Photo by Chloe Horseman.

Nicole Saldana's shoes channel the spirit of 90s teen movies

The former Opening Ceremony designer on starting her eponymous line of funky heels and staying true to downtown NYC style.

by Jo Rosenthal
|
17 March 2020, 7:00pm

Photo by Chloe Horseman.

Few designers embody how cool the downtown scene of Lower Manhattan was in the late 00s like Nicole Saldana. The Northern California native moved to the city in 2004 (she refers to NYC as her "north star"), where she studied fashion design and management at Parsons before becoming one of the OG designers at Opening Ceremony at its height. “It's crazy to say like that doesn’t exist [anymore], but the free spirited aspects of New York were present because of the cost of rent and the ability to get a studio,” the designer says. “Everything now is just so expensive.” In 2017, she launched her eponymous (and affordable) footwear line full of chunky, lug soles and clear vinyl slides that have now become her signature.

Nicole began experimenting with design at a young age -- watching her dad put together a toaster, she knew she wanted to learn exactly what goes into making everyday products that we love. The shoes she designs today are handmade in Portugal and built to last, with high quality leather soles. Nicole's latest collection, which rolls out online throughout March, pays homage to her playful side -- channeling the spirit of 90s teen movies and Sex and the City.

Ahead of the release of her new collection, Nicole tells i-D how she got her start in design, how she feels about the current state of fashion, and who the Nicole Saldana girl really is.

Nicole began experimenting with design at a young age and when her dad taught her how to put together a toaster, she knew she wanted to learn exactly what goes into making everyday products that we love. The shoes she designs today are handmade in Portugal and built to last, with high quality leather soles at an affordable price. Nicole's latest collection, which rolls out online throughout March, pays homage to her playful side -- it channels the spirit 90s teen movies and Sex and the City style -- with its dramatic, multicolored heels.

Ahead of the release of her new collection, Nicole tells i-D how she got her start in design, how she feels about the current state of fashion, and who the Nicole Saldana girl really is.

nicole-saldana-collection-by-chloe-horseman
Photo by Chloe Horseman.

Talk to us a little bit about how you got started…
I’ve had over 15 years of experience in design, which is really scary to think about how long it’s been. I went to school in LA for two years and at that time I was working at American Rag. After that two year program, I went to Parsons for design and management and that’s when I started working at Opening Ceremony. I worked there for about three months and then the creative director was like, “Well since you have a design degree we’d love for you to join the design team.” At that time, we only had one person designing and they wanted to build the OC collection. I was there for eight years. We built the team up to 14 people from two, and did everything from menswear to womenswear to all the collaborations -- I worked with Adidas, Repetto, Rihanna and Levi’s to name a few awesome brands.

That’s when The Strokes were like, really cool…
I know! It was sort of like the end of the Sex and the City era, and the beginning of The Strokes era, but also Gossip Girl and all those other shows that were geared towards younger people. It was really exciting because at the time we went out a lot, so there was a huge culture and community and it felt like everything was together.

Grand and Wooster Street were flooded with young people. They would be hanging out, drinking and smoking, and it was just a really cool environment… It's crazy to say like that doesn’t exist [anymore], but the free spirited aspects of New York were present because of the cost of rent and the ability to get a studio. Everything now is just so expensive. You really have to prioritize making money in order to be able to do certain things or to be included in certain things, whereas I think before people were able to have fun and relax a little and really enjoy moments.

nicole-saldana-collection-by-chloe-horseman
Photo by Chloe Horseman.

You have such a badass design background, why shoes?
Certain high end [shoe] brands have really expensive pieces, between $800 and $1200, and I wanted to offer that kind of product without the price tag. But still with the same quality. For example, the leather soles on my shoes last forever. Even though the shoes have a lightheartedness to them, I wanted to design products that you can keep forever.

Where do you get your inspiration from? I feel like it’s kind of 90s, kind of 80s...
When I’m working for other brands I start with more of a concept, a blanket idea or place. When I’m designing shoes, I think more about the end use. It really flows organically. I wanted to do this collection because I wanted to be super personable but also really weird. The main idea is that the collection should be super wearable. I don’t want things to be super super expensive.

Who is the Nicole Saldana girl?
I think she’s like a lot of people. Hopefully in the future I’ll be able to offer larger sizes and mens shoes, but right now I would definitely say that they are a person that understands design and quality and has a sense of humor and doesn’t take themselves too seriously. They want to make a statement with how they dress and clothing is used as an extension of their personality.

nicole-saldana-collection-by-chloe-horseman
Photo by Chloe Horseman.

Can you talk about the process of making your shoes?
Everything is handmade in Portugal, in the north and over there they are known for shoemaking and leather goods. A lot of factories do woodworking. Everything is done by hand, so they pattern the shoe, they cut it, they hand glue everything, they stitch it.

What do you feel about the current state of fashion?
I think the interesting thing about fashion is that it’s a direct reflection of what’s happening economically and politically. For instance, 30 years ago I don't think there was as much in the world as there is now. I think the cycle of fashion is happening much more quickly than it has ever been. Whereas, say, the lifespan of a company would be like a lifetime; maybe 50 to 60 to 80 years. Now it’s turning much more quickly.

nicole-saldana-collection-by-chloe-horseman
Photo by Chloe Horseman.

How does that affect your business?
Brands will have to focus more on boutique kinds of business, which means smaller quantities and a smaller order. Production places will just have to understand and follow that trend. With shoes it takes a lot longer to produce, so I don’t think that there is necessarily an immediate solution. If your collection doesn’t sell at 60 percent by the beginning of sale, some places ask designers to take back their stock. There’s mystery in what happens after seasons and I think a lot of brands end up burning things because there’s no solution for what to do with excess.

What’s your best advice for somebody who wants to do what you do?
I started working when I was 15 because I wanted to get out of the house and experience responsibility. I would definitely say that being financially literate is super important, and I’m figuring that out now. It’s an evolution and a process.

I moved to New York in 2004 and I didn’t really feel like I met my people until at least a year after I moved here. As you get older people will come and go, so that’s an interesting evolution too. You have to keep on building new friends and your community.

nicole-saldana-collection-by-chloe-horseman
Photo by Chloe Horseman.
nicole-saldana-collection-by-chloe-horseman
Photo by Chloe Horseman.
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