Finding Fashion's "It Factor" with Nicole Fischelis


Emily Lane, Bret Schnitker, Nicole Fischelis


February 8, 2022


Emily Lane 00:09 

Welcome to clothing culture, a fashion industry podcast at the intersection of technology and innovation. I'm Emily lane. 

Bret Schnitker 00:17 

I'm Bret Schnitker. We speak with experts and disruptors who are moving the industry forward 

Emily Lane 00:21 

and discuss solutions to real industry challenges. 

Bret Schnitker 00:24 

Clothing culture is brought to you by Stars Design Group, a global design and production house with more than 30 years of experience. 

Emily Lane 00:35 

Welcome back to another episode of clothing culture. Fred and I are back once again in the great city of New York City. Isn't it wonderful to be here 

Bret Schnitker 00:45 

it is. It's wonderful. I 

Emily Lane 00:46 

feel like we've had so many inspiring conversations and I have been incredibly eager and joyous about the conversation that we are going to have today. We are joined by Nico Shelley's, who is a goddess of the industry. Absolutely known for being a champion of many major designers. One of my favorites, Alexander McQueen. Well, yes. Christian Quagga. Hello Lee, Jeremy Scott. And you had a very illustrious career with Texas Avenue Ferragamo and Macy's. Oh, my goodness, Nicole, what have you not accomplished in your career? Question When do you love it? Oh my gosh. So there's so many things that we could explore in our conversation. But one of the things I like to begin with is, you know, these wonderful icons that you identified earlier in their career and help pave the way for their career to launch. Tell us a little bit about what it was you saw in these designers that you just knew would resonate with the world. 


I seen the unexpected. I think most of the people I discovered that the beginning of their career was always a big surprise and a sort of a joy, because it was a whole different approach. A whole different mood. And they were unique. And they were individually see, and they were joyful. And they were very, very strong personalities, usually in their conviction about what they were doing, not necessarily knowing where they were going, but having a lot of personality and kindness. And that's it. 

Emily Lane 02:43 

Yeah, I mean, I think that's extraordinary. You know, you spoke previously before we hopped on this conversation on the podcast about really trusting your instincts when you're meeting designers. When you're looking at that instinct, is it really about you know who that person is? Or is it about the talent or is it really this kind of holistic idea. 


Okay, so you know, it's a combination of seeing it evolve, it's never the same. You know, it can be the clothes and you don't see the designer but the clothes are so interesting and beautifully made and and have a color appeal over all new proportion. You know, I will never forget the first time I saw the clothes, for instance of cherry Miglia you want to hear that? Yeah. The I you know, I was winning Saks Fifth Avenue in the Paris buying office. Initially. I work there. That's how I started my career. And one day I will have called me and said Nicole, I must show you some seeing I said okay, come show me. She come with a suitcase. She put this suitcase on my desk, and she pulls out those amazing Chevy mu glare jacket with the shoulder the seeming the peplum, the color heavy the kurta with I was completely blown away. I had never seen anything like that. And Saks came for the collection a few weeks later and we bought the line right away exclusively, it was not even, you know, making such incredible fashion show at the time. So so it depends, but but it's a combination of seeing the personality of the designer and the clothes. Yeah, I mean, she you know, when Lagerfeld did Chloe. I used to do even the trunk show at the time for for her sex with Chloe, because Chloe owners didn't want to do anything had never heard whether time show is we're not going to send the collection with anybody and that's how I started to travel to the to the states with the cluey collection and come I mean for some of the launch of special event, etc, we slowly you know, it was very easy way to, to see the clothes being even produced when they were working on fabric on on Sketchies. Before because Saks was the number one client in you in the US. And then I met Chris jaquar, when he was doing the collection of John Pattu. And again, it was so explosive and difference and cheerful. And I said to Christian, when they said, you know, you should have your own collection, you should make your own house and the chairman of jump, I too, was told that I said that to his designer. On slate, we had a major meeting with the head of Sox. And he said to them how they have nickel fish needs to say to our designer, I know the designer, opened his own company, and we were very friendly and the word he did has never been reproduced by anybody in the world. 

Bret Schnitker 06:18 

I mean, there's all these silent faces, I 


will never forget the first show the model, the music, the way they walked the clause, it was like an experience every single show. And Montana occlude Montana was the same way. I discovered him in a little building in Lausanne T which is like in Paris used to be the the heady to where her little neighbor who didn't woke up five step five staircase in a tiny little building, and I saw I met clothes, and he had those amazing clothes. And, you know, fell in love with the style and we bought it to at the time, you know, the still we're very open to, to support and buy new designer a new 

Bret Schnitker 07:10 

collection. Yeah, it's curation of art. 


Yes. And that's that I guess that's how I looked at it. You how you know I was, that's that's how why I met Alexander McQueen. At his very beginning, I was at the first show of French designer at the time, Jamie Scott. And at the end of the show, Susie Mac has given to me, you know, the famous, iconic journalists and she said, Nicole, you and I hallways in the most unexpected places, looking at new collection, she said, Are you going to longdon? I said, Of course I'm going to learn them. i You don't learn them because and I still do because it's always the unexpected and the individualism. And she says, I want to take you somewhere. I said, Fine. Let's do it. So after her show, she took me on the outskirts of London in her taxi. And we get into this beautiful old building. And we go into a kind of a loft. Huge. And there is a young guy seated on a bench blushing, Alexander McQueen. Oh my gosh. And he showed me the first his clothes. And I saw the first show in London. You know, it was a small show that was never the the unique, extravagant, beautiful, Evan that he did. So he's over here. And I fell in love with his work and we bought it. 

Bret Schnitker 08:53 

Do you think that we're rediscovering that in fashion today? I mean, over the years, I think you know, designers had very few opportunities to be discovered because there were only so many portals you could be discovered through thankfully, they had a champion with you to bring that was the only one I must not but but you are a great example for someone that that understood. I'm probably not the first person that says this. But I believe that designers are you know, we try to compartmentalize some of these things. And we think oh artists paint with oil and they paint on canvas. Look designers or artists, they just paint in fabric. And they have these perceptions they have these focuses they have these dreams and desires like everybody and our industry has gone through this unique evolution. We went to this place where people like you discovered creative talent we celebrated that people wore it, it was wearable art. And and the key was is that they understood society around them their view on society, and then people that bought their items. Were part of that club if you will, then we will to this place where I think our business became so commoditized it's still this challenge with large volumes and fast fashion and trying to clothe the masses. And I think we at one point overall forgot about fashion as art, there was areas that it's still a celebrated, but there was this drive for the bottom line, there was this drive for volume. And I think today, we're rediscovering fashion as art again, where there's a celebration, 


but also one of the very interesting current is the influence of art into fashion agree Oh, yeah. And fashion into art base. And as you say, fashion is I mean, it's a craft. Yes, yes. 

Bret Schnitker 10:47 

And I think today, what we're seeing in one of our previous episodes, we talked about the rise the boutique brand industry, it's the fact that today, even though there's more noise than ever online, but there are these, and we've started dialoguing not nearly to the level that you have. But there's these amazing artists out there with vision and drive and desire. And there's an opportunity now for them to be seen. And I believe that consumers are starting to re recognize the fascination that fashion has, and that it is art, and that these little niche brands are starting to come up again. And I would think in your career, life is getting exciting. Again, you're starting to see the opportunity. You know, we never stopped looking, you know, as curators of art as people that have been in the industry a long time. You fall in love with the business, and it never changes. You're no matter what you're what you're doing on a daily basis, you still are in love with with this business. And are you finding today that there is this return to that passion? 


I seem so yeah, I seen there is a need for it. Oh, absolutely. I think people need to find this. This form of of excitement and dream and individualism, I think it's very important. And I'm not sure that the store will fully support those movements, because I think eventually they want to put feet, 

Bret Schnitker 12:23 

but can't both exist. I mean, when you talk about, 


you know, when I was I was at Saks for 10 years in New York from 91 to 2001. And in those years, I was very lucky to work with two brilliant people. One was Philip Miller, the chairman who made me come from Paris and move over. And he was previously the, the president of Nieman and then the chairman of Marshall Field, and I had helped him to get back the glamour of field because field had been Marshall Field had been bought by the same company, who answered so we work together. And then because Molly Bravo was there, as well as the president. And we were really a very strong team, we really work together and, and my job, there was no just, you know, being a fashion director and talking about forecasts and trend. You know, I was very involved with marketing with merchandising, with visual, and it was a very complete vision of where there still should be. And, you know, if I was in love with a collection, something new coming out, I have some instance where I would call Miss Bravo comparison, say, you know, the price is looking at so and so he just came out, it's, and she would say, leave me alone dress by it. And I was not even the buyer. But that's 

Bret Schnitker 13:55 

the confidence. You know, you're talking about instinct. And I think one of the things that I've recognized in the industry is that people like yourself, they have one finger on what the consumer is, you're very aware of the market and the consumer and the, the audience for the designer, and you have one finger on the designer and their vision. And when you have the pulse on both sides of that fence, you have the ability to go, it's right for him or her the time is right for that person to come in. And I think that that is you know, in as many years as I've been in it, I feel like it's almost a lost art. I feel like you know, you're talking about some stylists and people that you know that are up and coming that you're finding really interesting, you know, taking the reins and moving this forward. But I think the idea to be both a merchant and to have this curation from art at the same time is a very unique talent, you know, and the ability to do both. I think it allows the company like a gallery to be profitable and it allows the artist to be different numbered. 


And you know, I need it to expand into many different areas of the company like visual, the windows you put out in the window, you integrate this in your photoshoot for your marketing and etc. So I think it's, it's about a complete vision of what this retail business should be. 

Emily Lane 15:25 

It's a very experiential, you know, think about the windows and then you look at the photography and the storytelling behind that. And you know, you really you are creating this this idea of you want to have a part of that experience. You want to own a piece of that art. 


Yeah, you know, for instance, for instance, when Mr. sallow home came to New York to launch we succes champagne fragrance, the name had to be changed after a few years champagne, and they did a huge party. There was a huge one evening party in the store. And I asked some contemporary photographs to reshoot the original iconic style of Sun avant so we had the original museum pieces in the window with the photo of the design of the foot Garan photo golfer, so we did you know, the, the safari jacket, the Mondrian dress, etc. It was amazing. And when he came, he had a voice like, I will not forget, he looked at me and he went my window. 

Bret Schnitker 16:51 

When you when you look at today, I think that for the years that you've been in this industry, there's this certain developed wisdom. Do you believe that there's been a change in the industry with COVID? Or with E commerce, there's all these influences that that we're never enter or heavily accelerating? Is there more opportunity to believe for our industry than ever before? We're seeing a lot of consolidation going on? Or do you think that people have lost their way? Maybe it's a combination, I, 


you know, I like to be positive. I seen they're trying to find their way again. And I think because of the shrinking industry, they have to do that. And there is no other way because yes, the online business has grown and exploded. But you know, the whole idea of touch and feel, yeah, I cannot be plaster, right. There's something very sensual, about getting into a store and being being taken by the charm of of, of the visual presentation, and even the smell and the and the sales associate. And it's not like looking at something online. And although being 

Bret Schnitker 18:07 

one of the challenges that we face, 


I think it needs to be you know, special event and things like that as well. 

Bret Schnitker 18:15 

I think you know, experiential retail is is becoming more and more of a buzzword. People are talking about that. But it's actually kind of a return to the roots. Because retail at one point was always experiential. Again, from the scent when you walked in the door, yeah, great customer service to the curated windows, all of that went away for a while. And now they're kind of saying it's new concept. And the way numbered where it's a big circle 


in between you had you know, all those amazing concepts, though. You came out, you know, yeah. Sharp. 

Bret Schnitker 18:45 

Yeah. And so I think, you know, as we as we start to rediscover, we talk about, you know, this tactile essence of clothing, and people are like, well, brick and mortar is gone. And I'm like, I'm even challenged with it. You know, one of the acquisitions we made this year in SPIRE, which is an online platform developing, you know, collections with influencers. I still struggle with that. Because I'm, like, you know, visually, we can create beautiful ideas. But how do we 

Emily Lane 19:10 

run that experience? Yeah, 

Bret Schnitker 19:13 

totally. Yeah, it is this, we are on a business love to pick up a piece of fabric and go that you pick up. Yeah, right. But yeah, you know, there is that essence. And so yeah, I don't believe brick and mortar will ever go away in this business. It's just going to evolve and maybe evolve in a big circle. You know, people have to rediscover that experience. And the Romans 

Emily Lane 19:37 

trying to Yeah, I love how it is this kind of free time, you know, because there are these different moods and ideas that you're talking about color and romanticism, you know, so it really gives you a chance to dress to the moment dress how you're feeling, and and celebrate fresh and in a different way. You know, we've spent a little time talking about designers have had the factor but it's really clear to be Nicole that you yourself are someone that has the it factor. When did you know that fashion was your calling? 


Oh, you know, I was raised with parents that were my father was a failure. So I was my model to go well, the business it's now my nephew and my nephew. Yes, sir generation so I was raised seeing him working on the canvas on the on the curd on the sewing with a worker in the utterly it's at the heart. But I was taken every weekend, we used to go to Museum and, and, and I learned a lot about art and culture, my father love the history and architecture. And I was I was a good student, but very young. I decided I didn't want to study anymore. I was a real free spirit. And I told my parents I said I want to work. I don't want to study anymore. And 

Emily Lane 21:12 

and where they were they 


they supported me and I was introduced to this buying office in Paris and the guy who the man who runs the buying of he said to my father's friend who introduced me, what are we going to do with this kid this kid was wearing you know, very bright show miniskirt, etc. I used to go to London for one day just to buy by train come back. And, and I learned I was lucky because in those years the buyer of the office was also presenting store like whole trend for in Canada and Neiman Marcus. So I worked with all those famous buyers who were themselves customer in a way, and who knew everything about couture and workmanship and they would take me around and show me the construction of the clothes, I would go in the couture utterly and I grew up like that. And I would I would haunt every single fashion neighborhood in Paris. And I would cover all the trade fair show and I was just passionate. 

Bret Schnitker 22:38 

We talk we talk. And I grew up, you know, I 


grew up the ladder. I mean, I work with many store. And then I was responsible just for Saks. And in fact Neiman and bermed have got tired of seeing the coefficient is finding all the best collection and giving them exclusive. Through sucks they open their own fashion of their own by the truth. And then one day, you know, I became responsible to for you her for sucks. And then one day Phil Miller said to me, you know there is a VP fashion director position if you in New York open if you want, it's yours. Yeah, he was on his way back to New York. He was in his car in front of the leads. I looked at him and I said why not? And that was it. 

Emily Lane 23:33 

That's your adventurous spirit? Yeah. 


But I was lucky. 

Bret Schnitker 23:38 

Yeah, I think well, I don't know if I think you're passionate. You are driven. Totally. Yeah. You know, Caroline on another podcast talks about the supportive mentors and that you've mentored her through that. And I reminder that we all had mentors. We all had people when we were at a stage in life that helped us get where we 


are, you know, I've been speaking to a lot of young rising designers for my go here because it's about giving also, you know, you, you, you, it's one of the joy to see somebody grow and be go to the next level. Yeah. I was lucky to have that experience. 

Bret Schnitker 24:16 

And they need people to guide them. They need that help. But you've, you've understood over so many designers, what made a designer work, what what collapse to designer, we've heard those stories, people that would light up like a fire and go away. And I think having that pulse on that whole thing for the next generation of designers that continual generations of designers that keep coming out. 

Mentorship is really important and I'm congratulations. I feel like I I feel like in any way I can. I do the same thing. It's like luck. 


We don't know that we are doing it. No, because we are into communication and The which makes it even stronger. Because we are not like teaching or anything. We're just expressing our feeling and our point of view, but not in a tutorial way. 

Bret Schnitker 25:13 

But it's an informed point of view. We've made mistakes. We are human beings, we make mistakes. And we do things that right. Yeah. And if you do enough of those over a couple of years, you develop wisdom. And you can say, I've done it. Yeah, I thought it would work, but it doesn't, you know, and I think that's fascinating today. I think that's the way it should be. 

Emily Lane 25:32 

Well, it has been wonderful to hear some of the insights into your your history. Before we close this conversation. I would love to ask you to share AP, a little wisdom for somebody who is an aspiring designer who is really interested in maybe catching the eyes of someone like yourself, what thoughts do you have to share? You mean the advice? Yes, you're your mentor. You have great. You have great, I 


would say follow your instinct. Absolutely. And be humble. 

Emily Lane 26:09 

I think that's great advice. Yeah. Well, thank you, Nico, for joining us today. It really is a dream to have you here. 


Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it. And 

Bret Schnitker 26:22 

we hope to have many more conversations. 

Emily Lane 26:24 

Yeah, hopefully, we're messy. pleasee don't forget to subscribe to clothing culture, the podcast to stay apprised of new episodes. 

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Finding Fashion's "It Factor" with Nicole Fischelis