Nicola, on the right, with Mugler muse, Rico. Photo by Mariano Vivanco.
Were your parents underwriting this perpetual party of yours, or were you working?
I was working. My first proper job wasn’t until I started at the Pineal Eye when I was 22, but before then I worked at Vivienne Westwood on the weekends.
That’s great! From there you went to Dazed & Confused, right? Was it there that you found out that being a stylist is a real job?
No way. Fuck. I hate the term “stylist.” I really, really hate it. I always refuse to be called a stylist, but then people say, “But you are a stylist!” and I say, “No, I’m not.” You know, that sort of witty repartee you get every day in the fashion world. I don’t just put clothes on people—I don’t even care about clothes, really. I’ve always seen myself as an art director—someone whose job it is to create moods, oversee an overall image. With the best styling in the world, a shit image is still shit. I love being in control of the whole thing—the design, the styling, the photography, and then getting it into a magazine and the marketing and trend forecasting. I love everything about fashion, so when I get labeled as a stylist—one tiny part of that world—it really pisses me off.
Noted! Did you abandon studying architecture because the field didn’t offer you this type of overarching control? Or was that direction kind of just a youthful ambition or even a simple, if harmless, lie?
No, not a lie, I’ve always loved architecture. I’ve always been into fashion, too, though just as a fan at the start—reading The Face is what made me want to come to London. You read that as a kid too, no?
Yeah. It was the only magazine I could find at my local newsstand that explained what the most exciting people were doing in the most interesting places in the world.
Yeah, it was a bible. I was thinking about that the other day. What are the kids doing now? The internet makes it so easy to get all the information you need and want. Without it we would never have found Rico, for example.
You don’t really know what you’re looking for as a kid, except that you want whatever you find to transport you into a world that’s vastly different from the one you’re living in.
You want to feel like you’re part of something, too, as though you’re part of a gang—even if you haven’t met anyone else in it yet. That’s what great magazines do. The kids now have so much more information at their disposal than they did in my day. They know old music, new music, who all the interesting designers are—if it’s happening, they know about it. Like everyone else, I think it’s great. But at the same time, when things become so easy they lose their value a little bit.
It’s nice to have everything so immediately accessible, but there’s definitely something to be said for the rewards of tracking down something that’s hard to find.
Yeah. It’s the same thing for sex and relationships too.
How so with sex?
The ability to watch porn straightaway means that the times when you have actual physical intimacy with someone else aren’t so special. You just think, “I could have just done this on my own and I wouldn’t have had to shower or spend all that money on drinks,” you know? It ends up just being easier. The world is changing and it’s an exciting time to be experimenting with sex, fashion, and music.
In what ways are you doing this with Mugler, in particular?
That was what I was trying to put across in the Mugler video I made: Everything is so available and disposable that it’s about adding value to the things that you do. Making them three-dimensional. The clothes, Gaga’s music—it’s all about making the very best stuff available to everyone. I’m not and never have been an elitist. I want everyone to get together, collaborate, and embrace what’s going on in the world, but I don’t want them to get bored with it. It’s another one of those fine lines.
I think that’s something that comes through in your work.
This isn’t work for me, it’s fun. It’s never felt like work.
When you started doing magazine work did you have to give up anything else?
When I started working with shops and magazines, I felt like it was my destiny. I never had proper training or assisted anyone. I completely learned from my own mistakes. I got sacked from jobs. I didn’t know how to deal with clients. I had too much passion. There was always too much of myself in something and not enough of the client.
Were there ever any major repercussions or burned bridges?
I was doing a show for a big Italian house when I was a kid, and they fired me straight after because what I had done was no longer their vision—it had become mine. I treated it like the Nicola Show, but I guess that’s what young people do: ignore other people’s philosophies. Everyone thinks I’ve done great, but it was always a struggle. I have more experience now that I’ve come out the other side, but I still get bored with things too quickly and want to move on to whatever’s newest.
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