Nicole Saldaña



L+A: How did you get into the world of Design and Fashion?

I have always been inspired by my father and his craftsmanship. He was an industrial Designer, but also always built stuff around the house. It encouraged me to pursue design, so I went to FIDM to study Fashion. I then moved to New York to attend Parsons and while I was in school, I landed an internship with Opening Ceremony. They were very new and I was pretty much working for free [as an intern does] and 3 months in Carol and Humberto asked me if I wanted to join the design team. They were growing super fast and they really needed the help.

I showed them my portfolio and they wanted me to come on board. I was a third year junior in college and I had to make a decision, I could either finish school and work at OC part-time; Or, I could quit school and just go into the design position full force. Honestly, I hated school [laughs] I felt like I wasn’t being challenged. So I decided to take the opportunity, because who knows when something like this would be offered to me again.

“I owe everything to Humberto and Carol [owners of OC] because they really took a chance on me and believed in me”

L+A: Tell us about your role at Opening Ceremony?

In a nutshell I was at OC from 2006 – 2013. I started as an associate level design; sourcing fabrics and materials in women’s read to wear. Fast forward to eight years later, I built and started the creative production team. I hired and incubated the design staff that was there when I left.

Part of my role was to go to Portugal to oversee their factories and go to Paris to source fabrics. There was a lot of late hours, where I was working till 3 AM, but honestly I wouldn’t trade it for anything. While I was at Opening Ceremony I got to work on a lot of collaborations, with Uniqlo, Rihanna, Reppeto, Adidas.

In 2011 Humberto and Carol were asked to be the Creative Directors on the relaunch of Kenzo, and they took me with them. I split my time between NY and Paris, flying back and forth to work on their first and second season. It was an amazing experience and opportunity.

L+A: So what was next for Nicole? After being at OC for 8 years?

After OC I took a break! I wanted to try new things and work for new companies. I traveled for 2 months and then Tory Burch sent me an email; She was forwarded my information through a friend. She was starting an activewear line that was the launch of Tory Sport. I worked there for about a year, and working there taught me so much about being a professional, core values and culture within a corporate company. She’s an amazing business women and talented designer.

L+A: How did you transition from ready to wear into footwear?

I think back to working at Opening Ceremony, I always loved designing footwear. I felt like there was a white space in the market for a price point that is a little bit above contemporary but has the same quality and hand of Italian made shoes. I wanted to tap into the industry that way. I had the idea in 2015, started designing in 2016, and launched by August 2017.

L+A: How do you get your brand out there?

I’ve been working with a friend who is in PR –– Sale and PR are not my forte, so I have friends help me in those areas. At first I didn’t want to promote too much in social media, but as I evolved as a person and a brand, I realized how important it is to ‘feed the beast’ of social media.

I did a few tests of what people liked and wanted to see. I personally like a lot of design and furniture, and when I post something along those lines, no one ‘likes’ it [laughs]. But, when I post a selfie or anything product related, everyone likes it. But then I think ‘people aren’t really looking at who I really am when I post this chair’ [laughing].

Social media is also a great tool because it’s free and it helps you promote your product. It gets you in the hands and eyes of people that normally wouldn’t see your designs. I’ve had success in seeding product to influencers if it’s the right fit.

L+A: Where does some of your inspiration come from?

I create moodboards and color stories, then build from that. I design silhouettes that I think are missing or I want. I really wanted a zip front boot that you can wear in the snow or rain, and has waterproof elements. So I start with a key style and research colors that are inspired by mid-century artwork. I sketch my design, upload it onto illustrator, and take it to the factories in Portugal. I work on all the measurements and dimensions, in 2 months after I launch it I go to the factory to see the prototype, make corrections there if needed and they will make a second sample, then it goes to the showroom as a sample; it’s about a 4 to 5 month process, because it takes some time to actually make the shoe.

All the styles are named after my girlfriends that I’ve met throughout my time in New York.

L+A: What is the selling season for you? → What does a selling season look like for you?

I’m still a small company, so everything is made to order. I do NY market week and then my team sells it in London, Paris, and Milan; we combine all the orders and I also have my e-com site so I buy for that too.

My very first season, I showed out of my apartment. My boyfriend and I moved out all of the furniture out of the living room and we bought display boxes. It was actually really funny because one of the buyers from Barneys came by and my dog was there [laughs]. But before that I asked around if it was okay or normal to show out of your apartment. People said yes! They actually loved it because it was more personable and you really got to see the personality of the person, as opposed to being in a showroom.

L+A? How did it feel when BadGalRiri wore your shoe?!?!?

A friend of mine is the designer for the Fenty Puma Line and I had told her that I really wanted to give her these [the Dylan] pair of shoes – because basically they were made for her! One day [my friend] texted me “I have a meeting with Rihanna tomorrow, can you send me those shoes?” I packaged them in a box and I included different strains of weed. I messengered them to my friend, and her meeting was around 1 or 2 but I didn’t hear back from her till about 3 am. She said “ I gave them to her and seemed happy but didn’t really say anything”. A few hours later after the meeting, Rihanna was photographed coming out of her apartment and she was wearing the shoe!

L+A: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve had to learn as creative?

Listening to your gut –– never doing anything that’s out of character. Never get to the point where you’re not listening to yourself and what you need. If you’re feeling overworked and getting pushed into a corner into doing something you don’t want to do... take a step back; Because I ask myself “Am I really performing in a way where I can look 5-10 years from now and be happy”.

L+A: Where do you see yourself and your work in five years?

Ideally evolving into accessories, bags, or ready to wear

L+A: What advice would you give young girls that want to get into what you’re doing?

Definitely experience and work for as many people and brands that inspire and motivate your design work. Try everything, say no to nothing if you have the time and/or money available to you. Intern, volunteer, tinker, experiment, etc as much as you can so you can evolve your sensibility and personality into knowing what you like and don't like.

L+A: When’s the last time you felt vulnerable?

I think always. Putting yourself out there as a brand is definitely setting yourself up for criticism and evaluation.

L+A: What’s something you made peace with?

That anything worth your time and while causes a bit of friction in your life. And, you have to fight and work hard at everything that you want and love.

L+A: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from another woman?

Tory has always said "embrace ambition" and don't be afraid to ask for what you want and what is owed to you.

Photo Credit: Nicole Saldaña; Christelle Decastro; Tayler smith