The paradox of a minimalist black bag is the difficulty of making it distinguishable and memorable. However, Kimberly and Nancy Wu—the two sisters behind the young brand Building Block—have no trouble with this. For the past three years, the LA-based duo has been redefining the idea of luxury—not with big logos or brands, Nancy tells CH, but through quality and function. With plenty of experience in designing (Kimberly used to design cars for Honda in Tokyo and Nancy was in Portland, creating shoes for Nike) the pair’s simple, geometric bags—which usually have one detail that pops, like a wood block closure or brass hardware—have been snapped up by stockists in the US such as Table of Contents, Assembly New York, Creatures of Comfort and Opening Ceremony, as well as stores all over the world, especially in Japan.
Kimberly and Nancy recently moved out of their studio into a new collaborative space shared with their friends IKO IKO. We scoped out their new LA space, which will be an “alternative store and studio experience,” and dug a little deeper into their design process.
What’s your background with IKO IKO? How will the space be shared?
We’ve been friends with Kristin and Shin for a few years now, although it feels like much longer. All of us have varying creative voices yet we all share a similar perspective on the making process so naturally we decided to come together. Our shared space is meant to be an alternative store and studio experience that embodies all of our creations (Kristin’s line of clothing Rowena Sartin, Shin’s furniture line Waka Waka, Building Block by us)—an inviting space filled with light, moving ideas, iced matcha tea and calmness.
Tell us about your fondness of vintage Japanese pop culture magazines.
We all try to visit Japan at least once a year—these magazines were found at a vintage bookstore in Tokyo that carries archives of amazing magazines such as Brutus, Popeye, Hotdog magazine dating back to the late ’70s. We came with an empty backpack and left with it full.
You have an Eames book open on that table—what other designers or artists, historic or contemporaries are regulars on the Building Block mood board?
How many people are on the Building Block team?
Building Block currently consists of Kim, Nancy and recently Joyce—who is our new studio assistant. We also have a great group of manufacturers overseas who are part of our team as well; they get all the credit for crafting each one of our bags.
What’s the process like for creating a new bag design?
Projects and styles always start with us both sewing mock-ups by hand. The goal is always to create something that is playful yet useful; something simple but deceivingly complex to construct. This is the best part of our jobs—to unravel an idea by making it with your own hands never gets old. From there a technical drawing is sent to our producers for sampling.
What were some of the inspirations behind the new Utility line of bags?
The goal was to introduce styles that were more casual and everyday-inspired. The emphasis is on the usefulness of of the shape while disregarding any excess decoration or details that could possibly detract from utilitarian focus. Leather details are used in this collection in moderation to provide structure and indicate a 2D graphic language of circles and lines.
And any hints on what we’ll see next from Building Block?
We’re working on expanding to different lifestyle accessories such as watches and footwear—stay tuned.
Building Block will be celebrating the opening of their new permanent studio and store space tomorrow, Saturday 26 April 2014, from 5-8PM. If you’re in LA, join them at 1727 N. Spring St, 3rd floor. Regular store hours will be Wed-Sun. Check out the slideshow for more studio shots.
Photos by Graham Kolbeins