This week we interviewed our Hackney Downs neighbour Nikki Strange. Nikki started her design label from her bedroom in Hampshire and has since had her products appear in the likes of Topshop, Urban Outfitters and Marks and Spencers.
LTP: So you set up your label when you were still at living at home, and you worked from home whilst doing other jobs and freelancing as well? How did you find that?
NS: Well I was doing part time work just to bring in a bit of money and then in afternoons and evenings I’d do a bit of a freelancing too. I think the label happened quite accidentally; at the beginning I didn’t really know I was doing it, if that makes sense? I had a style and I won a lot of competitions with this company called Textile Federation when I was freshly graduated. They manufactured scarves, and my designs were sold in places like Topshop and Urban Outfitters.
So for one it was good to know I had a style (because I kept winning), but also everyone would say “that looks like a Nikki print!” And it was also good to have an outlet to get my work out there and get a bit of credibility in the textile/print world. So it started off like that more than setting up my own business.
I also freelanced for different studios around London and LA as well. So that’s how it started: I was putting my work out on the internet and it was being received well, and then I started to set up a business very slowly. It wasn’t like how it is now by any stretch of the imagination.
LTP: So it was almost by accident through these prizes you were winning just out of university – is that where you started seriously thinking about design?
NS: It was whilst at uni, it’s always been a big thing. I’ve always loved print. I didn’t realize I had a style until my final year when I won a competition. One of my designs was used by a brand called Pyrus (who are still running) and that was the catalyst I think, realizing I stood out from my year group, as it were. I also realizd I didn’t enjoy commercial print, I always found it quite hard. I like doing what I want to do!
LTP: I think it’s clear that travel and escapism are major themes in your work; I was wondering if any of your travels in particular have inspired your range?
NS: For my current range I’ve done some Moroccan prints inspired by my trip there last year. But nothing is ever really from one trip; it’s more like an amalgamation of all of them. The collection I’ve just launched doesn’t look particularly Moroccan, that’s just one small part of it. I also went to Cambodia, which was very leafy and green so there’s more palm trees [in my designs] again this year. A lot of my trips to Asia – Bali, Indonesia, other places – become an amalgamation; a lot of the terrain is very similar there.
LTP: It’s interesting you say ‘amalgamation’ because there’s something very exotic about your work, but also something slightly magical as well. It’s almost like escapism through travel but also through imagination?
NS: Yeah, a lot of it (my work) is very surreal. Like a lot of the colours I use are more saturated than in real life, so often I’ll paint stuff, put it into Photoshop and then the colour palettes I’ll look at often aren’t real colour palettes, they’re ‘amplified’, I guess. A lot of the colours and textures I’ll use are [based in] my fantasized idea of a place, making it more whimsical than it really is.
LTP: So it’s also personal fantasy that you’re looking to translate into your designs?
NS: Yeah, definitely.
LTP: Your work also feels childlike; it reminds me of the kind of imagination you have when you’re a child. So does your work hark back to the way you thought when you were younger?
NS: I still think as a child, I suppose. I haven’t really ever done it deliberately. I don’t know, it might come from the commercial aspect; perhaps as a way of presenting the work? Maybe it’s the colour uses. A lot of my paintings are quite ‘naïve’. It’s just a reflection of how I think. I am quite a childlike person and I don’t really like growing up, so maybe that’s why?
LTP: Obviously like you said, even at university people were saying ‘oh, that looks like a ‘Nikki’ print,’ so it must have been pretty early on that the Nikki Strange look was starting to emerge?
NS: Not till my third year. Even the print that I did for that company didn’t really look like one of mine. But I was developing a way of being able to understand a brief and create something that was directed towards that brief, and I think that’s why I won those competitions. I was always able to look at their mood boards and take my own spin on it.
So in that way I was quite receptive early on, to get what the client wants, and in my own work for my third year final major, you could definitely tell it was my own work. It was inspired by my trip to India with my family and there were lots of corals and pinks that were inspired by shells and flowers, which isn’t too far off what I do now, really.
LTP: You’ve recently started partnering with Topshop, and you’ve also previously partnered with ASOS, Marks and Spencer’s and Not On the Highstreet. What’s next for Nikki Strange?
NS: I’m quite happy, to be honest! Stressed enough as it is. I always like collaborating – for example I’d love to collaborate with a clothing range. There was an interiors company that allowed me to do wallpaper which was great. I’ll always be more interested in collaborating with others instead of furthering my own personal ventures or getting into the apparel market myself. I’m not really keen on growing for the sake of growing.
I think it’s important to remember why you got into this in the first place, and doing the artwork itself is a big thing for me. Next year I want to make sure I do lots more artwork and prints that are [based on] what I want to do. I think when you grow a company and you want to do more and more different types of apparel, textiles or accessories you can get caught up in the manufacturing. It’s about learning where you want to cut your brand off and then going on different tangents with other people. But I try not to overwhelm myself with too much.
LTP: One last question – who do you look for in a collaborator? What do you look for in other people’s work?
NS: Probably skills that I don’t have, so with clothing perhaps people with a similar aesthetic or style that I have. I’d look for someone who could add another layer to what I do and have a skillset that I can’t offer so that we compliment each other.
LTP: Thanks Nikki!