Discover more from Blackbird Spyplane
This NYC designer will draw on yr clothes and make them 300% more popping
Custom gems from Small Talk Studio
The other day at BLACKBIRD SPYPLANE HQ we received a mysterious package from Small Talk Studio, a.k.a. Nicholas Williams. Based in Brooklyn, Small Talk is one of our favorite independent designers, specializing in limited-run screenprinted tees and beautiful one-of-a-kind custom pieces featuring hand-drawn patterns & embroidery.
Nick customized the damn USPS PRIORITY MAIL box itself (side note: protect the USPS at all costs and f**k a privatizer!!) which only added to the intrigue…
Pants that Small Talk recently made for Mister Mort (featuring a *sick* NYC Department of Sanitation-themed Stealie on the left thigh)
We only had the broadest sense what was inside. Back in late April we mailed Nick a white denim jacket we’d arranged for him to customize, along with a one-page “moodboard” of suggested motifs ranging from nonspecific (“bananas,” “bird”) to super-precise (an early ‘80s Corolla Tercel our dad used to drive, a lacing diagram for our favorite Merrell boot, the M2 Superlight). We’d given Nick a wide-open mandate to take these or leave them as he saw fit and just do his thing.
Nick’s background is not as a trained apparel designer but as a printmaker & carpenter. (Peace to Nick’s grandmother for teaching him hand-embroidery.) Supermarket motifs are common in his work along with renditions of the natural world, often refracted through clippings of advertising, travel brochures and postcards he keeps on hand for inspiration.
He’s also been known to pick up interesting trash, digitize it via scanner, and print it on a tee, like the McDonald’s grape jelly packet on the purple longsleeve below right. “I have a collection of weird ephemera I keep in binders,” Nick says.
Nick received our blank jacket on May 1. He fit in work on it between his day job & other commissions, like a pair of hand-drawn pants Mister Mort ordered from him, pictured at the start of this post, not to mention way more important projects: Small Talk recently started selling prints and raffling off one-of-one tees like the stunner above left to benefit BYP100, “a national organization of Black 18-35 yr olds creating justice & freedom for all Black people.”
But last week, he emailed a tracking number. And two days later the jacket arrived. We tore it open and discovered that Nick should have labeled the package “COMBUSTIBLE”…
… because this jacket turned out pure mf-ing ⛽⛽⛽. We were stunned — Nick went berzerk. There was a surprisingly emotional component to holding a piece of clothing that someone worked on so carefully, by hand, just for you, nailing the details of weird, personally meaningful motifs… it was also cool to “upgrade” a garment we already owned rather than buy a new one… the jacket instantly became a Top 5 SPYPLANE jawn.
We called Nick and asked him how he’d approached the jacket: “I don’t map much out from the start — it comes about pretty organically,” he said. “I tend to go with something bold and large to start with, so the Merrell boot was the first thing I drew, because it helps to have something big, central and anchored, ‘cause then I can drop things in around it and see what works.”
Above, details. Below, yr boy taking the jacket out for a spin around the neighborhood and stumbling on some vital public infrastructure…
There are little pops of embroidery here and there, like the lasso-style “S” and “T” on the chest pockets and the twin suns on the left shoulder… But mostly it’s beautiful drawings from our moodboard & Nick’s inspiration library.
He sent us some process shots, capturing himself going DUMMY HARD with nothing but a reference image, UCHIDA MARVY fabric markers and his tremendous draughtsmanship game … “It’s a mix of freehand and using an inkjet printout and carbon paper to trace an outline when I really want to get super-fine details right,” Nick says.
Nick outlining the Merrell boot in his own custom-embroidered cap…
Since yr reading BLACKBIRD SPYPLANE you are a conoisseur of the finer things and would now like to order yr own Small Talk custom piece, which Nick makes extremely easy: “There’s an orders page on my site that has the different types of custom pieces I’ve done, with pricing and turnaround times,” Nick says. You can find that here. [UPDATE: Due to high demand after this post created a patented “Blackbird Spyplane bump,” Nick will be periodically closing the order page so the turnaround time for pieces doesn’t get too nutty — FYI.]
Small Talk’s pricing is way lower than it could or, real talk, should be — $110 for a high-detail hand-drawn shirt… Stan Ray pants like the ones he made for Mordechai are $245 (a.k.a. $800 less than BODE’s dope yet moolah-intensive hand-drawn cords) … and if you want to send Nick a garment you already own for him to customize, like we did, hit him and up and work something out!
There’s more non-custom Small Talk stuff on the way, too. “I’ve got some new screenprinted shirts coming,” he says, “and hopefully in the fall I’m gonna have a few small runs of cut-and-sew items I’ve been trying to get in production — we’ll see!”