Vancouver brand Wings + Horns combines a Japanese bent for modern simplicity with a very West Coast understanding of the merits of weatherproofing. Helmed by lead designer Tung Vo, every Wings collection focuses on simple, well-made pieces that work without flair. “Premium,” Vo says, “but not precious.”
He describes his philosophy as “purposeful application.” Details are fun, but randomly placed zippers, useless pockets and zany patterns can’t salvage a sloppy design. “Every pocket, every seam should pull its weight and be there for a reason,” he says. “The goal is to strip it down to the essentials while still making it interesting.” In every piece Vo lets the important things like cut, solid workmanship and quality materials carry the weight.
Vo’s first encounter with purposeful application came not through some thoughtfully designed oxford or clean pair of chinos, but — well, it was a juicer. A Philippe Starck juicer, to be precise, which looks more like the walkers from War of the Worlds than something used to make breakfast. “It was weird, functional and visually impactful all at once,” he remembers.
Although it’s more bluntly flashy than Vo’s work, the Starck device was elegant and it worked — a sentiment that fairly describes the designs Vo creates today for Wings. The otherworldly appliance sparked a lifelong fascination that lead Tung through a varied career designing streetwear for Divine, rugged workwear for Mark’s, and hyper-technical outerwear for Arc’teryx. In a way, his job now is to fuse together the merits of those three brands: style, wearability, and function.
Wings + Horns began during the seven years its founder, Craig Atkinson, spent across the Pacific in Japan, where he sourced North American vintage pieces to feed the insatiable Japanese appetite for Americana. When he returned to Canada he brought with him the finely-tuned Japanese sensibility of craft, applying that painstaking care to the collections of his new project. Leaning on the network he’d built in the country, Atkinson’s brand quickly grabbed hold over in the Land of the Rising Sun — although it’s now 12 years old, only in the past few years has the label found traction in North America. About two years ago, Vo took over the design team for Wings and its sister brand, Reigning Champ, which specializes in more athletically-inspired basics.
Vo has held to the company’s core palette of black, gray, green and tan and its commitment to meticulous sourcing. Almost all the manufacturing is done in Vancouver — a city often overlooked for its robust garment infrastructure (weatherproofing, remember?)— with the final 10% handed off to a select group of factories.
When they say “select,” they really mean it. Their lofty standards don’t always make them the easiest client to work with, but that meticulousness results in a near-perfect product. “The garment starts at the fabric stage,” Vo says. “Wings has a strong history of developing unique materials — Craig is a textile connoisseur. From there, inspiration stems from classic menswear and military staples.”
The military influence comes through in pieces like the Convoy Twill jacket (based off a Canadian army cut with plenty of pockets to haul extra rations or your phone), a slickly pared-down bomber coat, and slimly tailored pants with cargo pockets. They’re moving deeper into collaborations as well. Already, they’ve worked with Canada Goose, Danner, and Adidas, and there’s more in the works, not all of them restricted to clothing. “Accessories follow the same requirements — understated, yet impactful,” Vo says. “The end result should feel new and better than something that each brand can do alone.”
Short on money to spend on expensive clothes, young Vo spent hours scouring surplus shops for pieces that he’d later tailor himself. He’s still completely hands-on in the design process — just check his Instagram to see the adorably stylish prototypes he makes for his toddler son, hands down the best dressed pre-schooler on the west coast. In a way Vo is doing what he’s always done: taking a piece he loves, breaking it down into its essential parts, and rebuilding something new and better.