Calling Nikki Lane a musician would be selling her short.
Yes, music is her biggest claim to fame these days. And when we first ran into her at the Jones Valley Teaching Farm Twilight Supper in 2013, we knew she was quite good at it.
But she’s also a style icon in her own right. In fact, fashion was her first career for more than a decade, and her eye for design informs all of her musical and self-promotional efforts these days.
We’re big fans of the Nikki Lane brand, so when she came to town last month for a show at Iron City with Trampled By Turtles, we picked her brain for a bit on her ongoing fashion gig, her aesthetic worldview, and her portable closet.
As a design firm, we can’t help but notice that your career feels beautifully curated. Where do you get your design inspiration?
When I moved to L.A., I thought I wanted to be in A&R when I was 18, and I realized that I had to go to school, and I didn’t want to do that. So I actually started designing a line of shoes called Nikki Lane Shoes (that’s where my name came from—I was born Nicole Lane Frady). I had a line of hand-painted and hand-covered shoes that I was making because I was working for a production company that produced fashion shows, and the majority of the designers on an indie level didn’t have their own shoes. So girls were coming with their shoe bag, and they didn’t have anything that worked well with anything they were doing. I’m a 9, which is like a model size, so I started buying shoes my size and covering them in fabrics and making a well-versed roster of shoes for when we had these shows. And then designers started sending me scraps or whatever, so I started doing that. At that point, I realized I didn’t know anything about wholesale vs. retail, so I went and worked in fashion for about 10 years thinking that I was gonna open a Gap or a nationally recognized brand. In doing so, moving to New York to work for Marc Eckō and learn about mass production, I wrote a record and got a record deal. I wasn’t pursuing music, I just kind of made a record and then it got bought, and then all of a sudden I had a career change. And I started realizing that if I could pull those things together and make myself that strong of a brand, it would benefit me more in the long run from the exposure.
I saw on Instagram that you have a closet in your trailer, so it’s clear that fashion is important to you. How do you approach your stage wardrobe?
Well, the trailer itself has given me an opportunity to make it more realistic. For the first two years, traveling with a band in a small trailer, all my clothes were crammed in bags. So the aesthetic that I could put forth in magazine covers or editorials or whatever, I didn’t have the energy for it because I was dragging stuff out of a bag. Building that closet out really gave me the ability to start bringing the nicer stuff, you know? I collect vintage, so other than collaborations I do with new brands, I don’t really own anything new. Designers are literally buying the old pieces and figuring out how to source and reproduce them. So that’s just given me an opportunity to bring everything with me so that I can doll up on the stage. I like to play the characters, you know what I mean? If I’m with a rock band, I’ll have like a ton of motorcycle jackets and stuff, but if we’re opening for a country band, I’ll pull out 40s and 50s suits.
I wasn’t pursuing music, I just kind of made a record and then it got bought, and then all of a sudden I had a career change.
Do you give your band members fashion tips, or do you let them roam free?
Well, at first I didn’t—I had three kids that have a similar aesthetic, which is this young, understated aesthetic. And they actually complimented me at the beginning of touring this summer that I wasn’t trying to put them in outfits. Which I’ve done; I’ve styled bands for record packaging and stuff throughout having jobs in fashion. But I didn’t want them to feel too pre-fab, you know what I mean? Over the past six months, I’ve found things that kind of look like them and are the right size, and their wardrobes have definitely gotten way better.
Who are your favorite designers?
I love Eames, and not specifically his aesthetic but his ability to be consistent across a wide variety of industries. Not just fashion, not just interiors, not just furniture. So I really get a kick out of what he did as a businessman more so that just a designer, because the majority of the designers I like—I like Isabel Marant, but I like some of her seasons, whereas other seasons I don’t care for. I love Hedi Slimane, what he’s done for YSL, and Saint Laurent—those are fashion brands, but again, I like some of their seasons. I think more so than designers, I like certain stylists or style icons—like my girl friend Alex Brown, who is a model and DJ in New York—who have a consistent representation of an aesthetic that I like more so than playing into fall of ’14, spring of ’15, you know? And in general just looking back at old stuff. All my design references come from the 30s to the 50s.
High Class Hillbilly for me became an additional form of publicity, something else to talk about. My goal is that what I buy for myself is paid for by what I make from what I buy for other people.
I’ve been told you work with a consignment shop in Nashville. Is that a second job for you?
When I moved from New York to Nashville, I was looking for ways to make money. So I started buying and selling vintage clothing, and I found that it was really easy to continue doing on tour, because we’re constantly passing by places. Now I’m not only looking for myself, but if I find things that have a really high margin potentially, there’s no downside of taking it with me. So I started doing a lot of buying and selling—if anything, just to save something from a weird antique store in the middle of nowhere. High Class Hillbilly for me became an additional form of publicity, something else to talk about. I found that fashion magazines seem to be more willing to work with me because I have multiple things that I can bring to the conversation instead of just the record. My goal is that what I buy for myself is paid for by what I make from what I buy for other people.