For over ten years, Peter Kallen has been a cornerstone of the design team at Nau. A Portland-born Oregonian who grew up on Mt. Hood, he’s been designing Nau’s men’s line from the start. We caught up with him to find out what he’s learned from #10yearsnau, what he rides to work, and why ‘blurry’ design is a good thing.
So tell us about your job at Nau.
As the Design Director, I keep an eye on how the language of design is expressed within the men’s and women’s collections. Within that directorial role, I design the men’s collection. And I work really closely with Carma (Nau’s Women’s designer) and am very fortunate to have her style and sensibility in-house.
You’ve been with Nau from the very beginning. What was your first impression of Nau ten years ago?
I was super intrigued by the story and the concept. I love the idea of creating product, but at the same time I was always perplexed with the concept of making more product for the sake of product. It didn’t sit right with me.
At a lot of companies, as we all know, it’s about “new.” New, new, new. You capitalize on what’s selling and you provide more to sell. It just left a knot in my stomach. When I learned about this new business model, it just hit on all cylinders for me. I was really excited for the opportunity to be one of the design-perspective individuals to bring forth this idea.
I don’t want to make something just for the sake of it being made and not be useful. I think the utility of product and objects is imperative to its success.
So what have learned or what has changed over your ten years with Nau?
You have to step back and really be capable of absorbing the world and life around you to come up with something that’s relevant and important and necessary. I think I’ve learned over the years that is even more so the case in today’s world as it was ten years ago. Just surround yourself with life.
Do you see changes in your design style over the last ten years?
Yes. I always try to evolve my designs, but they always have the original intent. And that is to create product that is really useful and meaningful in a person’s day-to-day life. The cues over the years may differ: how the pocket is treated and maybe how the hardware is exposed or not exposed. But it has the same initial and original intent, I think from the beginning.
How did you get into design?
I always was someone that worked with my hands and made stuff for myself. I was constantly outside, all the time. I was skateboarding and riding my bikes from a very young age, and modifying the bikes and breaking the skateboard in half and having to build a new one. I couldn’t go buy it.
So you just learn to create things. I got into surfing, so I would buy used surfboards to repair them. I got into bicycle racing and I couldn’t afford the padded shorts and the gear that made the experience much more enjoyable, so I started to make the stuff for myself and my friends.
At the same time, I was still into skateboarding and all the surrounding lifestyle that skateboarding exposes you to. So I ended up making clothes for that kind of self-expression. There was this beautiful collision that occurred, from the fashion at street level all the way to the necessity and utility and performance level.
How would you describe your personal style?
I like to have a few things that do a lot, whether that’s in the fashion world or in the performance world. I don’t like to have a big wardrobe. I like to have fewer things. I think it’s refined, or maybe reduced is a better word. Reduced, modern, classic.
What’s your favorite Nau piece?
You know, it might be wind shirts. Those always find a place in my wardrobe. They are a blurry style that has a lot of opportunity to be utilized in a wardrobe but in a different way. Those are my favorite pieces.
It’s Bike to Work Month—do you bike to work?
I do. Commuting by bike frees my mind, it creates that direct connection to my surroundings in a faster, self-propelled manner. Bikes are one of the best inventions ever, beautiful and functional. A beautiful reminder when designing.
What does versatility mean to you?
There is a term we kind of coined over the years: “intentionally vague and purposefully inconclusive.” I like it when things don’t reek of a singular use. Like, when you look at a piece and say, “that one’s for climbing, that one’s for your snowboarding outfit, that one’s for cycling.” I think versatility is the perfect match-up of performance and a design sensibility that makes you feel attractive in every setting that you expose yourself to. Fewer items doing more things.
What designers inspire you?
My inspiration comes from all forms of design. When I travel I seek out art and architecture, music and literature. Just different creative gatherings. In the architecture world, I love how form can get put together in structure. Like, Peter Zumthor is an architect I think is really inspiring: his choice of materials and how he reduces things and utilizes things in their raw sense.
And then most importantly, away from design, my biggest form of inspiration comes from the natural world. Nature is my church. I find the most clarity by going out into the depths of nature. It’s really honest. It reveals a lot of truth about what you need and don’t need. I love that.
What do you hope your designs will achieve?
I hope they achieve a spot in somebody’s wardrobe that becomes sort of a stealth necessity. I don’t want it to stand out. I don’t want it to shout. I want it to be a favorite piece and it just becomes like a thoughtless action that they grab. That’s what I hope for. That I can help create stuff that is sort of stealth and useful and necessary.