Insight to the creative mind behind Stussy Deluxe..

Nick Bower
Stussy Deluxe
By Nick Schonberger

Nick Bower was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 1976, at twenty years of age, Bower left South Africa for London. There he studied fashion at the esteemed Central Saint Martins, receiving a BA with honors. His next move took him to Rome, where he worked for Valentino Couture. Knitwear became something of a speciality, with Bower also spending time working with Versace.

Couture, however, was a long way from the surf culture that had fascinated Bower since his youth. He and his wife Jane moved to Laguna Beach, California in 1985, a place that allowed Bower to further explore his interests. He took work in the surf wear world, spending a significant amount of time with Gotcha Sportswear.

Twelve years after moving to California, Bower landed at Stussy. Since then he’s worked on the men’s line along side Paul Mittleman. Two years ago he initiated and designed Stussy Deluxe. With a new collection and website dropping for fall 2010, I caught up with Bower to discuss the concept behind Deluxe and his background in design and sportswear.

The photographs included in this feature were taken by Peter Sutherland.
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HS: Coming to surf and street from a couture background, what are some of the lessons that are easily transferred? It seems that, to an extent, the endeavors are often viewed separately, and I wonder about how it plays out in true design form.

NB: Interestingly enough, initially the lessons learned in the world of couture were of no use to me, in fact I would go so far as to say they were a hindrance. I had to learn to undo the rigidity of those codes and start anew. I arrived here in California in 1985 and immediately started working for Gotcha sportswear. Surf culture was starting to break into full stride and Gotcha was one of the originators of that movement. They were in a sort of "Punk" phase and were finding their voice and appealing to kids by reinventing the beach lifestyle into a kind of alternative California statement.... so I could not have gotten further from couture if I had tried. Today however, that sounds strange because we have been living in a world dominated for the last 20 years by streetwear. Streetwear as we know has a healthy respect for next level and luxury brands, particularly in the last 10 years where Japanese streetwear brands have educated the consumer with incredible quality and design. This level of care and design is not that different from those brands I worked for in the early part of my career.

So, to answer your question, my formal European design background has never been as important as it is to my work right now. Kids have instant access to projects and products via the internet and nothing is secret. We created Stussy Deluxe from a point of view that represents these changes. I'm really glad of that formal training now that I'm working in streetwear.

HS: I'd like to know a little more about how you view the internet's role in changing consumer interests and needs. How do you think it has played out in establishing streetwear lines that are more closely connected to traditional fashion? And, in turn, has the internet provided the fertile soil for launching something like Stussy Deluxe?

NB: The internet has changed everything. The world through the internet is now as big as we have the time to make it and the influences on that world limited only by our own curiosity.

My full appreciation of the power of the internet on our customer came in 2005 when Stussy marked its 25th year of business and in celebration of that anniversary, generated a number collaborations and Special EDT Projects. At that time, the style information blog phenomenon seemed to be coming into full swing and everyone was hungry for any info they could get regarding product development and product drops. Everything Stussy launched was seen and talked about by kids around the world who were following those blogs and the effect on the brand awareness was phenomenal. I can't honestly say we saw that coming but as fate would have it, the timing was perfect and we definitely have not taken the power of the internet lightly ever since. It is the information that is available on the internet which has educated the consumer and broadened their influences. Stussy has the tag line "Knowledge is King" which we have used for many years and personally I think that has never been more timely. Our consumer is trading in knowledge and information and this has the effect of breaking down stereotypes. It is in this environment that we felt that the time was right to bring Stussy Deluxe to the market. Stussy Deluxe is a frame of mind. It does not have to represent a price point and doesn't represent an age group. The Deluxe customer was raised in streetwear but has a healthy interest in all forms of art and design. This consumer looks for and knows quality, is brand loyal but not brand stupid and now, due primarily to the existence of the web, can be found living pretty much anywhere in the world -- not just New York, London, Tokyo, or Los Angeles.

HS: What are some of the brands you might look to for inspiration? Or alternatively, view as competition for Stussy Deluxe?

NB: Brands that inspire Stussy Deluxe fall into three categories; first are the brands that I admire from a straight designer point of view. These include Comme Des Garcons ,Undercover and Visvim from Japan. I appreciate Lanvin men's (particularly the footwear), Martin Margiela and Margaret Howell from the UK. Second are the brands that are more in line with the Stussy aesthetic, and are really disciplined in how they present themselves. These are APC, Agnes B, Supreme and SOPH. Third are the brands that are more recognized names in the world of fashion and have over a period of time become definitive heritage brands. These are Polo Ralph Lauren, Patagonia, and Brooks Brothers. Obviously my inspiration can be very diverse but on the whole these are brands that have over the years always been consistent and solid.

HS: What are some of the challenges of stamping your own identity onto "classic" items? Be it a pair of jeans or a M-65 jacket. As a designer, is there a great give an take between letting the silhouette speak for itself and wanting to act on a new vision?

NB: I try not to stamp my identity on to anything. I stamp Stussy's identity throughout the Stussy Deluxe collection. Stussy has a rich 30-year history to draw from for direction and inspiration. When redesigning classics, it's important to realize that some things are "signature" items while others are not. Signature details are the elements that have made the piece a classic in the first place. The key is to identify what those details are and to make sure you don't overdesign to the point where you start to lose the signature itself. For me, denim is the hardest classic to redesign because after over 100 years of history almost all its design details are "signature" and so it takes real discipline to get it right. The answer to the second part of your question is no...... I let other brands mess with new visions. The Stussy heritage has always been to let silhouettes speak for themselves

HS: You mention the difficulty of denim, which is totally understandable. Are there any other silhouettes that present problems? Any that really get you excited and are a joy to work on?

NB: After the 5 pocket jean, the next most challenging silhouette for me is the white oxford shirt. Shirts, and in particular white shirts, are really just shapes. The smallest details define it. What's hard is that everything on a one pocket white shirt is function -- it's a front, back, sleeves, cuffs, collar, buttons and pocket all held together by thread. Nothing there can be lost, there's not much to flip and everybody makes one but if you get it right, you can build a business on its reputation.

HS: Tell me a little more about how Stussy heritage influences your decisions on the deluxe line. Obviously, with Deluxe, there is a bit more of a stripped aesthetic (graphically), so how does it connect?

NB: I've been at Stussy going on 11 years now, and never when Shawn was here but on occasion I would bump into him in Laguna where we both lived. In conversation with him it always struck me what a strong connection he had with American heritage product in many different fields, particularly clothing, furniture and architecture. He would get all stoked by even the smallest details that made up the language of a product. So although Stussy as a company made it's mark primarily with it's graphic handle, that attention to detail established a design language at Stussy separate from the graphics. Stussy Deluxe is hopefully another part of the line that reflects that.

HS: I want to shift directions and talk a little about your youth. Growing up in South Africa what were you into, what global subcultures influenced you, and what has lingered in your approach to design?

NB: South Africa was, to put it mildly, isolated from cultural happenings. It was a long way from NY.L.T.LA and there was little influence from those cities to speak of. The way we got most of our culture was through music and I had a huge collection of Soul and Blues vinyl by the time I left for the UK when I was 20. My fashion influence and interest didn't start till I was in my late teens when a friend of mine and myself used to make regular visits to the Supply stores in Downtown Johannesburg that were primarily owned by old Jewish traders who stocked gear for the African market. The Africans had mad dress style and were into buying clothing way more than all the white kids were, even though in the South Africa I grew up in they didn't have the same disposable cash. They would make a visit to their favorite store to put down the smallest deposit on a pair of Florsheim Shoes, Onitsuka high top sneakers or single pleat wool gabardine pants. The store owner would put the item away on hold for however long it took these guys to come up with the money for the full price.....depending on what the guy was earning that could be months. They weren't interested in buying the throw away gear from the bigger department stores but would spend any amount on the classics. That commitment to buying only quality, no matter how hard their lives were and how little money they had, was pretty impressive and has always stayed with me.

HS: What were your primary outlets for learning about new stuff growing up?

NB: South Africa didn't get TV until 1976...the year I left for the UK so the only way I picked up on influences was through music. I read every credit on every album cover I ever bought to see who wrote, produced and played on the tracks. I really knew my music but not much else.

HS: Did you follow the 20/20 World Cup?

NB: Not really, I like Cricket and will check Sky Sports News to see what's up but I'm a big fan of the English Premier Soccer League so I have my hands full just tracking all of that.

HS: Did your interest in Football open your eyes to sportswear at all?

NB: When I was studying in the UK I was big into football but not as a clothing statement. At that time I was designing only womenswear......I was a menswear designer but I just didn't know it yet.

HS: Best/Worst kits in your memory?

NB: Best kit is 2006 French World Cup strip with Zidane #10 on the back. Worst kit is 2006 Italian World Cup kit with Materazzi #23 on the back.

HS: Do you have any thoughts on Umbro's new tailored range for England?

NB: Really like it. It's clean and simple, and I especially like the small tailored collar on the jersey.

HS: Why is it that cricket has not inspired much "streetwear?" Most other sports have.

NB: Probably because the whole concept of "Sportswear" is really an American concept and Americans definitely don't get cricket. However I'm not sure that the influence is completely absent. While it may be indirect, a good part of the preppy, Ivy League and college style comes from traditional cricket gear. RL seems to own the look here but classics like the piped lapel blazer, white nubuck shoes, cable V-neck sweaters, wool caps, pocket emblems and diagonal striped ties -- items that you can find all day long at RL and in fact see Kanye and Pharrell sporting right now, all have their beginnings in English School clothing and the sport of cricket.

HS: Stussy does a remarkable job, taking everything in context, localizing their brand through stores and pointed collaboration. Is it important to you to take into account local looks and trends in primary markets for Stussy Deluxe?

NB: Not really, because Stussy Deluxe is rooted in classics, not a graphic language. Until now we haven't thought it necessary to do product that could be considered "local" to any one area, but it hasn't been around that long so maybe we'll still get to that point.
HS: What was the last thing (if anything) you designed which didn't work even though you saw it as having huge potential?
NB: It was a collab so I can't say