Designers love to quip that good design is invisible, or that well-designed products speak for themselves. But when a brand’s mere existence draws attention from designers around the world, and when those same designers are eager to speak for the brand and its products before they can do so for themselves, that’s usually a sign that something special is going on. That’s certainly the case with AETHER, at least. The clothing and accessories brand is one of the best examples of a designer’s brand since Dieter Rams was at Braun (so it should come as no surprise that you can find a Dieter Rams tome for sale at the brand’s New York storefront).
To get an insider’s perspective on AETHER as a brand, we caught up with designers Stefan Ytterborn of POC and CAKE, and Jonathan Ward of ICON to chat about their experiences with the brand and its founders, as well as what AETHER products they own, and how they use them in their everyday lives.
Stefan Ytterborn, Founder, CAKE
Stefan Ytterborn is a Stockholm-based product designer and serial entrepreneur with several brands and companies to his name. He’s perhaps best known for his work as founder and CEO of the popular ski helmet brand POC (which stands for “Piece of Cake”). Stefan’s most recent project, CAKE, is focused on developing a new category of light, premium and easy to ride off-road electric motorcycles. In his spare time, Stefan collects and restores 70s-era G&S Fibreflex skateboards, plays the drums, surfs and rides his road bike.
Q: How did you first come across AETHER?
Stefan Ytterborn: The first time I came across AETHER was in New York City, pretty much right after they had opened their first store. I felt a truly strong kinship with the brand from day one. I had, you know, the feeling like, “these guys, they’re doing it their way. They understand quality; they’re pursuing quality and they’re not compromising; they’re bringing real purpose and competence to what they’re doing.”
I loved being in the store, and my dream was for a retailer like AETHER to carry our POC helmets. So somehow I got in contact and that’s how it started. After a while we had the POC stuff inside their store and that was a big win to me. That was actually before I even met the guys Jonah and Palmer [AETHER’s founders] — it was a true business relationship at the beginning, but then we got to know each other after that.
Q: How many AETHER products do you own?
SY: I would guess somewhere between 35 and 50. I was a customer long before we started working together.
Q: Do you have a favorite?
SY: You know, of the 35 to 50 products I own, I’d guess about 15 are t-shirts to be honest. That basic stuff is amazing. But the product that I appreciate the most is the Cascade raincoat from them, which I can use in the streets and is perfect — I don’t look like I’m on my way to the ski resort. But then when I’m at the ski resort, if it’s a bit rainy or it’s mild weather, I’ll wear the same jacket skiing and look far more sophisticated than if I was wearing a ski raincoat from wherever. It has that terrific kind of relevancy no matter what situation or activity. I’ve had this particular style for many years so they don’t sell it anymore, but this season’s Endeavor Jacket has the same fusion of technicality and sophistication
THE ENDEAVOR JACKET by AETHER
Constructed from a stretch three-layer Schoeller® shell with sealed-seams, the Endeavor Jacket offers total protection from the elements without sacrificing comfort or breathability, maximizing the product’s functionality without straying from the brand’s signature minimal aesthetic. Additional details like double-entry back and hand pockets, weatherproof zippers and adjustable internal wind cuffs make this jacket a versatile, wear-it-for-all-occasions option.
Jonathan Ward, Founder, ICON
Jonathan Ward is a self-trained industrial designer and entrepreneur, as well as the founder and CEO of ICON 4×4. In 1996, Jonathan and his wife Jamie started TLC — now the nations leading Land Cruiser Service center. As the brand’s reputation grew, Jonathan began consulting and eventually building custom prototypes for Toyota and TLC, ultimately prompting him to consider what his own version of the FJ40 would look and feel like. The result, in Jonathan’s own words, was the “actualization of a strong commitment to tradition, obsession with modern design, and unrelenting need to achieve performance excellence” — what today is known as the ICON.
Q: How did you first come across AETHER?
Jonathan Ward: My relationship with AETHER is pretty wild. It goes back before it was really AETHER — must be at least fifteen years ago now. It was basically around the time that Jonah and Palmer [AETHER’s founders] had designed the label and had a stack of samples on a temporary rack, and then an overwhelming amount of boxes at their production offices. The way the introduction started, I was bobbing in the surf out at Little Dume in Malibu, and the guy next to me as we’re waiting on the set starts a conversation: “Oh, what do you do?” so I tell him and he’s like, “Oh, I love ICON!” So we talked about that for a bit. Then he says, “You know, I have some friends that are doing something really cool in the apparel world that I think you’d appreciate.” I just hit it off with them immediately.
Q: What was it about the brand that spoke to you?
JW: I had a quick appreciation for their interesting balance of maintaining a really strong focus on the utility-value of what they were doing, but then elevating the details in manners that nobody in that space had been doing — from the technology behind the textiles to the selection of the right zipper, not just a zipper, through to the welded seams and just their overall minimalist approach. It was that combination of utility meets arguably unnecessary quality and detail. Right? That’s what really floats my boat.
Q: What’s your favorite AETHER product?
JW: I think the very first article of clothing I got from them remains to this day my favorite, and I’ve taken it to probably over forty countries on trips — it’s a jacket they have called the Space Hoodie, which I can wad up into the tiniest ball and put in my bag. And then if it starts raining or gets windy or cold somewhere, I can whip it out and party on. It does the trick and it’s still minimalist but the performance is so elevated.
My second favorite product of theirs which, again, has been with me literally all over the planet, is their Welded Duffle. Whatever primary bag I bring on a trip, I always stuff the Welded Duffle into that bag at the top or the bottom — actually, if I’m with my wife we bring two of them. Then if we’re at Aux Puces in Paris or a bazaar in Morocco or wherever, that’s the bag that gets filled with all of the cool shit we collect. It’s super durable — I can abuse the hell out of it — but it’s super compact when it’s not stuffed so I can cram it in another bag and not lose any weight.
SPACE HOODIE 2.0 by AETHER
The prototype product that started it all, AETHER’s Space Hoodie is a direct expression of AETHER’s drive to unify form and function. The Space Hoodie 2.0, updated and re-issued for the brand’s 10th anniversary, features 60 grams of PrimaLoft® GOLD insulation and a silky ripstop shell. Designed to function as a standalone piece or high-performance mid-layer, the Space Hoodie is extremely lightweight packable, making it one of AETHER’s most versatile pieces.
Welded Duffle by AETHER
Few products are as crucial to a traveler’s toolkit as a bombproof packable duffle. AETHER’s version is constructed using an innovative welding technique that makes it both tensile and waterproof. It also features AETHER’s signature aesthetic and comes in two sizes, a 30-liter and 70-liter.