more about an attitude. Looking at your collections, it's clear that you're very drawn to unusual materials and fabrication processes. For example, you had the laser cut sweaters. Is there anything you look for in a fabric, and what leads you to experiment? I normally don't know what I'm looking for. I know that sounds kind of cheesy, but I chance upon things most of the time, and if I see it - even if it's a cheap material or something unusual or boring - and start seeing possibilities, that's when I start to experiment. I come up with a lot of unique solutions to using a particular material. I can't say that there's something I look out for, [all of my materials] are very different. [For example] one was a ribbed knit, a rather old-fashion material that I then did something kind of crazy with. Then there's power mesh, which is a boring every day material for lingerie designers that people look at and put in a pile of materials that includes organza and tacky fabrics. And I applied my knowledge of menswear tailoring in a futuristic minimal way to craft tailored jackets out of powermesh. Are you going to bring the laser cut sweaters back? Was it a successful process? I'd like to refine it further. I don't really want to do it for a couple of seasons because I feel that it's defining me. What I want to channel through my label is a certain ethos or philosophy, not a technique. I'd like to be able to experiment freely. I've done enough of it now, and for Summer/Spring '14 I broke out of it and experimented with another material and how I could work with it. That was exciting. Speaking of Summer/Spring '14 what can we expect? What's exciting? Summer/Spring '14 -- I just put the collection online this week, on my website. Stranger Lagos is going to start stocking [the] collection, which I’m super excited about, as well as 127 Brick Lane in London. I'm also starting an online shop to sell some pieces and have a wider range of more interesting styles. My private clients really look for the more unique pieces. That's an exciting project for me. I didn't know you had private clients. You're the first designer I've spoken to who operates in that way. Could you speak about that process? Private clients are great because they really understand what I do and get very excited about new ideas I develop. To them, it's not about whether it's commercial - they wear it and they're excited about it. I find working with private clients really fun. Also, I kind of work like a product designer - I like to improve things and I like feedback. When I work with private clients I see immediately whether the idea is feasible, it becomes a collaborative process. It's very lean and fast. When you have a private client, is it usually modifying an existing piece, or you do completely custom work? I haven't done any completely custom stuff yet but I'd like to work on that at a later stage. I mostly work on existing pieces, I'll make slight modifications if necessary, and produce it made-to-order. They’re very limited pieces. You brought up the seasonal model - do you think that's going to be changing anytime soon? Personally, I don't really like the idea of designing strictly for Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer. I like the clothes to be cross-seasonal. I think it all comes down to smart layering. [In my own closet] I don't have a strict Autumn/Winter or Spring/Summer wardrobe, I wear everything year round, it just depends on what I wear it with. I don't layer a lot, I just layer smart. That's what I try to do with my Autumn/Winter collections - I found a really warm insulation that keeps you warm to -25, -30 degrees, but keeps you cool indoors as well, so you don't overheat. A technical fabric. Yea, a technical fabric that's a smart temperature-regulating insulation and is ultra-light. You don't have to wear many layers, you can wear just one layer and then a t-shirt and you're good to go. I remember reading an interview with [Azzedine] Alaia in which he said it's not about designing seasonal clothes anymore, it's about designing beautiful clothes. People travel all year round [too]. Are there any designers you particularly admire? One of the designers that I've always really admired - he's not high fashion - is - well he's not really a designer - is the creative director of Esprit in the '80s, Douglas Tompkins. I found a book of his entitled "Esprit: A Comprehensive Design Principle" in the bargain bin a few years ago and I thought it was absolutely amazing. Douglas Tompkins was a climber/entrepreneur/high school dropout. He founded The North Face, [originally] making high quality climbing clothes and gear – [for example] he developed the bendable pole for tents which were aerodynamic, before that tents were rigid and had poles in the middle. He sold The North Face in the ‘60s and went on to develop Esprit de Corps in the early ‘70s. Esprit collaborated with all the designers I admire, Ettore Sottsass and Shiro Kuramata for their boutiques and Oliviero Toscani for their branding. If you look at old catalogues the brand was really amazing. He had a truly unique vision and philosophy that was so consistent in everything he did. Are there any trends you like or dislike? Do you pay attention to trends? I do. I look at runways all the time. I follow very closely what other people are doing, it’s good to know what’s going on, although I haven't really seen a lot that I particularly like. I find “skateboard culture” [to be] an over-used theme and “subculture,” albeit portrayed in a thematic way, [through] styling, or even a nostalgic manner [that] doesn’t project forward. I wonder what’s a “subculture” right now and if it’s even relevant. Things move so fast, things get gentrified so quickly, that I don't really think subcultures are so relevant anymore. I don’t want it to sound so absolute, but you know what I mean? Yes. Do you think the internet plays a part in that? Yea, things move so fast. It's so quick - if something is cool, it gets posted on Tumblr and suddenly everyone knows about it within three days, and people search for the next unknown thing. It moves really quickly. But it’s purely visual, because all it takes is a click ‘repost’ and you’re in the club. How do you see men's fashion evolving? Hm... It's a big question. Yeah. I've been kind of thinking about how fashion is, in general, very dispersed. There's no real common thread, no zeitgeist. It's very messy. Menswear is a little easier because the categories are very defined. I'm not sure. I think it depends on if the economy picks up and then the aesthetics [and] trends will develop further for menswear. Right now it's all a bit stagnant. Because people aren't buying as much? Yea, people aren't buying as much, the shops don't want to buy into things that they're not sure of, unless the brand is [heavily invested in] their marketing. That’s on a macro scale, but on a micro scale, I think consumers just want something more personal, relatable, and aspirational. Do you have any final thoughts? No that’s all for now. Thank you for getting me on board. It was a pleasure to speak to you.