The t-shirt. We all have one or more hanging in our closets or folded in our drawers. Just like the little black dress is essential to night-time cocktail attire the humble cotton t-shirt is synonymous with cultural fashion icons like James Dean and the infamous 1980s "Frankie Says Relax" slogan t-shirts by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. That was then and this is now! Kalou Dubus of Nico has reinvented the t-shirt for today’s woman. From her studio in Paris Kalou weaves a fashion fantasy, translating art-influenced designs onto plush, luxurious fabrics for the woman who wants to upgrade the standard wardrobe.
We sat down with her to discuss her time at The National School for Decorative Art, what it’s like being a Parisian designer based in the fashion capital of the world and her future plans for Nico.
Introduce yourself to our readers with an extract from your favourite novel.
I read a beautiful novel called Réparer Les Vivants by Maylis de Karangal this weekend. It’s the story about a heart transplant.
What was your childhood like?
Free, hippie, naked and cheerful.
You studied Illustration at the National School for Decorative Art. What drew you to take that subject up at university level and what did you enjoy most about it?
I chose this subject because it was a liberal course in terms of research and thinking and I wanted that. For my last year and diploma, I decided to do a year-long travel around the world with my friend. To earn money for the trip, I did a project with a good friend of mine the year before by selling our drawings to a magazine, got an award and left for 6 month to Nepal, Burkina and Yemen to draw. It was fantastic!When we got back to school, we made a scenography to show our works.
What valuable lessons did you draw from your time at the National School for Decorative Art?
I learned I must listen to my own instinct.
How did you then become interested in fashion? Was it something you loved since the beginning?
I’ve always loved fashion and textile. Clothing in general speaks a lot about a culture, a movement or an identity, and fashion is a capsulation of this. I love fashion because of that; it has such a strong force and power in our life and history.
In 2009 you created Nico. What does Nico stand for and what was the reason for creating it?
Nico stands for Night Is Coming On and it’s like a nickname, which can be used for a girl or a boy, pretty unisex. It’s also the name of the lead singer from the band The Velvet Underground.
Talk us through the design process of creating one of your designs from sketch to final product. How hands on are you in each process?
I never know how and when the first idea comes from, it could be when I’m traveling, cycling or sleeping. Sometimes I just compile images that I like and then begin to sketch with them, and then, intuitively, the colors and graphics just make sense! In order to develop the prototypes and silhouettes of the season, I work with Keem, our designer, we discuss about the spirit of the collection and what to look for in terms of new direction…. For production, business and communication, I have my sister and partner Charlotte, who has a huge role in keeping NICO running. So yes, I would say I’m pretty hands on.
Who is the ideal Nico girl?
Independent and free spirit.
You're collections play with bold print and colour. Do you feel that your collections merge the language of art and fashion that seems to be this season's key message?
I’ve always been as close to fashion as to art and so I imagined this brand to be like a publishing house for art media. Therefore, there have always been collaborations with artists since the beginning. All collections are a merge between art and fashion, so, in my case, I wouldn’t say it’s the key for just one particular season.
Who are your favourite designers at the moment?
Felipe Olivera Baptista for the sublime shapes and Proenza Schouler for the pattern and technical textile design.
Being a Parisian designer, do you feel you have to live up to the stereotype linked to French fashion?
The Parisian scene is quite alive and dynamic, there are designers who come from everywhere, there’s a mix and diversity that make it interesting. I don’t think about the stereotype of being a Parisian designer, for me I just want to create beautiful and comfortable clothing for women.
You're currently stocked in over 30 high fashion stores worldwide including Le Bon Marche department store. As a new label still in its beginnings, what is the relationship like with your retailers, in particular Le Bon Marche?
We are not in Le Bon Marché this season; we are carried by Merci, a wonderful concept store in Paris. I think that keeping a professional relationship with retailers is very important because their feedbacks help us grow and strengthen the brand because they are the direct link to Nico’s women.
The price point for your collection starts from 200€ for a short sleeved t-shirt. What justifies that price and why should a customer invest in one of your t-shirts?
Our products are special in the fact that they are fabricated by good manufactures, with luxurious and natural materials such as silk, linen and cotton. I designed the prints and graphics so all our designs are original, we then work with a printing company in Holland, who has the best printing and color quality. Because of that, the designs come alive on the t-shirts and sweatshirts. We have the best resources at a really reasonable price thus creating job opportunities worldwide.
Looking through images of your collections I was struck by Autumn/Winter 2013's lookbook (images depict models with their faces covered with pictures of cameras, guitars, watches and fans). What was the idea behind this and what element(s) do you think this added?
It’s my favorite lookbook. We just wanted to have fun so we made a mask with a collage of flying giant vintage objects, adding a touch of art to the shoot.
In your Autumn/Winter 2012 lookbook you feature images of men wearing the collection. Have you got any plans to branch the line out to include menswear in the future?
Yes, I would love to have a menswear line for Nico in the future. At the beginning I wanted to do women and men collection but it wasn’t a good idea to create both at the same time. Right now, we are focusing on expanding our women’s collection; strengthen it before developing another line.
As a new designer, how much do you rely upon digital media to distribute your message?
Digital media is a really good opportunity for our generation. There's more accessibility, it makes things easier and faster and, as a new designer, it’s always smart to take advantage of this to communicate the universe of Nico across the audiences.
If you weren't doing Nico what would you being doing now?
Sculpture, ceramic, tapestry...
When you're not designing what do you do in your spare time?
I spend time with my kids, my lover and friends and go dancing together. I also go and see exhibitions, do some cycling and running. I love to eat and cook as well!
What are your plans for the future? Have you got any plans to expand your collection to include accessories and footwear?
Yes, I would like to expand the collection with accessories and menswear, eventually I would love to work with craftsmen all over the world to showcase their savoir-faire and sell a house object line.