Whether you want to make a bold political statement with a Colin Kaepernick jacket, fangirl for Drake with a T-shirt or even put the lyrics of your favourite song on an item of clothing or accessory, artistic clothing creators Paul Nguyen and Sophia Noronha can make it happen.
When Noronha and Nguyen opened fashion boutique 988 Concept in Pape Village in June of last year, they didn’t expect to be collaborating on exclusive repurposed custom-made jackets that would be the main attraction of their store.
Nguyen went to school for graphic design and marketing and is the co-owner of 988 Concept. He uses fabric paint and sometimes a mixture of his own paint to craft abstract images of notable people in pop culture and personalized texts and pictures on clothing, most commonly jackets.
“Most of my inspiration comes from pop culture and music art,” he says. “A lot from social media too. Drake and Cardi B, artists like that.”
Nguyen and Noronha stumbled upon their unique clothing designs by chance.
“Sophia has a YouTube channel and she has a video with over 44,000 views where she is making a jacket with rips on it,” Nguyen says. “That inspired me to start painting on one of my old jackets. Then I sent Sophia a picture and she was amazed. That’s how we started customizing.”
The motivation behind Nguyen’s designs comes from his fascination with wearable art.
“I decide what I want to draw when I look at a jacket, or sometimes when I see an image. Like reggae artist Chronixx —when I saw his latest album cover, knew I had to recreate it on a jacket,” he says.
The jackets Nguyen uses for his designs are environmentally friendly, repurposed apparel. The army jackets are sourced from the Canadian and American military, while the denim jackets are used vintage pieces because “nowadays, it’s hard to find that material and quality,” he says.
Nguyen likes to leave most of his art open to interpretation.
“I like to do abstract painting instead of the actual image. Sometimes people look at the jackets and they are like, ‘who is that,’ and sometimes they recognize them immediately,” he says.
The duo also designs items other than clothing, including purses, shoes and furniture. In terms of the latter, they collaborate with an East York business called Luxe-KCInteriors, which specializes in upholstery and refurbished vintage chairs.
“We work together,” Nguyen explains. “I paint the canvass and I give it to them and they make the chair.”
In terms of jackets, the process of placing an order for a custom-made piece is relatively quick and easy.
“Tell me your idea of what you want on the jacket. Then I’ll work on the design and we go from there,” Nguyen says. “Let’s say you want a picture of yourself. You would send me a picture and I turn it into an abstract image.”
Each design takes a couple of hours to create. “The more detail, the longer it takes to make,” he says.
Nguyen’s designs are garnering traction and solidifying an international fan base.
“I have many customers from America, Germany and France. People reach out to me through my website or social media,” he says. “I make sure that the jacket is the perfect size for them and they are happy with the jacket. Then I start customizing.”
Nguyen’s favourite designs are the ones created with the customer’s vision in mind.
“I love seeing their reaction when it’s finished,” he says.
Jackets range in price from $300 to $500 if a customer wants to add crystals or other specialized details.
“Every jacket is one of a kind,” Nguyen says. “If a customer orders a specific custom design, I will never repeat that design. If it’s something that I made to sell in the store, it won’t look exactly the same.”