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Archive for September, 2011

The Weekend Cabin

Posted by Alex | September 22nd, 2011 | Filed under Design

French Mazots, Signal Sheds: here at Nau, we’ve always been fascinated by small living spaces. The idea of downsizing, both as a way to use fewer resources, and to live a simpler—and perhaps more focused—life, holds a lot of appeal. It’s also a design challenge, and we’ve been inspired by everyone from designers offering purely conceptual ideas, to our friend Dee Williams (of Portland Alternative Dwellings) who’s walking the talk in her Little House on the Trailer.

So it’s no surprise that we’ve become addicted to “Weekend Cabin,” a weekly feature from our friends at Adventure Journal. Sharing cabin porn from around the world, it has us salivating over amazing small spaces, from modern mazots in Switzerland to the epitome of simplistic shelters in Chile.

Below are a few of our favorites; Adventure-Journal posts a new one every Friday.

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adventure-journal-weekend-cabin-permanent-camper-australia
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On Repeat: Bertrand Belin

Posted by Alex | September 15th, 2011 | Filed under Music

Living in Europe, you have to face one unfortunate reality: there’s an awful lot of terrible pop music on the radio. Derivative daytime techno, Eye-of-the-Tiger-esque rock anthems: “Party Rockin’” is about as musically inspired a track as you can hope for around here. Perhaps it’s just the limited number of stations that reach us in the mountains, but while Bon Iver may sound French, but you won’t hear Justin Vernon’s new album on the radio.

So it comes as a welcome relief to find that there’s a rich vein of indie-style music beyond the FM band. In particular, the mellow, minimalist acoustic sound of Bertrand Belin has been the perfect accompaniment for slipping into the long, cool evenings of autumn.

Stripped of ornamentation, these tracks rely not on layer upon layer of interwoven sound, but simply a guitar, drum set and Bertrand’s quiet, ethereal vocals. It’s music as design: a kind of sonic expression of St. Exupery’s dictum that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but nothing left to take away.

[PS: The video above comes courtesy of La Blogotheque, which, by virture of its awesomeness, probably cancels out all of French radio all on its own. Check out their ongoing series of "Takeaway Concerts," from Aloe Blacc to Maps and Atlases.]

A Well For Golomye

Posted by Alex | September 13th, 2011 | Filed under Uncategorized

ethiopia_clean_water

Back in 2010, we challenged visitors to our New York pop-up shop to join us in creating change half a world away, by helping to build a well in Ethiopia. For one night, we donated 10% of sales to Charity:Water, an organization championed by Adrian Grenier, and which he’d shared with us during the shoot for our ongoing Portraits series. [See the film here.]

“Charity:Water does something very important, but very simple,” Adrian explained. ”It brings clean drinking water to people in developing nations. Icharity_water_image_2 believe in the goal. Clean drinking water is at the root of good health, and allowing people to take that next step toward their own success.”

Eighteen months later, the 175 more people are taking that step. Through the work of our friends at Charity:Water—and the communities they work with—that gift 18 months ago has created change. As Scott Harrison, Founder and President of Charity:Water, writes:

The gift you’ve given will bring life, health, hope and dignity to people you’ve never met. For many people, your gift was an answer to years—sometimes decades—of prayer. For others. it was a sudden realized and unexplained hope in a forgotten place where dreams of a better future had died long ago. That change has now been realized, and thanks to you, the people of Golomye no longer have to drink water that makes them sick. You’ve done an amazing thing, and I’m so truly grateful for your support.

charity_water_image_3Today, we’re pleased to pass those thanks along to the people who really made it happen: you, the supporters of the New York Pop-Up shop whose generosity allowed us to make this gift. It’s a reminder that change can be easy when made collectively—whether it’s for communities around the block or on the other side of the world.

The Design Eye: The Riding Jacket(s)

Posted by Alex | September 6th, 2011 | Filed under Bikes, Design Eye

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Way back in 2006, pretty much the first thing I ever heard about Nau was that there were these crazy people making a blazer out of technical fabric. I was working at a climbing magazine at the time, and people literally shook their head at the idea of using buttons to close a coat. But fast-forward, and the Riding Jacket has become an icon for Nau, and one of the most popular pieces in the Fall Line. I sat down with Creative and Design Director Peter Kallen to talk about the Riding Jacket, its inspiration, and how it’s changed for Fall 2011.

Alex: Why do you think it is that people have responded so well over the years to the Riding Jacket?
Peter: We’ve always positioned our brand as the alternative to what’s already out there. We wanted to challenge the idea that a blazer is only meant to be at a wedding, or a job; that’s really not the case. It’s just a great silhouette that can have a lot of versatility if done right. So I think that people were ready to see a less serious blazer that had a lot more versatility, and that’s why it shines so bright.

You mean people were ready for buttons.
You’re in Chamonix and the whole playground there; look at old vintage photos: everybody had a blazer on with buttons. I think the Riding Jacket is maybe a present-day version of what was available to guys mountaineering back in the 1800s. It’s taking yesterday and bringing it to today.

035M01_002_1_11You talk about that historical context of people wearing blazers in the mountains, but clearly another big inspiration point is the bike. Are there features of this season’s new design that draw on that, or that lend themselves particularly well to the bike?
Well, I’m on my bike all the time. So it’s just sort of a given that my design is influenced by the bike. You know, it’s so funny, it’s almost like I overlook that portion of it because it’s so inherent—it’s like the ‘go-to’ for me—that it becomes the other references that are more considered. But you’re right: it’s really crafted to be in the drops. It has the cross-over collar, it has the extra length in the sleeves. It’s cut for that bike-prone position, and that sense of movement.

So what’s changed for Fall 2011?
Because we really pioneered this ‘technical blazer’ category—or maybe the right terminology is a ‘useful’ blazer—we’ve had a lot of opportunity to explore other blazer silhouettes, like the Vice, or the Transporter, or the Shroud of Purrin. So what we’ve brought this season is really a more simplified, more stylish approach to the classic blazer that compliments all the other blazers that we have in the collection. And it updates a new sense of style too: the pocketing, the tailoring, the collar – it has all the same spirit but a little more modern style than the previous one.

And there’s one for women.
For sure. The intent was derived from the idea that women used to climb and ride in various “blazer like” jackets back in the day, not unlike men, but it was executed differently. The cut and silohuette was more fitting to a womens physique, and did not try to mimic the men’s style other then it being a jacket of sorts. The overall intent of the piece is about how the jacket fits and is styled , and what the fabrication is that makes it so easy to care for and use in a variety of situations. It’s meant to be flattering and very useful in ones wardrobe and also meant to blur the lines of performance and fashion.

041W01_006_1_11When you say that designing for the bike is integral to your process, it reminds me of a lot of the thinking that Nau puts into sustainability: it’s not like you stop and say, ‘ok, now we’re going to do something different and make a sustainable jacket.’ You do it everyday, so it just becomes part of the design process, and how you define ‘quality.’
Exactly.

So if those are the givens, what do you focus on?
I love the process of minimizing. I love less-is-more. I love taking away as much as you can without subtracting the essence and the intent. It’s a subtractive process that I go through, and I think the Riding Jacket represents that; it’s a study in subtraction. It’s the perfect weight of fabrics, it’s the perfect pockets, it’s the perfect cut, it has the perfect number of buttons.

It lands gently in the wardrobe of a person who does a lot of things on the move; if they travel, or just for getting around the city, it’s a really great versatile piece that translates into your wardrobe that way.

So it’s not a piece that adds to their wardrobe, but that integrates with their life.
Yeah! It becomes a little heady, but it’s exactly that: it’s not just real estate in their closet.

Downsizing

Posted by Alex | September 1st, 2011 | Filed under Personal Reflection, Sustainability, Who We Are

[Editors Note: Our friend and copywriter Alex left Portland last January to start a new life in the French Alps. This month, he’s returned as Guest Editor of The Thought Kitchen to share some of his experiences.]

“Everything on a boat must have a place.”

My father taught me that. He’s a sailor, but I’ve found that the rule applies whether the vessel in question is a 30’ ketch in the North Atlantic or—as in my wife’s and my case—a 10’x14’ French Mazot floating among the landlocked Alps. While it doesn’t take long to clean 140 square feet, it takes even less time to make a complete mess of it. So, though the nearest harbor is some sixty miles away on Lake Geneva, part of life in our Alpine anchorage is keeping things ship-shape.

We moved into the Mazot—a French word that I usually translate as ‘hay shed’—in June. The first thing we learned, from the hand-painted board on the deck, was that our new home had been built in 1806 and was named Le Bouet Nir. (Like boats, houses in the Alps all have names.) The second thing we learned was that it was very, very small.

Of course this wasn’t much of a surprise. We’d known what we were getting into from the start; indeed, the smallness of our new home was part of its appeal—at least to me.

Ever since 2005, when I first saw an article about a 2.6-square-meter dwelling called the Micro Compact Home, I’d been fascinated by the idea of living in a small house. Like a bonsai tree, the beauty of the MCH lay in its combination of perfect execution and miniature proportions. When compared with the McMansions of the 90’s, to me the MCH seemed to be on a scale closer to my own. I wanted one.

Later, while working at Nau, I met Dee Williams and learned about her Little House on the Trailer. (Nau’s film profile of Dee, with over half a million views, is still on The Collective). I visited MoMA’s exhibition of pre-fab housing and read Mimi Zieger’s book Tiny. I seemed to be falling in love with one of the micro-trends of the new 21st century: micro-living.

So when the chance came to move into our Mazot, my wife and I jumped at the chance. We were newlyweds. We had love, optimism, and—perhaps most importantly—blissful naïveté. Maybe it was the kind of idea that only a writer and an out-of-work architect could love, but the romance of a cottage in the mountains overwhelmed the scent of cabin-fever that our friends and family caught in the place. “You’re going to live in there?” our parents asked when we sent them a photo. “Of course!” we replied. “Isn’t it great?!”

And so we set about moving in and finding places for all our stuff. Of course, the easiest way to do this is to just have fewer things. For some, this is part of the appeal—being a smugly self-satisfied minimalist is one of the clichés of small-house living—but we weren’t really into counting all our things and only keeping 100. Instead, we took what we needed, and the rest ended up in a friend’s basement.

This done, we settled, quite snuggly, into our new home. The grand tour takes but a moment: The main room has a bed, a table, two chairs and two small dressers. Behind that, a 4’x4’ kitchen sports two electric burners, a mini-fridge and toaster oven. A similarly sized bathroom manages to fit a shower, toilet and sink. What more, we asked ourselves, could we need?

We’ve found living in a small space to be, above all, practical. It’s less money and less work, meaning we have more time to enjoy the mountains that we moved here for. To us, the choice to ‘live lightly’ isn’t primarily about having a smaller environmental footprint—though that certainly is a byproduct. It’s a choice to have the time to focus on the things that matter to us, by keeping the necessity of shelter in perspective.

We find ourselves visiting our friend’s basement less often; the stuff in storage, it turns out, isn’t all that important. Most of what we really need fits. When the weather is fair, we eat outside in the yard. If it rains, we curl up inside or read on the porch. And when we get cold, we make tea: the mugs are warm in our hands and the stove heats up the whole house.

And when the house is a mess, we take a few minutes and put things back in their places. After three months in such a small home, you find that it’s not just your things that find their rightful place, but you as well.