by Brian Paschke on December 14, 2012
This month it is a pleasure to discuss process and inspiration with fellow Canadian designer Conroy Nachtigall. Conroy is known for constructing highly technical yet minimal and intelligent garments for the Arcteryx Veilence line.
BP: I think it is important to have conversations with designers and artists practicing in different fields in order to gain a fresh perspective. Personally, I am always very inspired by the work you are doing. I’m curious, what are some examples of good product design to you? What do you choose to surround yourself with?
CN: With the increase in design’s prominence there is a high degree of good product to choose from, but I don’t actually surround myself with very much. Unless it embodies some kind of meaning, personal or otherwise, it just becomes another product, its just more stuff.
We have a relationship to things around us, they can be a part of a system of codes that work towards an identity, so products should be chosen with consideration, give them some value outside of that of commodity and diverge from the endless stream of commodification that gets clouded in the discussion around products. So I usually I just rely on books.
BP: Fascinating. What books to you most treasure then? Does film also fall into this category?
CN: Some of the usual architecture books, including Peter Zumthor, Louis Kahn, along with Mark Magazine give me a glimpse into what is going on there. There’s quite a bit of Olafur Eliasson, which reference of a few of the installations I’ve managed to see, and a whole lot that I haven’t – they’re good because he often tends to treat the books as projects in themselves. I like books that try to capture or document an event, Phillip Beasley for instance, or Ryoji Ikeda, and Barney’s Drawing Restraint volumes.
Film can be a real instigator. I’m not sure if it’s a spark or just simply escapism. That started for me by seeing Guy Maddin’s Archangel and I was fascinated by this very weird, hazy, hypnotic, amnesiac universe that seemed so haphazardly cobbled together … but so right, and it felt so complete at the same time. My go-to favorite is still Tarkovsky’s Stalker, which I have somehow managed to see on the big screen four times, in multiple cities.
BP: Design, as we know it today, is a very young profession in Canada. Compared to Italy, Germany or Japan, it has yet to form a distinct character associated to nationality. It some ways this can be very liberating and exciting. Do you feel things like identity, authorship and nationalism belong in the world of design in the 21st century?
CN: Not having a strong traditional design identity is a great opportunity to explore and develop without attachment.
BP: In product design, we work at a scale that often relates to the hand. Things that are gripped, pressed, touched, lifted etc. In contrast, architecture surrounds the body in the same manner as clothing, perhaps on a less intimate level. Outerwear seems to bridge this gap where something can move from surrounding the body to being held in the hand if removed. You seem comfortable moving between these typologies through the clothing you have designed. Is this something you consider during the design process?
CN: Good architecture examples have more than just physical presence and are more than the summation of a single image. They become experiences and situations. The garment and the body together occupy space, more than just surrounding the body. When dealing with apparel that has a rather intense focus on the technical, there can be a fear of becoming a fashion item. That makes all the effort of building a better product appear frivolous, so the language of product design is evoked to legitimize the process, looking at outerwear as another tool.
BP: What was the inspiration behind using wool in such a contemporary and technical way? Can you talk more about this?
CN: Wool is the original technical fibre, it is still the only material that will keep you warm when it’s wet. Superfine merino can be worn even against sensitive skin and its machine washable. The technical fabrics and constructions are very progressive in a traditional menswear world and that unfamiliarity can also translate into becoming a bit unapproachable. Wool becomes a bridge to familiarity in a sense. Then we re-contextualize it, by bonding it to other materials, seam taping it, laminating to it – in untraditional ways.
BP: On the subject of details and familiarity, when it comes to pocket sizes it looks as though you have accommodated various international ‘formats’ such as the passport or flight passes as a standard in each collection. Is this from personal experience or was it a result of observing and measuring to find the right balance?
CN: A pocket or feature that exactly fits a specific format or device configuration is really only good when its used for that purpose. When it’s not, it becomes redundant, a great idea that’s otherwise inaccessible to the user. I try to anticipate what someone might use them for without mandating them for specific object or purpose, but permitting a multiplicity of uses. A business envelope, which is roughly the same as a boarding pass, is the only real dimension we purposely tried to fit, mostly because it would be a shame to have it not quite fit.
BP: Is there a critical platform in the studio to judge if something is good or is it simply a gut feeling?
CN: When the initial parameters are clear it can sometimes come together so quickly and efficiently it seems it is designing itself. I’ve always thought that good design is when the execution matches the intention. But it really is a matter of not getting complacent. Gut feelings don’t go far in an ever-growing corporate environment. The hard part sometimes is willfully abandoning a lot of work that just doesn’t come out right.
BP: When you see your work on the streets or in the shops do you still have a sense of connection to it?
CN: Usually by then we are already working 2-3 seasons further so the connection is a bit diminished. Sometimes it’s a reminder of some hard fought battles. But usually it’s a just feeling of relief that the work is getting out into the world.
BP: When looking through the images of past collections, there appears to be a constant goal to produce visually and physically light single surfaces that hover around the body rather than being draped over it. If it were possible to construct a complex garment from a single piece of material would this interest you, or would it take the charm out of process?
CN: The seams are often the stress points in a garment so for me to reduce them as much as possible is always the goal, trying to do as much as possible with the minimum of means. Its possible to construct a garment with a single piece of material but this really just becomes a design exercise. It uses a lot of material and there is a point where the span that keeps the fabric one piece is so short that it really is only there to fulfill a ‘single piece’ concept. So reducing seams and having each seam have a purpose is a constant motivating factor.
BP: Thank you Conroy, we look forward to seeing what you make next.
Conroy Nachtigall is originally from Calgary, Canada and is currently the lead designer for the Arcteryx Veilance line. He has previously designed Whiteline snowsports apparel as well as other products for Arcteryx.
Brian Paschke is currently a Senior Industrial Designer for BlackBerry. A graduate of the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Brian began as a studio assistant for Artist Douglas Coupland before moving to the Kyocera Industrial Design team in Southern California to focus on consumer electronics.