“There’s something about being in LA where you stay naive to a lot of things and that works for us.” And thus, Kimberly Wu, one half of sister duo behind accessories label Building Block, sums up the beauty of being based in Los Angeles. It isn’t a city steeped and saturated in fashion and yet that’s precisely why it emanates its own style. And so when you climb up the stairs into Building Block’s studio and showroom just east of Chinatown, you feel this space, its contents and of course the designers, couldn’t really exist anywhere else. Nancy and Kimberly Wu started their brand on the side of their day jobs back in 2011 when they were still designing apparel for Nike and cars for Honda respectively. What started as a Skype-fuelled hobby then segued into a handful of stockists and perhaps one of the few accessories labels that chooses to base themselves in LA.
In this light-filled, aerated, white-out space that was once owned by Pacific Railroad Company as well as being the centre of the LA feminist movement in the 60s-70s, Building Block’s bags are placed and hung in an idealistic setting. One that Nancy and Kimberly share with kindred creatives furniture designer Shin Okuda and Kristin Dickson-Okuda, who operate the concept store Iko Iko. Building Block’s bags sit well with Okuda’s curvaceous geometric furniture line Waka Waka and Kristin’s similarly considered clothing line Rowena Sartin. It’s hard not to throw out the usual descriptives – minimal, simple, pared back – as well as lumping Building Block with the supposed anti-IT bag movement. But what strikes you about Building Block’s bags, as they intersect with their surroundings, is their unconventional take on form. They don’t want to be boxed into the usual tote/hobo/clutch categorisations. “We wanted to challenge ourselves by making something very simple but still interesting,” said Nancy. “We’re into pursuing different shapes and treating bags like objects.” When you encounter a half-cylindrical shape atop of a canvas rucksack or an unusually oversized wooden toggle on a drawstring bucket bag, their play on proportions makes their bags more intriguing on the eye than the jingle jangle of hardware, fancy skins or wild colour palette. Their signature giant tassels are another emblem of Building Block’s strikingly singular design concept – something that looks bold without being in yer’ face.
Being ensconced in this space where they can host pop-up exhibitions and temporary book stores allows Nancy and Kimberly a level of freedom that means they don’t have to combat the relentless fashion cycle or the hub hub of being in the thick of the industry. And yet they do operate within the loose parameters of seasons whilst constantly refining their language. “We’re finding a balance between the fast pace of fashion and that methodology of creating something that has longevity,” said Nancy. As their name denotes, there’s a sense of play integrated into what they do, as they explore different forms as well as functionality but also different lines too as they recently delved into footwear (“It’s just something we were playing around with.”) and might do the same with millinery. The blocks keep multiplying but at a pace that suits Nancy and Kimberly. There’s the breathing space to do so here.
Shin Okuda’s Waka Waka furniture and object designs
Kristin Dickson-Okuda’s clothing line Rowena Sartin