We’ve been meaning to shoot the breeze with fashion designer Brian Wood for a long time, ever since we took a gander at his ‘African Warlord’ collection a few seasons ago. Truth be told, he was on our radar even before then, as some of the city’s most influential movers and players in the New York City art world began wearing his clothes.
Our intrigue started with a t-shirt from Wood’s B.Wood collection titled, ‘Flash The Queen;’ followed by a sports coat from ‘African Warlord.’ The details of that coat caught our eye because of Wood’s use of kente cloth, a traditional African material used by the Akan people of Ghana worn only in times of importance. The next season we loved featured a handful of pieces based on Sherlock Holmes, aptly titled ‘Sherlock Holmes Gone Mad.’
What we loved about Wood’s approach to design was the way humor inhabits his work and sensibility. Wood has that rare talent where his personality migrates from his soul and inhabits his garments; very few designers can do this, trained or untrained. Even if you’re only wearing a graphic t-shirt featuring the faces of Michael Jackson throughout his career, you feel as though you’re wearing something special and one-of-a-kind.
Above: Brian Wood in NYC. Photographed by Cacy Forgenie.
We spoke to Wood via phone and email a few days before he was to launch a new project with Crown Royal. Wood designed a luxury duffel bag and a backpack for the rapper Big Boi, the brand’s spokesperson.
“I love the freedom of doing things like this,” Wood said a few minutes into our photo shoot and 45 minutes after the event had launched at Room Service, a bar/lounge next to a gentlemen’s club in NYC’s Flatiron district, last night.
Woods was excited about the night’s event, which was taking place a few weeks after he ended his relationship with Silvio Liu, the womenswear collection he designed for two seasons. Under his creative direction the label was selected as a finalist for Fashion Group International’s Rising Star award in womenswear and garnered many positive reviews from top industry trade publications including Women’s Wear Daily.
In 2010, as part of their 50th anniversary, Wood collaborated with Alpha Industries to creatively interpret six jackets that define and narrate each decade of Alpha Industries’ run, beginning in the 1950s through the 2000s. The partnership also produced a traveling exhibition which visited New York, Russia, Japan and China in late 2010.
That said, it’s time to pick Brian Wood’s brain.
Above: Brian Wood and Big Boy at the launch of Crown Royal Black Artist Series.
GlobalGrind: Why did you decide on a career in fashion design?
Brian Wood: It was so spontaneous! I kind of just jumped into it. I grew up with a fine art background and when it came time for college, I was deciding between architecture and fashion design and made a last minute decision to major at Pratt Institute in Fashion Design.
Describe your time at Pratt. What were the ups and downs of being a fashion student from Jersey going to school in Brooklyn?
My time at Pratt was amazing. I met a lot of people who I am still very close with today. I have been working with David Milliman whom I met at Pratt in 1998. David is the VP/graphic designer and a part owner of Brian Wood and has been down with the movement since day one! When I entered the fashion program I had no knowledge of anything fashion related so there were some frustrating times when I wanted to drop out in the beginning, but I kept pressing on and learning. In retrospect I probably stressed out too much over work, I took the fashion program very serious there, but all of the stress helped shape me to never miss deadlines. I always call the college years a fantasy world: you have work and school but you really haven’t entered the real world of responsibilities. It’s a great time!
The plus of living in Jersey was that I could easily go home and escape. I used to frequently take trips to the city growing up, so going to school in NYC was the move.
I would say the negative of being from New Jersey and going to school in Brooklyn was that I was only 20 minutes away. I didn’t venture to a different part of the country like California to explore a new area of the country.
Above: The Brian Wood x Alpha Industries Collaboration.
What are you inspired by and how did it come to be an inspiration?
It’s everything from casual conversations to everyday life, history and other talented people. It’s absolutely random!
What is more enjoyable, designing menswear or womenswear?
I have been asked that question frequently and it’s so tough, I can’t seem to answer it. I love menswear; it comes so naturally to me, but I love women’s because it is such a challenge and there is so much more freedom with the silhouettes and fabrications.
What designers do you admire and why?
Alexander McQueen, Jun Watanabe, Jil Sander, Rick Owen, Lanvin.
They are all unbelievably creative designers who approach design as an art form and created their own identity without compromising their vision.
Describe your first show out of school. Were you nervous? Unsatisfied?
It was a lot of fun, but quite exhausting. I was working full time freelance at the time for a company and took off when I showed during Fashion Week. My presentation was off site at a restaurant on the East Side and I had the models change in front of all the viewers. I had the brilliant idea of a perpetual mock runway show for the presentation, with the models inter-changing looks! It was a little crazy. I possibly should have taken a simpler approach. [Laughs]. I remember about a week later I had to wheel two rolling racks I borrowed in the middle of a rain storm from 42nd and 3rd to 38th and 8th, I think I got sick.
Above: The Big Boi Knapsack and Duffel by Brian Wood IV Crown Royal Black.
What has been your biggest challenge as a designer so far?
Who are your heroes if any?
Don Mattingly, Ralph Lauren, Andy Warhol, Bo Jackson, Christopher Walken, my dad, Kool Keith, Barry Sanders.
To date, what collection are you most proud of?
Ninja Garden Spring 2007.
You had a collection based on ‘African Warlords.’ What African warlord would you love to make over? What would you do?
I would have to go with Liberian dictator Charles Taylor. His look would be casual chic. Maybe doing some interesting tailored pieces out of custom camouflage prints. I would slim down his silhouettes. Oh I know! I would love to see him in my kente cloth patchwork blazer or leopard printed cardigan!
Above: Samples from Wood’s Our Ransom Is Love Collection from 2009.
Which is more important: the material or the execution of the design?
Your collections are laden with a fair amount of humor and wit, where does this come from?
It’s a form of self-expression. I have always taken a humorous, light-hearted approach when designing. It’s clothing: I think it should be fun and whimsical. That’s my personality, random, a little bizarre, funny. It comes through the designs of the clothing.
Above: The Foam Fitted by Brian Wood x Nubian. The patches are removable.
Complete these sentences:
The last time someone said, “I love you” to me was 3 days ago
The last time I said I love you: was yesterday
The last time I cried was: a week ago
The first time I had sex was: Never. I am still a virgin.
New Jersey is for conformity but: New York and L.A. is for random diversity where anything can happen.
Three people I would love to have dinner with are: Jim Morrison, Larry David and Michael Jackson .
Last night I dreamt: two women seduced me
Music is for: inspiration
People think I am arrogant but I am really a humble swell guy. [Laughs].
For Mother’s Day I will be with: my mom, what kind of question is that?
The silhouette in men’s fashion is wack because: it is stuck in a box.
My greatest fear in life is: capsizing in shark infested open waters and being eaten by great white sharks.
If I wasn’t a fashion designer I would be: a U.S. customs agent on the Texas/Mexico border.
Brain Wood with models wearing his Silvio Liu creations.