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Nicole McLaughlin finds fun in unlikely places
Nicole McLaughlin: In just a few years she’s established herself as a WILD “UPCYCLING” VISIONARY, pushing used-jawn deconstruction to its conceptual limits with a series of creations that can be funny… outlandish… ingenious… cheeky 😏… and borderline tWiStEd…
Based in Brooklyn, Nicole made her name on IG starting in 2017, posting reworked garments like shoes made out of IKEA bags, shorts made out of Haribo wrappers, and bras made out of Jansports (also, lemon juicers, croissants, and sanitizing-wipe dispensers…) She got so popping that she gave her graphic-design dayjob the HEAVE-HO so she could whip up these cool whimsical objets full-time, making audacious s**t for brands like Crocs (below left) and Hermès (above left) along the way...
Also?? This month Arc’teryx brought on Nicole as their first-ever “design ambassador” — among other things, she’ll lead public workshops on how to transform “one man’s trash” into “another man’s big-gas slapper.”
Nicole’s taste levels are Mach 5 at a minimum, so the other day we asked her to tell us about some rare & cherished possessions. She scanned her Bushwick studio for possibilities — and located some d*mn gems …
Blackbird Spyplane is a cool rare miracle and it’s 100% subscriber supported — smash the upgrade & enjoy life in the inner $anctum today.
🌼🌸❀✿🌷 Jonah & Erin
Blackbird Spyplane: There’s a fun back-and-forth in yr stuff between “conceptual” and “functional” — where do u see yr work falling on that spectrum?
Nicole McLaughlin: “I enjoy not defining it, like, ‘Oh it’s fashion,’ ‘Oh, it’s art’ — it’s a mix of both. I design with a concept in mind, and that’s my favorite part of the process: coming up with the idea, seeing if it will work, and then if it does, asking, ‘Can it have functionality assigned to it?’ Some pieces I could actually wear in the street, some might fall apart the second after I photograph them. And some I might just eat.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Shout out to the croissant bra. How much of the stuff you make exists only for photographs, and how much do you hold on to?
Nicole McLaughlin: “A good percentage of what I make gets taken apart so I can turn it into other stuff. My manager isn’t always stoked with me about that, because a lot of times we’ll have requests for shoots, or celebrities wanna wear something, and I’m, like, ‘Oh I took that apart.’ My manager is, like, ‘Why can’t you keep it?’ And I’m, like, ‘I needed it for something else!’ I like taking things apart and continuing their lifespan.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Are there any pieces you can’t bring yourself to disassemble?
Nicole McLaughlin: “There’s only 1 or 2 pieces where I’d be sad if I had to take them apart — like, I made a jacket out of soccer-goalie gloves (above) and it took me so long to make, like 40 hours. Usually I’m much more impatient, where I think of an idea, go on eBay or wherever to source materials, have them rush delivered, and make the piece in 2 hours. When I first started out I was hand-sewing and gluing and figuring out patterns; now that I have sewing machines and a deeper understanding of how things are constructed, it takes me way less time.
“But for the most part, I have to say, there’s no real tie for me to my work after I make it. I’m, like, ‘Okay, I’ve captured it’ — the capturing of the image is what’s permanent to me. I’ve taken a photo, I can remember it. To me it’s more about that than the physical, three-dimensional piece.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Does it work the other way around, too, where you see something fire that someone else made and you’re happy to appreciate it from afar without trying to fill the void inside u by copping it??
Nicole McLaughlin: “Yes, but I wasn’t always like that. We’re all guilty of buying things we never wear — things that sit in yr closet and you donate them with the tags still on. That’s the grossest feeling. That bums me out. So when I buy things these days I’m conscious of that, and I try to get use out of everything, even if it means turning it into a project. Everything’s fair game.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Among the things u sent over are yr new Arc’teryx I.D. badge and a Quiver slingback pack — what’s the deal w/ these?
Nicole McLaughlin: “Well I had to bring in some Arc, because they’re my favorite brand, and for me, as a freelancer, this has been the craziest moment, to have the opportunity to work with them. I like the I.D. badge ‘cause it’s like I’m on the team — not just an honorary ‘ambassador.’”
Blackbird Spyplane: Can u badge yrself into Vancouver HQ and Arc’One with this s**t??
Nicole McLaughlin: “Ha ha — it’s mostly a novelty item for me, but I think I should have access to the whole building. I hope so! But I just really like things like this, the simple idea that something that’s laminated looks ‘official.’
“And then I picked the Quiver bag because the whole reason I got into Arc in the first place is because I’m into the outdoors and climbing, and they have such an amazing history and archive. I started collecting Arc pieces when I started getting into thrifted items, and Quiver backpacks were always on my list. Finally one popped up for a good price and I got it. They’re out of production and they’re kind of rare — I think the people that know and love Arc’teryx swooped all of them off the internet. It’s from 2010, but the design has very Y2K vibes, so they kind of surged on eBay.”
Blackbird Spyplane: I’ve noticed some fire Arc’teryx chalk bags that u can get secondhand for cheap — I know yr an actual climber, but for a non-climber, what are some cool alternate purposes for a chalk bag? Could I pot a little cactus inside one ??
Nicole McLaughlin: “That’s a cute idea, a plant holder. Yeah, you can do so many things with them. I have one on my desk that I use to hold scissors and pencils. You could use it to carry snacks on a hike. It definitely doesn’t just have to be for climbers.”
Blackbird Spyplane: OK what the f**k is going on with these flip-flops?
Nicole McLaughlin: “I had a bunch of shoes I was gonna send you, but I pulled back and decided to just send the really weird ones. I’ve been collecting strange, obscure shoes for quite a while — even before I started making stuff, when I worked as a corporate graphic-designer at Reebok, I had fun getting into the archive there and learning more about footwear, and I developed this appreciation for very strange shoes. My collection’s grown, and I’ve used some things for projects and some things just as references — these Pumas are just so strange, and they’re really rare.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Did Puma actually sell these or are they a prototype?
Nicole McLaughlin: “They sold them! And even weirder, they were at, like, Payless! They look like very fancy, sought-after shoes, but they were just some core flip-flops. They work really well, but I don’t wear them because I wanna keep them in nice shape. I’ve been pushing Puma to bring them back, because I have a partnership with them, but so far they don’t seem to think they’re as cool as I do.”
Blackbird Spyplane: On the subject of weird footwear, U sent over a pic of some jumbo Crocs and Vans… Your work is all about re-contextualizing familiar things so that we see them with fresh eyes, and it’s cool how something as simple as exaggerated proportion can let us see an object differently. How’d you come across these?
Nicole McLaughlin: “It goes back to my habit of just looking at resale websites for too long. My favorite thing to look for on eBay is store-display items — things that were meant to be on a display case. I found the giant Croc while I was working on my first project with them and I’m floored by it, because it’s not a fake foam thing, it’s real EVA, like, they opened a mold for this shoe! With the Van, too, there’s an insole, it has the waffle bottom, everything from a regular Vans. And it’s heavy. I’ve been thinking about putting plants in them.
“I don’t know why I love things that are giant — to me it’s funny, it makes me laugh, and it gives me these weird nostalgic feelings that maybe connect to when you were a kid and everything was bigger than you. After people learned that I like big things, some brands started sending me giant promotional pieces they’ve made — that’s how I got this giant Jansport bag (above right) — but I had to cut that off because I just don’t have the room.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Meanwhile — u got a climbing wall built at yr studio… for free??
Nicole McLaughlin: “It’s been a dream of mine forever. My favorite IG account is @homeclimbinggyms, I’ve followed it for so long, seeing what people have built in their houses, and yeah I had a photo shoot with a budget that was not my own money and I said, ‘You know what we should do? Build a rock climbing wall.’ And they said, ‘Bet.’ I couldn’t believe it. It’s between about 10 and 12 feet, and it’s a good training wall: You can practice on it, change out the holes, it’s nice in between Zoom calls to just hop on and do some pull-ups.
“My sewing machine is right next to it, so it’s integrated into space, and when people come visit they can try to make stuff — I leave out shoe parts for people to play with — and they can climb. There’s lots of stuff in here that’s interactive.”
Blackbird Spyplane: How do you describe the appeal of climbing to someone who’s never done it?
Nicole McLaughlin: “It’s problem solving. You’re using your brain in a way that you’re so focused on the next move and being strategic that you don’t realize you’re working out. I love everything about it. I’m kind of a thrill seeker, I like heights, I like roller coasters, that kind of stuff, and I like endurance: I run, I used to play lacrosse. Ultimately climbing’s a very mental sport where you have to shut out everything else ‘cause you could easily fall off — even bouldering inside, you can get hurt, which I have!
“Another thing I like about it, and the reason I always recommend it, is every body type can be successful as a climber, no matter how tall, how short, whatever your BMI is, you can use it to your advantage. I’m 5’5” and have tiny hands that fit into tiny crevices, and my boyfriend is over 6 feet with a big wingspan and he can jump to the top easily, so he does better at some problems, I do better at others. I have friends who are heavy and can use their body weight to their advantage. It’s an inclusive sport in so many ways.”
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Every “Blackbird Spyplane Interview,” w/ such luminaries of the arts & jawn sciences as Jerry Seinfeld, André 3000, Emily Bode, Lorde, Online Ceramics, Nathan Fielder, Phoebe Bridgers, Rashida Jones, John Wilson, Ezra Koenig, Romeo Okwara and more, is here.