From a vocal perspective, at least, Kyle Ng and Jean Touitou are about as opposite as it gets. When I catch Ng by phone in late August, the 33-year-old Brain Dead co-founder is on his way to L.A.’s Universal Studios with his girlfriend for a midweek coaster sesh, and his Bay Area accent sounds particularly upbeat and bouncy. A few days later, Touitou calls me from his quiet home in Paris, and the legendary A.P.C. designer speaks methodically, measured, in a smooth French baritone. The one thing they share unequivocally? A deep and abiding love for one another’s brands.
A couple years back, Ng was showing off Brain Dead’s latest wares to prospective buyers at a showroom in Paris, when in walked three living luminaries: Touitou, streetwear godfather Hiroshi Fujiwara, and Nike’s collaboration mastermind Fraser Cooke. Touitou immediately gravitated to Brain Dead’s racks in the corner of the room.
“It felt almost like a physical and intellectual attraction,” Touitou says now. “Sometimes you’re next to some people and you can tell there could be a fit, without even talking.” The label’s offbeat name and subversive graphics both drew Touitou in, but it was Ng who really caught his attention: “I totally saw myself at age 23, 24, in him. I would do the same kind of humor and the same kind of things. He reminded me big time of what I used to be in the late ‘70s.”
For Ng, getting that show of respect was particularly meaningful. “A.P.C. was just, like, a staple in my life,” he recalls. “[In my teens] I didn’t drive, so I would walk around Melrose, just lurking in that area. I remember the A.P.C. store really vividly: I went in once, and the architecture was so beautiful, they had amazing music playing, they had books. I didn’t really care about fashion, but I loved the idea of this super clean, quality clothing you could wear everyday. It became one of the first brands I was really die-hard about.”
A year after their first meeting in Paris, Touitou came back to the same showroom—this time specifically to talk to Ng. “[Touitou] comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, I was here last year. I would love for you to come to the office,’” Ng remembers. “He basically pitched me this idea of like, ‘Let’s do something together. I feel like it’s really hard with A.P.C. to showcase something really wild or crazy, because people want to censor me. But I really love what you do.’ We hit it off immediately and started developing a concept.”
Offers like that don’t come from Touitou often, especially given his notorious distaste for most fashion collaborations. “Collaborations are, in general, a marketing director from one brand talking to a PR from another brand, and saying, ‘OK, what you got?’ And the other person will say ‘Mmm, I got some cool windbreakers. Can we put your logo on them?’ It’s not meaningful, there’s nothing there. There’s no intimacy. It’s just a cheap trick to do business.” Instead, this Brain Dead project is the third collection in what Touitou has dubbed “Interactions,” which he describes more like a couple of rock stars getting together to jam: “If you put in a room two musicians who appreciate each other’s work, you don’t have to speak so much,” he says. “I do things with other people only when it’s a pleasure to meet them and we have an experience and a conversation—and sometimes even some confrontations, argumentations, because that’s a part of life. That’s how you build a team, even a temporary team.”
In this instance, the creative process was pretty much smooth sailing. Ng and Touitou connected over their mutual love of science fiction from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and spoke at length about the senselessness of modern life. That led the duo to draw inspiration from Future Shock, an Orson Welles-narrated 1972 documentary that details how rapid technological and social change have led to “shattering stress and disorientation.” From there, Ng conceived a line of clothes “inspired by ‘70s aesthetics, the kind you’d see in a Cronenberg film”—a mix of practical, outdoorsy stuff like a zip fleece vest and hike-ready sneakers, along with A.P.C. classics like jeans, hoodies and chore coats emblazoned with quotes and logos from Future Shock.
“It felt right, right now, to sort of dramatize this reality of being totally lost in the speed of things, and even laugh about it,” Touitou says of the Future Shock nods. “[It’s a way to] address this heavy problem of the world being run by technology and the speed of things. Obviously the digital arena makes things go way too fast. People do not know the history of anything…today’s culture is short term. It’s a good thing to make a caricature of this.”
To bring the project full circle, Ng directed a trio of absurdist, sci-fi short films featuring the collection, all soundtracked by the cult electronic musician Jerry Paper—who also stars in one of the videos. It’s opportunities like this to stretch his creative boundaries that drive Ng and Brain Dead forward, and draw him to partnerships like this one with A.P.C. “It’s really been a blessing to use our brand as an outlet for my interests in life,” Ng says. “I love making the products and I love all the support we get from them. But when we can use that support to, say, put on an ACLU benefit show with the band Homeshake, or to work with Jerry Paper on these films for A.P.C., that’s what I love most.”
Most of all, though, working with Touitou gave Ng some valuable insight into building a brand with decades-long staying power. “You know what I love about Jean?” he reflects. “He has this sense of culture inside A.P.C. that’s really beautiful. He keeps it really holistic and organic. We’d see him spray painting or dyeing or paint-splattering jeans in his office. We’d have meals together in his office. The art design in the workplace is so nice, and there’s a sense of community that he has with his workers that’s really beautiful. It just looks like they’re having fun, and I think that’s so important when you’re 20 to 30 years into the business—that you don’t really make it feel like a business.”
Touitou gleaned some similar wisdom from his younger counterpart, too. “[I’m inspired by] the far-out, no-limits kind of thing that he has built in him as an artist, as a creative person,” Touitou says. “It just reminded me that the most important thing in what we do is friendship and creativity. The rest of it is useless.”
Originally Appeared on GQ