In addition to working for outdoor brands, fashion companies and a couple of his own labels, Nau designer Peter Kallen has started a garden store, run a snowboarding business and ridden professionally. This unusual resume is reflected in the unexpected sources he draws on for inspiration, from art to architecture to the shapes that wind sculpts into snow.
Recently, Peter sat down with Off The Grid to talk about his approach to design, and how it informs pieces like the new Lightbeam Jacket, a lightweight windbreaker in one of our most versatile, 100% recycled polyester, fabrics.
Off the Grid: What other areas of design, outside of the worlds of fashion and outerwear, do you look to for inspiration?
Peter: I’m attracted to the same things in a garment that I am in a building or a space: from the Bauhaus movement through the modernist movement in the 50s through today, I’m attracted to architecture that reflects a confident sense of what you actually see in nature. That’s what good design is ultimately about for me: people who can mimic the natural world and not make it feel forced. Andy Goldsworthy and his landscapes; Steven Holl’s beautiful buildings that invite people both inside and outside; the amazing things Peter Zumthor does with concrete. What I see in their work is that it reacts to nature. It’s like when you go out on a snow day and you see these cornices hanging on the edge: the tension in that moment, it feels dangerous and it feels inspiring. It’s the placement of things that creates that tension and invites you in.
OTG: So how do those ideas carry over into a design like the Lightbeam Jacket?
Peter: I think there’s something really great when you put just enough features and deal with enough of the elements that make up a jacket that they become elements of design. The fabric in the Lightbeam Jacket is the same fabric we use in the Lightbeam Shirt or the Chrysalis Dress: it’s a wonderful recycled fabric with a very pronounced ombre stripe that gives it this optic of dimension on the surface. But it has so many horizontal lines that if you ran a straight, center front zipper up it, it would feel way too rigid. So on the men’s jacket, we don’t run the zipper right up to the chin, but instead a click off to the side so that you can enjoy that soft fabric against the skin. It also puts this cue of asymmetry throughout the piece: if you put an offset zipper in a horizontally striped fabric, it creates this asymmetry that you have to balance someplace else. We did that with the chest pocket, so when you look at it creates that tension; it’s an invitation to interact.
OTG: So you’re taking cues from architecture on zipper and pocket placement?
Peter: And that’s pretty heady, because at the end of the day, yeah, it’s just a fucking windbreaker. But if you lie back and look up at the sky and live in that upside down world for a minute, isn’t a jacket a home? If I’m out in the elements that invigorate me, I want to know how I can explore that environment more comfortably. Yesterday I wore this jacket riding to work. I layered it over an M3 fleece, because it was kind of a chilly morning, and it was just perfect. It blocked all the wind, the sleeves were the right length for riding; it was like living in the perfect house. So in between my sleep home and my work home, I had a kind of ‘mobile’ home. I want to make sure that my designs offer the same kind of comfort and protection there as my other homes.
OTG: Can a jacket as light as the Lightbeam work that way?
Peter: The idea for the Lightbeam Jacket came from those old ‘emergency’ pieces; the classic windbreaker that you’d always have with you in that emergency situation. So it’s very lightweight, it has good wind blockage, and it has a DWR finish to shed rain. It packs down to the size of a pomelo. And for women who, when they’re in need of a windbreaker are often in need of core warmth too, we added a second layer in the body to lend a touch of warmth; not so much as to be overwhelming but enough to be ample. These styles came into existence because you want a minimal shell that you can pack into your rucksack, backpack, fanny pack…if you still own a fanny pack. Back in the day I designed a fanny pack and another piece we called the ‘shagmaster’ crew. When we went over to present them to the Brits, they just lost it….
OTG: Yeah, I think that means something else over there… But back to the Lightbeam: it’s meant to be outside?
Peter: Yeah, but it’s not just a piece for outdoor adventure. The design of the chest pocket gives a sense of casual style to it, a little tone of urban endeavors and familiarity. All the concealed zips let the fabric and cut lines come to the front. So you can wear it to the beach, or traveling in Italy and hiking in the Cinque Terre where you want to look good, too. It begs that question of what you need and what is proper in those conditions. When you look at good design, it gives you a sense of calm, an invitation to interact. That’s what I think we’ve achieved with this jacket.
Words by Alex Hamlin.