“My girlfriend and I recently redecorated our apartment and converted my workroom/closet into a shared space. It’s really just a room to house my computer. I prefer to hand sketch designs, which I do on the dining table. I’m only ever in the room to scan, edit photos and write. Since the room doesn’t have any windows, I find it a little depressing to work in. To combat this, I ended up removing the door to the room to open up the space. My computer is often littered with Post-it notes because I never remember to open up the Notes app on my computer. I usually stack fabric samples and any notes I have to my left in dividers.
We’re still in the process of properly decorating, but I taped a list (titled “Wunderkinds are bullshit”) of my favorite designers and how old they were when they started their companies (nearly everyone on the list were in their 30s or even 40s) and a list of 10 Rules For Young Designers by John Jay of Wieden+Kennedy. I think I’m going to redesign them into proper posters soon, but for now they definitely serve their purpose.
I always keep a few of my favorite books nearby for inspiration, my favorites are Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers and BAPE Archives by NIGO.”
Peter Nguyen went to school for Fine Arts in San Francisco. He then moved to New York and studied at Parsons. He left his final year to start working with Robert Geller as an Assistant Designer and stayed in that position for five years before venturing out on his own, primarily designing leather jackets and dabbling in furniture design, non leather apparel and products. Peter also runs The Essential Man. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
FROM YOUR DESKS: How do you work?
PETER NGUYEN: My approach to my work is very personal in the sense that I try to solve my own problems. It’s probably the easiest way to create – if there’s something I want, or if there is something that exists that I’m unhappy with, I design a solution. I already have one customer (myself) and a design teacher once told me if you can sell to one person, you can sell to 100. I sketch with pencil and paper. Staedler pencils, electric pencil sharpener, electric eraser and clear grid rulers. I don’t like to work with music playing because it can take my mind away from what I’m sketching. Occasionally, I will let a movie (I’ve seen a million times) play in the background on a low volume so I don’t feel isolated. Lately, it’s been The Social Network.
I enjoy the idea of finding beauty in things that aren’t necessarily perfect.
PN: On top of my computer I superglued a lucky cat charm my girlfriend got me when I left Robert Geller. I’m not very superstitious, but it’s a reminder of the support I have from my loved ones.
FYD: What is your favorite or most required work tool?
PN: Hands down my vertical electric pencil sharpener. Panasonic used to make the best, the KP-4A, but they were discontinued. I had my oldest one stolen while at Parsons. I bought another one which shorted on me and for some reason I couldn’t fix it. By then they were long gone. Occasionally you’ll find one pop on eBay, but people bid on them like mad. I ended up tracking down an older version, the KP-1A, which works just as well.
I’d probably tell you to throw your suit away and buy a black leather jacket.
FYD: What do you love about New York City?
PN: Accessibility to everything I need to do my work. I can head to Midtown to grab some fabrics and get samples made. Get some wood and use my friend’s workspace to do some woodworking. Meet up with other designers who are passing through and work on something together. I cannot picture myself doing the type of work I want to do anywhere else.
FYD: Your label is called LEON. How did it originate?
PN: LEON is from my favorite movie LÉON, known as The Professional in the US.
FYD: Growing up, what street style or specific looks grabbed your attention ?
PN: I grew up in the grunge era with my older brother who was big into the music. Naturally I liked what he liked, so for the majority of my teen years I wore plaid and jeans. I didn’t get into “serious” fashion or care about what I wore until I was deep in college.
FYD: I own your “About A Girl” tee, were you a big grunge fan or did that Nirvana’s song speak to you specifically? What’s your music blend now?
PN: Huge fan. It was partially inspired by my first school crush. Most of my classmates were into rap and r&b, but we bonded over Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I designed that shirt and a grungish collection when I first got to Parsons. I scrapped it after my professor said that I needed to be “more than a t-shirt and jeans designer.” My music taste hasn’t changed much, I go through phases where I will listen to a lot of 90’s grunge, but I am also a fan of new wave, hip hop and blues.
A worn out leather jacket with softness, wrinkles, layers of smells is comforting.
FYD: You’re releasing a paperback and kindle version of your The Essential Man. Being a Mod Man isn’t easy, what are three top pieces of advise via work, style and day-to-day life?
PN: I enjoy writing about my experiences and work, and have been blogging before the word blog was associated with it. Writing and sharing has always come natural to me and people seem to enjoy it, so compiling past writings along with new ones seemed like a natural thing. Giving top advice on work, style and life is a bit of a loaded and ever-changing question. I always present my writing as “this is how I am doing it.” Often, people don’t agree with me. I’m not a suit and tie kind of guy, so I would never give style advice like buy a navy suit. I’d tell you to throw your suit away and buy a black leather jacket. It boils down to questioning convention and doing something about it. Do things really have to be this way? Is this the job I want? Is this how I want to look?
FYD: What inspires you about Wabi-Sabi— is it the beauty of things modest and humble?
PN: Imperfection. Modesty and humility are admirable too. But I enjoy the idea of finding beauty in things that aren’t necessarily perfect. A simple example are clothing and spaces. For many, clothes have to be clean, pressed, perfectly put together. Interior magazines always photograph houses where all the furniture is brand new, everything is in its place and is spotless. These space feels cold. You feel like you cannot touch anything. These make us uncomfortable because the natural world is not perfectly pressed and spotless. A worn out leather jacket with softness, wrinkles, layers of smells is comforting. As is a living room with aged wood, old rugs, tattered pillows on a sunken in couch. It is inviting. Imperfect. Wabi-sabi breathes life into things.
FYD: Following Jay’s Ten Rules for Young Designers, what is your most rule prized and what do you need to polish?
PN: Rule #1: Be authentic. I follow this ruthlessly. It’s especially important in this age of social media where everyone has a voice and a platform. The only way to stand out from the noise isn’t to yell louder and more often, but to say something nobody else wants to say for fear of being different. Rule #8, Instinct and intuition are all powerful. Learn to trust them, is what I’m working harder on more lately. There were a few times in my career where I doubted myself, and it led to missed opportunities.
Do things really have to be this way? Is this the job I want? Is this how I want to look?
FYD: What are you working on now?
PN: Along with writing more of The Essential Man, I am working on my first men’s leather jacket for LÉON and building a new store that will have a wider selection of design projects I’m working on, from clothes, home goods and art.
FYD: Any 2013 resolutions?
PN: Be more selfish with my time and priorities so I can create more.