Small Talk Studio
Thanks so much for making some time to chat with us Nick! Tell us a little bit about yourself? Where are you from and what led you to start Small Talk Studio?
I'm from Nashville- that's where I grew up, but I was in California for about 10 years before moving to NY in 2019. I started Small Talk in 2017 when I was living in Oakland after visiting my grandparents in Las Vegas. My grandma had just taught me a couple of basic hand embroidery stitches and I started making some shirts for friends and family while I was learning what I wanted to do. I think after several years of trying to hone in on an artistic practice that felt like something I could explore and grow with and feeling a little bit lonely and lost in that process, working on clothing gave me some breathing room. I could feel right from the start that it was a practice that invited conversation and could be a vehicle for collaboration and extending beyond the boundaries of the art world.
We learned that you recently left San Francisco and moved to New York! What inspired the big move? How do these two very different cities/coasts inspire your creative process?
Yeah I drove out to NY from Oakland in July/August 2019, but I still feel very connected to the Bay Area because so many of my good friends are there. I think Oakland/SF were the perfect places to begin the practice I'm continuing now in NY because there is a very tight knit community of artists there, and it happens to be very welcoming and nurturing as well as unconcerned about traditional artistic boundaries. There is a really genuine DIY spirit that runs through that community and that allowed me to feel like I could dive into this practice of making clothing without the education or experience that I might have otherwise felt would be necessary. The primary reason I moved to NY is because my girlfriend Hannah had moved out here a year earlier to go to grad school and continue writing and teaching. I visited her a few times in the year we were apart and felt really good about moving here. It felt lucky that New York is where she ended up moving because I really felt like there was almost nowhere else that I would have left Oakland for. New York has been the perfect place to take this practice more seriously and turn it into a full time operation. That feels like a totally natural thing to do here- there are so many people who are also making clothing or art here and supporting themselves that way, and everything you need to elevate your practice is right here, a quick train ride or bike ride away. It feels like well-trodden territory to praise the art & fashion industry here and everything that makes it such fertile ground for creating, but its so real! I remember talking to a friend as I was getting ready to leave Oakland, and she was like, "All you've gotta do is start wearing the clothes you make around, get a few more people wearing them, and the rest will fall into place." That sounded like such a simple sentiment to me at the time, but it really speaks to how clothing functions in the public eye here and I love that spirit in the city so much. It turned out a little differently for me as a lot of people were seeing my clothes for the first time online in the past year, but I know some pieces I made are out there in the world because I'm getting messages from friends telling me they saw some pants or a shirt or jacket. Getting sneaky candid shots of Small Talk pieces out in the wild and proud selfies as well haha and I love them all!
A lot of your work includes playful nostalgic references; Where one individual might see fragmented drawings...someone else might see a greater more thoughtful image in its entirety. Do you have a general direction in mind before you get started or do you allow the work to take shape as the process develops?
That's such a great question...I would say by and large I let it take shape as the process develops. The research for source material (mining public domain image archives, old books and magazines, and taking my own pictures) is a big part of the process, and I've always been drawn to art that throws a lot of seemingly disparate things together and asks the viewer to make their own sense of it. Another big part of the process is maintaining that disparate, collage-like aesthetic concept and incorporating specific imagery or ideas that people send me to personalize a custom piece they are getting from me. I think it is so fun to smash together a collection of imagery that is specifically meaningful to a single person with my own world of imagery and find some sort of balance in that combination. I also really love how people view my work and then curate a selection of images or ideas that sort of fit within the loose aesthetic I have created. I've noticed how over time, the more work that I put out there, the better the ideas that people send me get, and it feels like there is a long term conversation going on there.
Drawing seems to be what you are best known for, but we've learned you have other creative mediums! Can you expand on this a bit? We've seen some of your work in embroidery, furniture design, and textiles, we’re curious to see how your work translates across different canvases! What other skills or crafts would you like to explore?
Yeah! I definitely see the long term arc of Small Talk being a very multidisciplinary art and design studio. I have a background in printmaking, drawing and carpentry, and I think especially the layered process of printmaking with all of its different methods and mediums has really informed how I conceptualize everything I'm making. And even though clothing is very much the focus of what we're making right now, and I hope it always is at the center of the practice, I am really interested in collaborating with furniture designers, interior designers, people making objects for the home, etc. I want to design uniforms for a restaurant or upholstery fabric for a line of chairs/couches, or lampshades-- I could go on and on. So thank you for teeing up a call for cool future projects for us:) Get at me if you've got something like that for us to consider!
One of the frustrations of being a creative (or being interviewed) is: a constant demand to self-conceptualize or compare yourself to your contemporaries. While a DIY approach and aesthetic is not something new or groundbreaking, it has become increasingly popular in the apparel/fashion space. Does this increase in demand/attention create any added pressure to scale or set yourself apart?
I've been thinking about that a lot lately. I've never been a very competitive person, but I do now feel the need to keep this momentum going. I feel incredibly grateful for and also now very protective over the opportunity to do this full time, so I think about setting Small Talk apart and staying relevant mostly in the context of being able to continue supporting myself this way. I hope my own instincts and artistic restlessness will keep things interesting beyond the current set of trends. I love the challenge of showing people that what they are drawn to in what we're doing right now can exist in so many different forms.
You've gotten some pretty impressive co-signs from some recognizable players in the fashion world. What goes into the decision making process when a proposal crosses your desk? How does your process change from a client proposed project to a Small Talk Studio project? Is there a different set of glasses you put on so-to-speak when you take on a client's work? How does that approach change when you're working on your own personal projects?
I think one of the best parts about mostly making 1/1 custom pieces for people is that by and large, the process remains the same regardless of who I am making clothes for. That being said, making pieces for someone who is a public persona and whose taste and interests and style are part of the public dialogue also allows me to add another layer of interpretation into the process. I get to take our personal conversation about what they want and combine it with what I know (or what I learn through research) about that person's style. I love getting to interpret someone's style when I'm making custom pieces for them, and it honestly just makes me wish I had that element for every person I'm working with. Maybe someday we'll have a space and do in person consultations with people who are interested in getting custom pieces made ;)
Maintaining momentum has to be one of the more exciting yet daunting challenges for a talented individual such as yourself. Is there anything that keeps you stoked and enthusiastic about work? What are your future plans for Small Talk Studio? Anything you can share with us?
Yeah! I think what keeps me stoked is just reminding myself on each project that no matter how much pressure I'm feeling to keep things moving and increase the pace of production, what people want is for me to trip out on the details of their piece and that's exactly what I love to do- just get lost in the process of making each piece the best I can.
As far as future plans, it'll definitely be a combination of responding to what people want to see more of and taking advantage of the freedom to follow my interests. So like I mentioned before, I really want to expand the scope of what Small Talk is capable of making, and that to me means both an expansion of what kinds of clothing we are making and also using the same design sensibility to work with people who are working in adjacent fields- furniture, interior design, graphic design, etc.
But in the more immediate future, we've got some really exciting cut and sew pieces in the works! I've been saying that in every interview I've given in the last like 9 months lol, but this time they are truly almost ready. Basically I've spent the last year working with someone in the garment district here in NY developing a pattern for pants, a couple of button down shirts, and a jacket. So this next round of customs is the last time we will just be using Stan Ray or Carhartt pants and different random dress shirts etc. Going forward, we will have some in-house options for people to choose from, and there will be a custom fit and style to everything. All of the silhouettes are based on vintage garments, and they are a pretty close match to pieces we've worked on before. The idea is mostly just to provide some consistency and elevate the pieces a little bit without diverging that much from what we know people like. I've been wearing all of the samples we've made and worked on a few of them, I couldn't be happier with the way they've turned out. They're beautiful and I feel like it has been worth the wait!