Nicola West is a fashion designer, custom textile painter, singer, shop owner, jeweller, and and and. We manage to pin this all-round creative lady down for a brief chat to find out more about her hand-painted fashion pieces, and learn a bit about what she did before she started doing everything she does today.
Please give us a bit of the back-story – where did you studied and what, what are some of the projects/things that you’ve been involved in before now that have impacted where you are today…
I went to high school in San Antonio, Texas. Wow! What an experience! When I look back now I am so grateful for having had that experience. I think everyone should live somewhere other than home for a while.
I took quite a long time to find my passion. I tried many things in my life. I had many strange jobs and I learned a lot about myself and other people. One of the most normal jobs I had was working for Stefania Morland for 5 years. I think it was the first time I actually enjoyed going to work. I learned soooooo so much from this incredible woman! I did a couple of part time fashion design courses while working for her. Until, destiny called. I could no longer just be a sales lady. My whole being was against it. I had to create! My sanity demanded it! So I started at the Biscuit Mill end of 2009. I was very precious about my first designs. I almost didn’t want to sell them. I remember saying goodbye to one of my dresses.
During the time I worked for Stefania I did a lot of soul searching. I read every spiritual book I could get my hands on. I remember one of the questions most of them would ask was: what would you do if you had all the money in the world and nothing could stop you? My answer would usually be singing. So I decided to just put the wheels in motion to see if I could actually sing. I went to voice lessons. The teacher didn’t run out of the room so I figured I was ok. Meanwhile at a friend’s braai, I mentioned that I was taking voice lessons and that is how Jacob and I got started. While at the Biscuit Mill I worked part time for a conference company. I spent most weeks in hotel rooms around the country. Jacob would give me his completed music. I would then feel these songs up a bit and the words would just come out. That is how Albatross was born.
Albatross and W3ST allow me to express different parts of myself. I think they work well together. I have no idea were I am heading with all of this but I am having fun. I have a feeling that this is just the beginning.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a spy.
Your new hand-painted range inhabits a hybrid space of fashion-meets-art; what lead you to explore this interplay and what about it appeals to you?
Limited funds led me to be more innovative. As I was quite nervous with the paint in the beginning I started out with the help of my friend Naomi Bossert. She had many beautifull stencils of drawings she had made and then cut out herself. Just for fun!
My mistakes became more beautiful to me than the planned straight lines I was trying to achieve.
Now I paint the clothing trying to make a calculated mess! It is soooooo much fun! You can’t really make it look bad. The more messed up it looks the more I love it. I don’t paint the same thing over and over. That would drive me mad. I take all the completed items for the week and paint them all similar. So every week I have a couple of new items but no one is exactly the same.
I like simple design that fits well. I love cutting on the bias. I love mixing masculine and feminine. I like a bit of a sense of humour in my clothes. I don’t want people to take themselves so seriously. I want the clothes to look sexy but strong. I want to dress people who know who they are or they are at least trying to get there.
Is each piece in the range distinct, or are there themes/motifs that recur to form series?
Some pieces I design to be worn together and others just because I feel like it. Almost every week I try a new design. I think they all have the same thread running through them: A carefully calculated design with a reckless abandon painted all over it.
What is the inspiration and thinking behind your new range?
I always make clothes that I would like to wear. So I guess my inspiration would come from my mood at the time.
Where do you most often draw inspiration and insight for your work?
Every item of clothing I make has so many other possibilities. So my inspiration comes from previous pieces.
Can you please take us through your creative/creating process…
I don’t like wasting fabric so when I am cutting a particular garment and there is some fabric left I have to sometimes be quite creative in order to use it all up. That is one way of creating new things. Every thing I make gives me an idea for the next.
How would you describe your design style?
I design to make the figure look most attractive, comfortable and interesting. Not too feminine not too masculine.
How does music influence your fashion work?
I play loud music whenever I can get away with it. It is very important to me as I create items based on how I feel in my body.
You strike me as someone with a seemingly never-ending stream of side projects – what else are you involved in?
I collect interesting pieces and eventually put them together as one of a kind neckpieces. I use industrial chain, leather, semi precious stones, fabric, old coins, found objects etc. I also very recently employed an assistant to help me realize all the other projects I have been dreaming about for quite some time.
You’re a part owner of the concept store, Cloth and Steel – what is the concept behind the space?
Build it and they will come.
What are you listening to, watching and reading at the moment?
Listening a lot to Nina Simone. I love her sooooooo much! She gives me goose bumps! I also love the latest Beyoncé, iamwhoiami is amazing and so is planning to rock. I’m watching Game of Thrones.
What do you think World Design Capital will mean for Cape Town this year?
I think it will bring even more international attention to Cape Town. Which will hopefully have a ripple effect throughout the whole of South Africa. Improving the lives of many Africans.
Where can people find out more about you and what you do?
All you have to do to make the world a better place is to do what you love.
You can see more of W3ST here.