A few years back, maybe 2012, I was a massive fan of Maiden Noir. After their early days making kind of ishy t-shirts that were indistinguishable from All Saints and Passarella Death Squad at the time, the Seattle-based brand seemed to find its feet creating simple, well-designed streetwear with a healthy mix of camos and motifs against black and understated colour palettes. It was basically a Norse Projects for the Pacific Northwest, and it did what it did really well.
Over the following seasons, however, everything got really shaky. Designer Nin Truong’s architectural background seemed to empower Maiden Noir to craft collections that cut through the bullshit of over-engineered product to create unassuming wardrobe staples with a touch of flare, but the other side of the blade was a series of collections between 2013 and 2015 that were so safe and lacking in character that it tasted like watered down vanilla ice cream.
As a result, Maiden Noir feels kind of like that friend of yours who’s a really talented musician but spends all his time learning to cover Megadeth songs and sharing videos on YouTube. Come on man, you’re better than this.
There was a glimmer of hope with the release of the brand’s Fall/Winter 2015 collection ‘Forever Lost’, which finally started to drag Maiden Noir out of its flavourless rut and somewhere closer to creating something new. With their latest collection for Fall/Winter 2016, ‘Into the Silence’ it seems like they’ve gone back to the basics, but the result is a collection that’s far more compelling than anything else they’ve done in recent years.
The lookbook reveals a washed-out, greyscale palette with minimal colour. Flashes of mustard and stone browns add a little flare, but for the most part it’s an understated affair. In place of colour, you have texture; jacquard knits, mohair cardigans, thermal fleece, wool trenches and glossy nylons.
One of the issues I had with even my favourite Maiden Noir collections was the cut, which often seemed to try a bit too hard to be “menswear” with tapered shirting and so on. Everything looks a bit more relaxed here, which is a relief. Rather than trying to look like a men’s clothing brand, the collection looks like some clothes a guy could wear, which I’m fully behind.
I think it’s pretty easy to identify the source material for Maiden Noir’s latest collection. On paper, they cite ‘juxtaposition of nature and the built environment’, and this certainly comes through with the use of geometric patterns and checks on super relaxed and comfortable cuts. But there’s also a touch of a particular individual quite close to the brand’s Seattle background (hint: it’s Kurt Cobain). You’d have to be trying pretty hard not to pick up on the grunge aesthetic here, and any time you see a long-haired blonde dude in washed denim and a mohair cardigan, you can put money on that being the inspiration.
That being said, these guys are Pacific-Northwesterners with a sizeable following in Japan, so I guess you’re led to believe they’re coming from a pretty authentic place, and they can create credible product with hints of a deeper cultural significance to the Japanese market, where that kind of thing is nigh-on essential.
And there’s the magic of what Maiden Noir can do when it stops over-labouring the art of being understated. This is really nice, simple, well-designed stuff that stands on its own two feet, but if you want to dig a bit deeper and think about it, you can arguably find some subtle cultural references in there. The result is a collection that doesn’t shout from the rooftops, but nonetheless emits this cool, calm 90s grunge sensation that could only come from the place where that style was born, rather than semi-informed mimicry.
On a level, I sometimes feel like Maiden Noir could be doing what Jerry Lorenzo is doing right now with Fear of God, and without the irritating pretense that I always get with the latter. Lorenzo’s work is so heavily dependent upon the symbology of others. I feel like he needs to rip off old band t-shirts and tour merchandise because he lacks the innate understanding of that culture to be able to bring the aesthetic to life himself. To the point, a lot of the guys who designed those tour t-shirts are alive and kicking, you could track them down and commission some new work, but you wouldn’t know where to begin.
Maiden Noir conjures similar images of iconic 90s music and counter-culture lifestyle in this collection, but it feels a lot more measured and tasteful. If you want to enjoy the references then do, and do so without feeling like they’re being shoved down your throat. If you don’t want to, that’s cool also, just enjoy some nice clothes. And they are nice. So enjoy them.
Maiden Noir‘s Fall/Winter 2016 collection is available now.