At 10-years-old, wings + horns has built a reputation for producing quality garments that are both functional enough for the environment of its hometown of Vancouver, and that actually look great. It celebrated the milestone by collaborating with a group of carefully selected brands, such as Viberg, Canada Goose, New Balance, Danner, and Porter. But as Tung Vo, creative director of parent company CYC Design, says 2015 for wings + horns is all about carving out "more of our DNA aesthetic" and "solidifying our place in the market."
Vo, dressed in head-to-toe wings + horns at their showroom in midtown Manhattan, studied Clothing and Textiles at the University of Alberta. Following that, he designed men's and women's collections for streetwear brand Divine, then for Mananoshe, and later at Mark's Work Wearhouse. In September 2012, he worked as one of the designers of outdoor brand Arc'teryx, where the focus was also on functional pieces—making for the perfect prelude to his position now at wings + horns and sister brand Reigning Champ, for which he also designs, where the ethos is similar.
We stopped by the wings + horns/Reigning Champ showroom in New York to talk to Vo, who rarely does interviews (he says he'd rather let the work speak for itself), about the w + h Fall/Winter 2015 collection, which we previewed earlier, designing his debut line for Reigning Champ, and what's to come from both brands.
What's your mindset like when you're designing for Reigning Champ and wings + horns? Is there a difference between the two?
Yeah, you know at the end of the day it’s two different brands but similar ethos, kind of like two sides of the same coin. The Reigning Champ guy is also the wings + horns guy. [Reigning Champ] is more casual and lounge, and wings is more of what is now, Or what I want to wear now, pretty much. A lot of the pieces are getting more mature. I’ve got two kids and, you know, I feel like it’s simplifying a lot of the styles and focusing on the details.
Let's backtrack to wings + horns' Spring/Summer 2015 collection—your first collection for the brand. What did you want to do differently?
I think just to make it more rugged. Not to say that it wasn’t rugged before, but just hone in on making masculine pieces that selfishly I just want to wear and hopefully other guys would want to wear as well. Just getting a bit darker as well. I'm going to come off sounding like an asshole, but like just making it so that it’s consistent. When you create a brand, there’s already a brand DNA but I felt like Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer weren’t always simpatico. So just going for and keeping it very consistent. Whether it be Spring/Summer or Fall/Winter.
We’re always strong in the Winter because of all of the outerwear pieces but Spring is slightly different, so just focus, focus on details and fabrication. Fabrics has always been strong for wings, and Craig [Atkinson], the founder, is very enthusiastic about that kind of stuff so when we do a collection, he’s very much a part of it. It’s very collaborative. Even the other guys chime in and what not. It’s very collaborative. We don’t work in like a vacuum.
You were previously the designer for Arc'teryx. What did you take away from a brand that, like wings + horns puts an emphasis on function, you knew you could apply to wings + horns?
A lot of is the shaping of the garments and the articulation, the underarm gusseting and all that. Wings had like gussets underneath hoodies and what not but taking that and putting it into our jackets. Taking outdoor influences like, this military parka, really articulating. I really like this jacket. It’s got a very familiar military reference. It’s based off of a Canadian military parka, but updating it, modernizing it, using modern materials but still having it look somewhat, I wouldn’t say vintage, but very familiar. So the articulation and the underarm gusseting, providing all that comfort but while still maintaining a tailored look. A lot of the outdoor brands, it’s meant to be super relaxed for that free movement. So trying to combine both is the key.
That military parka reminds me of something you would get at a surplus store and be like, "I wish this were new."
And it fit better.
Yeah, because when you buy a military jacket you often have to get it tailored.
That’s the idea. Growing up, I bought a lot of surplus stuff because I was into that and plus I didn't have too much money to spend on whatever. So I’d always go to a surplus store and make the alterations myself, you know taking in the pants. That influence is pretty strong, and I think wings has always had that utilitarian/military vibe and doing it in a way that’s modern without being too sterile. So these military jackets get washed; all the seams are lived-in, in a sense.
What is your favorite piece from the Fall/Winter 2015 collection?
I mean, I love outerwear, so for each there’s certain pieces, like this [topcoat] that's super simple looking.
That's probably my favorite.
The fact that the lining is a windproof membrane, it’s so discreet that you can’t tell and stuff like that. I think it’s simple but it’s versatile. You could wear it next season or five years down the road and you won’t look out of place. So that’s one of the key things—designing outerwear pieces, or just in general, stuff that has more longevity.
The inspiration for the Fall/Winter 2015 collection was space. Can you tell me more about that?
Yeah, starting the season, the inspiration came from vintage/early space exploration and I liked the idea—I was reading a write-up on early space suits and how they were dealing with all these crazy, technical fabrics and materials but still making it in a very traditional way, like hand-crafted. And so that was like, that’s fucking rad. I like that kind of high/lo thing. Super technical but still very familiar silhouette. It looks modern but still familiar. There’s some pieces with more, like that. It’s out there, it’s a nice statement piece using fabrics that are super interesting.
You collaborated with ByBorre on this space suit installation for the showroom. How did that come about?
I’ve been following him on Instagram; we follow each other. I just like what he’s doing. I thought it was really interesting and refreshing. So when we were doing this, I thought it was perfect for the collection. The theme is right there, and this is futuristic.
This is specifically for the showroom, right?
Yup, and we stitched it up at the studio. He flew over and just made it happen. It was a bitch to sew up but, you know, it’s fun to be able to do this kind of stuff.
You guys stitched this entire thing yourselves?
Yeah, I did it. Each seam had to be attached, take each seam and shove wire in it to give it form. I have a buddy, Ken Diamond, who does all these moccasins. I was like, "Hey, let’s make a moon boot Just because we can." We’re not selling this. For me, I just like the bold brands, just to let people know that we can do these things and we’ve got the, I don’t want to say skill, but we’re focused on all these details that we’re able to execute it internally and just do it because we can. And same with that crazy, shearling piece [from the Fall/Winter 2015 collection]. It’s a bitch to make but hey, we can do it.
There's a bomber jacket in the Fall/Winter 2015 collection that I heard you had made using fabric from last season, first as a test but would later make it to the collection because your team liked it so much. What's the story behind that?
Yeah, it was a wash test fabric. There was some scrap fabric, so I was like, "Let’s wash some out. Let me take some of this stuff." So I made myself a jacket. Been wearing it for a year. It looks good so I was like let’s put it in the line.
In one of your interviews, you talked about making pieces and then testing them out for yourself. Was that what happened with the bomber?
Yeah, it’s that kind of vibe. It’s for selfish reasons [laughs]. I want to see how this fabric behaves; just wear it and try to beat it up and stuff. If it performs, at least I’ll be confident that the end consumer will be satisfied.
Did you do that for any of the other pieces in the Fall/Winter 2015 collection? Or Spring/Summer 2015?
For Spring 15, I did. I did some indigo dyeing testing on my balcony. I took an old camo military jacket from like the ‘70s or whatever and I did just tests, experiments. Doing an indigo dye and what not and see if it works. That was the inspiration for one of the pieces, the fabrics where it was our custom camo and it gets overdyed in indigo. So the whole idea is as the indigo fades, the pair of jeans, the pattern shows up more. I think doing that kind of stuff is fun. It may not be necessary for a lot of brands, but for us it’s good to be that hands-on. We’re not sending our tech-pack overseas, you know, "Here’s the drawing." I think this whole process doesn’t start and end with the drawing. That’s just putting the concept on paper. Everything happens afterwards. That really matters.
I noticed you also make these adorable custom pieces for your son. You posted them on Instagram.
He loves it. I think actually a pair of pants, he helped me with it.
Have you made anything for him or friends/family that actually turned into product for wings + horns?
Nothing that I’ve done for him has become... It’s mostly like just making miniature version of what I have. But, in general, it’s just good to see things and test it out.
It’s cool now. My son's two-and-a-half, so he understands it and loves it. I have the same jacket, so when he sees me wearing it he wants to, too. I’m like, "Okay, I’m going to take it off. We can’t do this" [Laughs].
Like a mini-me walking down the street.
Yeah, no it’s fun [laughs]. He likes it. He likes clothes and shoes.
Did you work on any of the 10th anniversary collaborations?
A few items, yeah. I kind of started, not half-way, but I just hopped on a few of the Fall 2014 line-up, so I’ve done a few of them.
How did you decide what brands to collaborate with?
We try and partner up with people doing good stuff and that we don’t do. Say for instance, the Viberg boot, [Viberg] makes great boots. So just partner up with people that make good shit.
Are there any other brands you'd like to work with?
There’s some stuff in the works. But I think after this 10th year, I think it’s good to focus. 2015 is to focus on the brand and just putting out product that we’re proud of. I think the goal is to just really focus and carve out more of our DNA aesthetic, which there is already, but it’s just further solidifying our place in the market.
Canada has three major cities when it comes to menswear—Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. I always find it interesting that while Toronto is technically the biggest of the three, Vancouver has more noted menswear brands and stores. Maybe that has to do with the different styles of each city. What do you think it is about the relaxed, cozy style of Vancouver that people have resonated with?
I think because it’s easy. Masculine. Just, uh, I don’t know. I don’t think we’re trying to. At the end of the day if you can create stuff that’s comfortable and easy to wear it makes it, uh how to I say it, I’m lost for words. It’s, uh, not too trendy. It goes back to longevity—this is for both brands—and how it’s just like basic but not so basic.
When I think of Canadian menswear, I think of Reigning Champ ad wings + horns—and even Vancouver, more than any of the bigger cities in the country.
And I think that’s appropriate because we design for our environment. A lot of the stuff is water-resistant and all that, so having to design for our climate and what is necessary and having it functional to what we do on a daily basis, that’s our angle. I think each brand, whatever brand it is, has a certain cultural perspective. If it’s in New York, there’s a certain vibe to it, so for us I think it’s very legitimate for us to do stuff that just makes sense. Like hand knit sweaters are very, you know, Vancouver.
So what did you try to do differently for your debut collection for Reigning Champ?
I think just focus on details, because there’s a Sea to Sky group, and doing stuff that’s in a way familiar but doing our take on it. So all the insulated pieces are three layers, sewn together at once. The same way we construct our sweatshirts, it’s like a technical sweatshirt and it’s done differently from how other companies would do it. You know the shell and there’s a lining and it’s loose. But here, it’s all in one go. It’s us, it’s our take on it. So I’m pretty stoked for that. The other stuff is fabrication.
I know wings + horns is coming out with the candles in September. Are there any plans of moving into things beyond apparel and footwear?
Accessories is an area we’d like to push, like bags and what not. So it’s in development. And until we land on something we’re fully interested in and proud of.