Story by Rachel Schwartzmann – SHOP CIENNE NY – Photos by Joanne Pio for The Style Line
There’s something exciting about the prospects
of emerging design talent. Whether mass-accepted or not, the fashion industry is experiencing a gradual shift in a return to values and in the case of our own stories, it’s been interesting to see our community’s response towards this and how they’ve chosen to interpret what it means to responsibly innovate. We’ve come to admire a designer’s thoughtful ability to incorporate these elements without compromising their product’s “cool” factor – enter CIENNE NY founded by Nicole Heim who exudes confidence and passion in both her life and style. Nicole’s dedication to creating a multifaceted lifestyle brand resonated with us, especially with regard to her commitment to fostering and celebrating the human element of the CIENNE brand. “It’s a lofty goal, but I hope CIENNE makes people feel something,” Nicole Heim shared in our interview below, “I hope we can inspire people to connect on and offline, and beyond the garment, in whatever way that means to them. When starting CIENNE, I was very inspired to strip it back, and focus on being human-centric in every area of the brand.”
Faced with an increasingly competitive landscape we oftentimes find ourselves asking if it’s possible to be creative without providing any context. The question designers face not only includes the how but the why? Nicole contends that there is thought and heart poured into every aspect of her budding business. Remaining direct-to-consumer and ensuring an exclusively intimate shopping and discovery experience (which she hopes will soon extend to a series of offline activations) remains a crucial component for CIENNE. As she put it, “I’m a big advocate of the creative process and giving things the space they need to evolve, but we also have a tight design philosophy and set of values that we live by. Everything has a reason for being.” With a commitment to craft and cultivating connection, we were thrilled to learn more about the why’s in CIENNE’s brand values and visit the space where it was first conceived (read: Nicole’s incredibly inspiring New York apartment). Read on to experience our afternoon with Nicole and have a glimpse into the world inspired by and created for girls with messy hair and thirsty hearts.
I’m a native of Southern California and grew up traveling the beaches, mountains, and islands of the west coast – so I’m hugely drawn to nature and water.
I moved to New York City almost a decade ago, and fell in love with the grittiness and creative culture here. I’ve been blessed to travel extensively, experiencing some incredibly beautiful cultures in far-flung areas of the world, and it’s left me with a profound passion for exotic adventures and the road less traveled. I’d be lost without music, books, and all things design, and I’m pretty fascinated by business. My friends and family are everything, and in addition to running and yoga, they keep me sane!
What would you say is the primary element that makes all CIENNE pieces cohesive?
Aesthetic. I’m a big advocate of the creative process and giving things the space they need to evolve, but we also have a tight design philosophy and set of values that we live by. Everything has a reason for being. Mood is extremely important to us, and fabrics inform design. We place emphasis on unique fabrics from around the world and use clean lines and interesting proportions to marry materials and create cohesiveness. We also have high standards and go to great efforts to ensure consistency across both fit and quality.
As a design entrepreneur who values and incorporates ethics what tools would you advise aspiring designers to utilize in their own endeavors?
I honestly think focusing on human behavior is the most important thing. Who are you as a designer and what do you want to say to the world? Imagine the women or customer you are designing for, what would she/he feel when they wore your pieces or experienced your brand? What problem are you solving for them with your designs?
I find most of my inspiration outside of the fashion industry, and read a lot of non-fiction books and publications like The New York Times, Fast Company, and Entrepreneur.com. I love the publishing platform Medium and find that the real stories and experiences of others are the best resources. The Business of Fashion and CFDA are both great resources that cover the fashion industry as a whole. NeueHouse requires membership, but they’re always doing amazing events around culture and creativity. Meetup has fashion related groups that cover a diverse set of topics.
Specifically related to design, I think the most important thing for aspiring designers to focus on is materials. Le Souk is an online platform that allows you to connect directly with mills and suppliers, both locally and internationally, and focuses on everything from artisan-made materials to low minimums. Nest and Piece & Co. are organizations that support artisans in developing countries.
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How has your thoughtful approach to fashion informed your personal style?
I think quality has become more important than ever to me. I’d rather invest in a piece that will last forever than something that will only make it through a season. Versatility and comfort are also key; I want pieces that I’ll throw on over and over again.
What is one idea you would like to have the opportunity to talk more about in pieces/interviews like this?
I’m hugely interested in global affairs and think it’s our responsibility in the western world to be aware of what those less fortunate may be experiencing, and positively contribute in whatever means we are able, even if that just means listening. The same goes for issues happening on our own doorstep.
What is one question you wish people asked you more often?
I wish I was asked about business more often. You see a lot of designer profiles or features that take a look into a tastemaker’s closet, but there aren’t as many stories covering the women running the business side of a creative industry. We live in a consumer society, and whether it’s fashion or food, there is the reality of making something a sustainable business. There’s a lot of struggle and thought that goes into that side of things, and I think there’s a lot of relevancy in having those discussions. Operating a business isn’t as sexy as designing one, but it’s just as important, especially in an expensive and competitive city like New York.
What do you hope CIENNE contributes to the overarching fashion community and industry?
As humans, we have an innate desire to connect and be a part of shared experiences. It’s a lofty goal, but I hope CIENNE makes people feel something. I hope we can inspire people to connect on and offline, and beyond the garment, in whatever way that means to them. When starting CIENNE, I was very inspired to strip it back and focus on being human-centric in every area of the brand. Regardless of which area of CIENNE you interact with, we aim to approach it with realness, while bringing a bit of light-hearted wit and cheekiness to the table.
“I honestly think focusing on human behavior is the most important thing. Who are you as a designer and what do you want to say to the world?”
How would you describe the CIENNE woman and community?
The CIENNE woman is an aesthetic-driven adventurer. She is confident and independent, engaged and aware. From vintage finds to investment pieces, she is natural and effortless with her own innate sense of style. She is continually curious with a desire to expose herself to new faces, places, and experiences. She is knowledge hungry, finding inspiration in history and books, music and food. She loves her favorite neighborhood restaurant as much as exploring a faraway place. She responds to the risk takers and sees value in being different. She believes that life shouldn’t be taken too seriously. She leads with an open mind, creating a lifestyle dedicated to evolving with the world around her.
The Style Line was built on the premise of discovery, exploration, and transit. With this in mind, if what is your “the style line” in your wardrobe?
Comfort and seasonality. I love embracing the seasons and adapting my style to suit them. Every day is different, so whether I’m trekking around the garment district or to and from meetings, I’m usually focused on whatever I’ll be most comfortable in. Style wise I tend to gravitate towards androgynous pieces and a more casual aesthetic, and I live for my leather jacket.
How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations and what role is CIENNE playing in this shift in thinking?
Personally, creativity has always been my preferred form of communication. I’ve always held an avid love for communicating ideas, and a fascination with the exploration of various displays and mediums in which a message can take a non-verbal form. I believe an idea or body of work should make you feel something, and take you to a completely different place in the moments in which you interact with it.
I think we’re in this interesting time where creativity has become commonplace, yet we’re seeing so much sameness, especially in a space like fashion. We’re all accessing and digesting the same content, and at a faster pace than ever before. I appreciate a perfectly styled, glossy Instagram feed as much as the next person, but I think creativity loses it’s power when it no longer requires interpretation. Beyond design being beautiful, I’ve always believed it should hold a distinct purpose and point of view, and I hold a huge appreciation for people who are taking risks with their creative pursuits.
CIENNE, as a brand and concept, is a sum of many different interconnecting parts. While what we’re doing isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, it is certainly complex in a time of simplicity and is therefore hopefully fresh in its perspective. It’s this mash-up of juxtaposing ideas – traditional vs modern, local vs international, aesthetic vs meaning, instant vs timeless – and creativity is the one connecting piece that ties it all together. Creativity is intertwined in our every effort; from how I approach business to the ways in which we communicate with the diverse cultures and countries we work with, to how we interact with our customers. And of course, there are the more tangible aspects and efforts of the brand, like our unique artisan-made textiles or local manufacturing, which are a direct response to some of the world’s bigger conversations. Those values are addressing problems that I believe need to be solved.