Beyond the brand: A look into the world of student designers
By Nicole Kim
Natural Division’s logo is as much about what we don’t see as it is about what we do. Taken at face value, the logo consists of a black diagonal with a triangle on either side—nothing more than disjoint geometric shapes. But we feel compelled to imagine the missing lines and junctions; the mind’s eye renders a complete contour of the letter “N,” using only its skeleton as reference.
Nick Settelmayer ’18, founder and designer of Natural Division, approaches most of his designs with a similar aesthetic. His pieces are minimalist—color-blocked basics with streamlined silhouettes. One of the most notable pieces from the recent collection is a black satin bomber jacket with silver zippers across both shoulders.
“I oversee all the cut-and-sew processes, from the zipper to the stitching, color and even the width of the stitch," Nick said. "Every single detail, I hand-select and make sure that it’s up to the quality that I want it to be. There’s a certain quality that is being made the standard in current clothing wear that is OK, but I think I’m doing it better as I progress with each collection.”
Nick told me that he began two years ago by printing simple designs on T-shirts and hoodies. Since then, however, he said he has created pieces that require greater attention to detail—about the stitching, about the number of teeth on a 12-inch zipper.
“I decided that I wanted to be more than just a T-shirt brand," Nick said. "I saw myself as more of a lifestyle brand. There’s a difference in the culture, what you’re producing creatively. A T-shirt company can easily print out a bunch of shirts and people can wear them, but that’s the extent of where they go. There’s limited involvement. I’m working on short films, art projects and even lifestyle pieces like belts.”
“The natural division between the ambitious and the complacent”: these words, embroidered across the back of one T-shirt in wide, capitalized letters, encapsulate the lifestyle that is championed by Natural Division.
“We’re looking to highlight the people who are doing the best that they can do and being the best people they can be in their spaces," Nick said. "We’re exploring amazing artists, filmmakers and producers to elevate culture on a meaningful level. It’s the natural division between the people who are utilizing their talent to the best of their abilities and to its greatest potential, and those who aren’t.”
In all of Natural Division’s creative endeavors, Nick hopes to intertwine the many narratives of Los Angeles natives—not just those who are interested in streetwear.
“With the next collection, we’re going to continue to explore life in Los Angeles and tell different stories," Nick said. "We recognize that there are a lot of different people in Los Angeles. Rather than sticking to streetwear, [the next collection] is inspired by the car scene in Los Angeles.”
I asked Nick how the next collection will differ from the most recent one; will the pieces still be monochromatic and minimalistic?
“We’re looking at the classic Ferrari reds and out-there yellows, but still maintaining wearability,” he said. “We’re allowing people to wear on a day-to-day basis while still looking very cool.”
But when prompted about his favorite supercar, Nick answered with the Ferrari 458 Italia—sleek and aerodynamic, with completely white rims and body. In its simplicity, in its lack of superfluous parts, the supercar seems to be not unlike Natural Division’s logo.
“With” is a connector; it’s a word that brings two objects together. She’s having a glass of wine with steak. He’s sitting in the restaurant with his girlfriend.
For Jack Nordstrom ’19, founder and designer of Festive Paul, “with” is a word that is abounding with possibilities. On a typical morning, he’ll choose out an outfit from his closet: yellow hoodie with light blue jeans and rust-colored vans; white T-shirt with green shorts; or yellow T-shirt with white jeans that are patterned with zombies—eyes bulging and mouth wide agape.
“I really like colorful things, but not things that clash. So, I experiment using different colors, different combinations,” Jack said. “I really like green and white, red and yellow, blue and yellow. I like red, blue and yellow—primary colors.”
Unsurprisingly, the pieces by Festive Paul often feel like an exploration in color theory. One of the brand’s first designs was a white hoodie with an orange and blue logo—complementary colors—printed on the back; Jack said he replaced the “76” in gas station chain’s logo with the block letters “FP.”
“I’m inspired by old retro designs. I’ve looked up logos for old companies, old gas station logos, like Circle K or something. They’re so cool and simple,” Jack said. “Another logo that I really wanted to make a design off of is Rainier Beer. It’s a gold Seattle company that was around in the ’70s and ’80s. It was all old Seattle.”
However, Jack said he usually has little say in how the designs will look. Festive Paul is a two-person team; while Jack traces and colors the graphics in Photoshop, his 15-year-old brother Will Nordstrom ’21 makes the initial sketches in his notepads.
“It’s usually all up to Will,” Jack said. “He’s so hard to control. I’ll ask him to draw stuff, and whenever you ask him to draw stuff he never will. He’ll draw when you least expect it. Like, he’ll draw at dinner. If he’s sitting alone watching TV and you want him to design something, and you’re like, ‘hey Will, can you design something’ or ‘I have an idea, let’s draw this gas station logo,’ he says no. It turns him off to drawing if you ask him to. He has to want to.”
Perhaps this can be attributed to the artist’s young age, but Festive Paul’s designs are evocative of childhood—of comic books, Saturday morning cartoons, scraped knees and elbows from falling off of a skateboard. The graphics are drawn by hand, and evidently so; the lines that make up the zombie, the 1970s Jeep Wagoneer, the vinyl record are tremulous. The designs are boyish caricatures of reality; the zombie bares its fangs and the jeep wagoneer looks as if it belongs in a car show.
“You can tell that they’re drawings, and that they’re hand-drawn,” Jack said. “I think it shows a homemade aspect. I like the kiddish, childhood-like thing. I think everyone can relate to it, both kids and adults, because adults have been kids.”
When it comes to color, Jack uses “with” to create harmonious pairs—orange with blue, or blue with yellow. But “with” also allows him to create paradoxes: “old retro designs with a kiddish spin.”
Tower 24’s first collection feels like an exercise in word association; it features a navy hoodie with the words “Tower 24” printed across the chest in bold, white letters—Helvetica, perhaps? The font itself reveals nothing. Rather, it is the clothing brand’s namesake that's telling: lifeguard tower 24, painted light blue and frequented by surfers, is situated between Santa Monica and Venice Beach on Bay Street.
Asher Early ’19, founder and designer of Tower 24, told me that he grew up surfing and skateboarding around that very lifeguard tower; there, he paddled out to sea for the first time. He said that he has always been captivated by the aesthetics of Venice Beach in the 1970s: striped socks and roller skates, cherry-red Pontiac Firebirds, surfers and skateboarders with sun-bleached hair and tanned skin.
“The lifestyle was centered around surfing when there were waves and skating when there weren’t," he said. "Hanging out with friends. Making art. Listening to music. The culture has imprinted itself on the youth of our generation, in my eyes. Everything has this nostalgic feel.”
I asked him how he translated this sense of nostalgia into his designs. Were the words “Tower 24” by themselves enough to evoke the so-called “golden era of skateboarding”?
“The first line I launched was very minimalistic, and intentionally so, because part of building up a brand identity is letting the brand establish itself before putting out more obscure designs,” Asher said. “For example, if we put out a graphic of an old car, people would think, ‘oh, it’s a clothing company that does old cars.’ So, you need to start out simple and build an image of yourself through the content you put out, writing, photography. From there, no matter what kind of graphics you deliver, no one loses sight of your core identity.”
And Tower 24’s core identity is a duality of the old and the new. The brand appropriates iconography from the past and revitalizes it with a central philosophy: a celebration of today’s creative youth. Another piece from the collection, for instance, is a shirt with a star printed on one sleeve in metallic blue ink; “Tower 24” is emblazoned across the chest in a font that calls spray paint stencils to mind, a nod to Venice’s street art.
“You know how, in class, you doodle those five-point stars? I always did that, and I’ve always liked that symbol. For me, it represents my youth and an introduction into creativity,” Asher said. “Sitting there and drawing a star instead of doing math problems feels like a slightly rebellious, creative act. Your mind urges you to do it, and it feels good to get that out.”
Moreover, through Tower 24, Asher said he has been able to collaborate with like-minded kids: bold and entrepreneurial creatives from all over Los Angeles.
“Everyone I hire, whether it be photographers, videographers or writers, I try to keep them young and I’ve been successful in doing that,” he said. “Our photographer is 20, our models are all under 22 and our videographer is 17.”
Asher said he sees the potential for Tower 24 to become something more than a clothing brand, something more like an art collective. He plans on organizing youth art galleries in Venice, participating in inner-city beautification projects and curating a blog. But for the time being, he is working on the next collection—less words and more beach cars, spray paint and denim.