Walking into the Nicholas K’s New York studio, we were greeted by an unexpected essence of calm. Not 24 hours after their Fashion Week-opening show, and this white, brightly-lit space was clicking and whirring like clockwork: rails of earth-toned fabrics whizzed by as smiling assistants whipped and pulled pieces with the ease of a well-oiled machine. After 11 years in the business, Nicholas K’s brother-sister duo of Christopher and Nicholas Kunz take the hustle and bustle of Fashion Week in stride (as Nicholas glided towards us, we immediately sensed her welcoming warmth). Dressed in true Nicholas K style — all black with elegant draping and edgy, androgynous detail — she breezed through the studio fresh and alert, without any evidence of the fatigue that comes with this time of year. Casually thumbing through her fresh-off-the-runway collection, it was clear that this is a woman in her element, surrounded by her creations in a studio built from the ground-up.
KNSTRCT: Let’s start from the beginning: do you and Christopher take inspiration from your hometown in Arizona?
Nicholas: Yes, but more from nature because we’re so outdoorsy. Even when we go on vacation we don’t go to big cities. We go to the middle of the woods or the desert — somewhere more spiritual and completely different from New York.
KNSTRCT: So you basically grew up in the middle of nowhere?
Nicholas: (Laughs) At the bottom of a mountain! We grew up in Tucson. It’s a pretty large city now and it’s spreading out really wide, but when we first arrived there were still desert roads, old adobe homes and that charming old west feeling. We spent most of our days outdoors exploring the desert, the mountains and the Indian caves where we would find little pottery pieces. It was pretty different.
The Sahara desert, a landscape that echoes their childhood surroundings, inspired this season’s collection. Nicholas hearkened back to a long road trip she took to Morocco right after resigning from corporate America. Looking back, she found a series of landscape photographs that she had never used. From this came an interest in female explorers in the late 1800s and early 1900s, especially the Swiss adventurer Isabelle Eberhardt, who followed her half-brother to North Africa and disguised herself as a boy to travel through Algeria. There she helped the poor, fought colonial rule and survived an attempted assassination before being killed by a flash flood at 27. Looking at the sparse, minimalist and somewhat dark inspiration board below, we ask Nicholas how she chooses her sources of inspiration — or how they choose her.
Nicholas: This is such a rich, interesting story, and that’s so our woman: this independent, strong and fierce woman that’s not overtly sexy but is really confident and smart. We also found an old film about Eberhardt that was a big source of inspiration. It’s quite funny and not very well made, but the costumes were interesting and the color of the film is from such a different time. We’re not used to watching films like that anymore.
KNSTRCT: Where did you find these images? Why are they so dark?
Nicholas: They’re pulled from all over. Using the Internet, we went searching for sparse and minimal North African imagery. It’s lonely — normally we’re very nomadic — but I wanted to polish it up a bit and make it more minimalistic. It’s very Zen, like you’re having a quiet moment by yourself.
KNSTRCT: Can a Sahara-inspired dress be worn anywhere?
Nicholas: We love nature and we love to get out of New York and travel to other cities, so we always want a wardrobe that’s really transitional. Every woman needs to be comfortable. We do gowns, but even those can be worn four or five different ways and switch from day to night. Flexibility and ease with travel is really important. If I go back to Morocco, I want to take these clothes with me and wear this cotton gauze dress and use these scarves to wrap myself up. In a way, that’s what every woman wants.
KNSTRCT: Where will you find inspiration next?
Nicholas: I don’t know — I don’t know where it comes from. I don’t just sit down and think, “Okay, I’m ready to design.” It just starts coming into my head. I might see something or read a book or find a piece of clothing. (Points to a small sailor hat on a nearby counter.) That little hat I found inspired me for the whole fall, nautical, fisherman look. It kind of snowballs from there.
This is Nicholas K: raw, honest and true to itself. There is an inescapable essence of natural goodness and a true love and belief in what she does. Every choice and selection is not made by a calculated means of appearing a certain way, or to create any illusions. With another stellar collection under their belt, it’s clear that Nicholas K should continue sticking to their guns for many more seasons of inspirational collections. We’re looking forward to them.