The Rise of Experimental Normcore

Paa is known for its quiet experiments with fit and fabric that merge sports, outdoor, technical and casual styles

The Rise of Experimental Normcore
By Ryan Chang / October 24, 2019 9:44 am

Looking at a pair of Paa’s (pah) shorts will inspire the double-take, but you won’t know why at first. On its face, they’re comfortable, casual shorts — pull-on style, elastic waistband, inseam hovering just above the knee. So when I put them on, what’s different about them?

For one, they’re cut in matte black reverse cotton sateen, which has a slightly dry hand that is still soft. It’s rigid enough that I feel like I’m wearing shorts to go out in rather than lounge. Often used for military garments and tools, I also know they will soften and fade similarly to raw denim or chino twill. It’s a utilitarian fabric placed on a casual short in a classic, unassuming fit, and also a perfect example of Paa’s aesthetic, explains Peter Jurado, one of the partners behind the brand. “Sometimes, we see a fabric that traditionally goes on this, but it’d be cool on that,” he says.

For a brand that is known for its quiet experiments with fit and fabric and uncanny ability to merge sports, outdoor, technical and casual styles, it’s refreshing to hear the creative process expressed in such pared-down terms. Started in 2013 with a small collection of minimalist hats and caps, the side project of long-time friends Peter Jurado and Al Verik has since moved from an accessories line to a full collection of tops and bottoms that make almost imperceptible tweaks to classic archetypes like pull-on pants, crewneck sweatshirts, and techy-but-not jackets to mute yet provocative effects, which undergo further refinement from season to season. In the two years since they’ve expanded, Paa has steadily established itself one of the go-to purveyors of exceptional sportswear garments for the discerning, menswear customer. 

Paa had auspicious beginnings even with their limited run of caps, finding an early admirer in minimalist casual wear specialists C’H’C’M Shop. It makes sense why Paa runs so comfortably with a regular crowd that includes Margaret Howell, Barena, Nanamica whose own collections are identified by their refined interpretations of wardrobe staples. Jurado and Verik spend most of their time on “fit and fabric, paying as much attention to process as to product.” They’ve steadily and slowly acquired more wholesale accounts, garnering the affection of stores around the world.  Their wares now available in United Arrows in Japan, London Grocery Market in Seoul and online stalwarts SSENSE and NEED Supply Co. 

“I think our stuff complements the more wild pieces a lot of these stores have, which is why they work with us,” explains Jurado.  The tweaks may go unnoticed with a passing glance, but the extra second of study pays off. A style returning for Fall 19 is the Long Sleeve Popover. “We cut it in a Polartec fleece and used snaps instead of buttons. It’s kind of like a hybrid shirt and sweater, technical meets outdoor.” Its outdoorsy references are muted by the classic style and fit of a pull-over shirt. Ideal for a transitional outer or mid-winter inner, the tweaks and juxtapositions seem so carefully arranged for a variety of uses and lifestyles.

But what’s surprising is that it’s happened mostly by word of mouth. You won’t find Instagram Highlights that dictate Paa’s story. Tagged posts reveal even less. Their brand bio simply informs you how to pronounce their name and the year they began. “We just want to present our clothes as honestly as we can, without all the background. We want our customer to bring what they have to our clothing,” Jurado explained to me. Al points to the hat I’m wearing, the brand’s Runner’s Cap that’s cut in a four-way stretch that I’ve balled up, stuffed into my bag, and tossed around for the past few months.  “We want people to ask the person wearing us what hat that is or who makes that jacket. We want people to have that sense of discovery, like when you used to walk into record stores and took a chance.” Hype this is not.

While the awareness of the brand has widened steadily, Jurado and Verik are still struggling that familiar-but-new feeling that guides their design thesis. “It’s hard to get that type of feel for clothing online, to feel those differences in details when you wear our stuff.”  It might be part of the reason why, at least state-side, Paa has been identified as refined normcore. But neither Jurado nor Verik really care so much. “Other people bring their own reference points to our pieces and connect it to the zeitgeist. But we don’t really want to push it any one way,” says Verik. The guys note that most customers start with something small — one of their hats with a signature tweak, like the Big Bill Cap — before moving onto their more adventurous, higher-priced items. 

If your chance pays off, you’re likely to venture deeper into Paa’s closet. Like the Blouson Jacket, a remix of the classic Harrington jacket with an updated, elevated appeal. Spring’s version was cut from a Japanese nylon taffeta, its smooth-hand and dull luster quieting its functional properties (breathable, water-repellent, and lightweight) while elevating it at the same time. The jacket also has a more obvious flex in the waist pockets, which look like tipped-over chest pockets that run parallel to the waistband. It’s a minor tweak that rounds out the whole jacket, blending experimentation and tradition in a jacket that would work in almost any guy’s closet either to build an outfit around, or add that much-needed piece of style on a lazy Saturday.

It speaks to Paa’s design thesis: Experimental basics in familiar shapes with fresh personalities. While I somehow forgot to ask Peter and Al what “Paa” meant or stood for, our conversation about menswear trends said as much. It would be easy and shallow to simply label Paa as up-market normcore, and when I asked them about it, the guys took it in stride. But they were careful to clarify that they themselves didn’t see Paa this way. The clothes are surely meant for a discerning customer, one who’s confident in his own style, but meant for both the person looking for classics with a fresh, but not pronounced, feel. Updating old archetypes is nothing new in fashion, but Paa’s patient and careful tweaks and don’t chase hype-forward trends. Familiar and new, experimental and basic — the House of Paa’s considered experiments welcome the newbie to high-end casual wear as well as the expert, and invite both to play.