The music—which today is a mix of beloved ‘90s hip-hop tracks from the likes of Notorious B.I.G. and Wu-Tang Clan—is the first thing that hits you when stepping inside the downtown Los Angeles studio of NSF. The soundtrack is fitting given that freestyling is at the core of NSF’s design process. After connecting five years ago, Nick Friedberg, who founded the brand in 2005, and creative director Jamie Haller have had a steady run of their own hits—distressed denim, paint-spattered canvas pants, perfectly torn T-shirts—without following fashion’s preset rules. A designer’s assumed tools for inspiration, such as a mood board, are nowhere in sight. “We go off instinct,” says Haller. “We don’t approach any season by saying, ‘Okay, our inspiration is punk.’ There’s no theme.”
Instead, Haller and Friedberg draw from the things they’ve loved their entire lives. For native Angeleno, Friedberg, it’s surf and skate culture. For them both, it’s the tried and true pieces that comprise the foundation of any wardrobe—the khaki parka you always go back to or the perfectly worn chambray shirt you live in. These points of inspiration aren’t just how they design for NSF. They also go into the thinking behind their new reworked-vintage venture, ICONS.
“We called the line ICONS because you always see the same 10 or 12 shapes repeated throughout history with every designer,” says Friedberg, thumbing through a rack of said cuts: structured jackets, high-waisted slim-cut jeans, and long skirts, to name a few. If the freestyle is an emblem of NSF, the remix is the equivalent for ICONS.
“Every single piece is different,” Friedberg says, and it’s true. He and Haller sift through hundreds of vintage pieces—along with the unique stories behind them—just to find the perfect concert t-shirt or pair of Levi’s 501s to reimagine for today. “It’s really hard to dig through a pile of 500 T-shirts if you don’t have the patience for it, especially now when people shop online,” says Friedberg. “We’re doing that work for them and giving it a brand element with the label and three star stamps. I wanted the line to be immediately identifiable.” Considering each collection is tightly edited to 20 styles, it won’t be hard to spot the one-of-a-kind pieces, and this is how Friedberg prefers it. “We dig that individuality.”