Focusing on and combining, the worlds of fashion and music through her work, New York based writer/DJ/entrepreneur, Colleen Nika, recently took residency at iconic publication, Rolling Stone, where she contributes a daily column entitled, “Thread Count: exploring the synthesis of style, sound, and culture.” Nika, who has also contributed to publications including Interview Magazine, V Magazine, Style.com, Paper and BlackBook, talks the power of aesthetics, progressive side projects and what’s hot (and not) with Sex & Fashion.
Indigo Clarke: Where are you from and how did you get started?
Colleen Nika: I grew up in Westfield, New Jersey which is a tranquil and very old colonial town about 45 minutes outside New York City. I’ve always written but didn’t know I would be a journalist and DJ in my adolescence, but knew I had no choice but to do something where I was at the forefront of new and exciting cultural ideas. I studied art in college and wanted to do art direction for a while, thinking I would design album art, posters, mastermind visual concepts for videos, etceteras. But I ended up championing words and verbalised ideas over images and switched to studying English and Philosophy. Anyway, I interned at a major fashion house, and blogged for a lot of places (on both fashion and music), but I suppose my point of discovery/breakthrough moment was being picked up by Interview Magazine in 2008 to be their first ever online writer. Having just graduated, that was a pretty auspicious turn of events. From there, the rest unfurled rather quickly.
Indigo Clarke: As someone working in the fields of fashion and music, do you think sex and fashion are indelibly linked?
Colleen Nika: Sex influences every human impulse, you’re either pushing towards it or pulling away from it. A lot of the Italian fashion labels are very overt about where they stand on it – a perpetual state of lust. I don’t find that particularly interesting or revelatory; I prefer something cerebrally sexy, a brainteaser to flummox but captivate your higher faculties, like Balenciaga or Raf Simons, sometimes Prada. I find the limp wristed sexuality I see attempted on the some of the younger designers’ catwalks very sad. That’s not only the product of ill-judged design, that’s a presentation error. Get a model who can fucking command that catwalk. There’s a reason sex and fashion’s healthiest fling was in the 90s: the Supers made its implications exciting and very desirable.
Indigo Clarke: What do you think is ‘sexy’?
Colleen Nika: Strong attitudes and convictions, but a willingness to expand on them too. I don’t have a predefined notion of sexiness; I know it when I see it/feel it/touch it. Intelligence (and the rabid curiosity to keep learning), interesting music and cultural tastes and an off beam sense of humour are more or less essential though. As a female, I respect a male who can respect my own autonomy, takes quite a confident guy!
Indigo Clarke: Do you think ‘sex sells’? Is there an element of this in the way you approach your work?
Colleen Nika: Sex sells and unfortunately, I’m buying. No, I don’t think what I do sells a message pertaining to sex really. I am a pretty permissive person when it comes to engaging dialogues about intriguing topics and sex is one of them obviously. I have no qualms with it. But it’s never my focus. Sometimes I think I’m metasexual; philosophising but not doing.
Indigo Clarke: When is fashion not sexy?
Colleen Nika: When it’s clear the person whose image we’re encountering isn’t comfortable or healthy, that’s not sexy, it’s exploitation. I’m totally not down with the idea that suffering for fashion is erotic or heroic. It’s fucked up and victimising and an indication you need to seriously think about your personal value. If you’re letting the machinations of market culture make that assessment for you, your life isn’t yours. In other words, the least sexy thing in the world is trying on something or someone else’s persona for size; like a badly made dress, it never fits right and just makes you look awkward.
I have strong views on the industry’s mechanics, shepherding young girls with eating disorders off a boat and onto the runways. It’s become so sensationalised a problem that it’s developed into something of a sick running joke with some of the less sensitive people in our industry. They’re laughing because vulnerability scares people, so they try to equivocate. The context curdles on them when people die.
Indigo Clarke: What does fashion mean to you?
Colleen Nika: I have pretty specific opinions on this. For me, fashion is just one more medium I can use to enact an ideal. What I envision can evolve unexpectedly, so it’s hard for me to be defined by a signature look. As soon as I’m forced to make a final choice, it’s over. I have a proclivity for black, bruise tones, dramatic contrast, tight and minimal and attenuated silhouettes and metal hardware accents. Lately though, my eye and mind has adjusted to colour again – it makes sense to me right now. It seems more modern than black, which cuts a terrific silhouette but has little to reveal to me or about me in 2011.
Something between ‘luxe raver’ fashion, a musical type of colour blocking, and an acidic minimalism appeals at the moment. It’s another symptom of my current case of retro-futurism, which is a ludicrous but fantastically untenable ideal I romanticise – the future that never was but could be again?. Proenza Schouler, Balenciaga’s and Christopher Kane’s recent collections have probably secretly subverted my sensibilities, or maybe it’s because I’ve been watching too many K Pop videos which are unfailingly eye catching and absorbing a lot of second hand cyberpunk/trans-humanist propaganda. I’ve been brainwashed into seeing blinding prisms of light and colour! Overall, I avoid looking dainty or overtly feminine and prefer an image that evinces power, sophistication and intelligence.
Indigo Clarke: What events, projects or collaborations do you have coming up this year?
Colleen Nika: In addition to my Rolling Stone work, I still freelance write for other places as well. I have a Popjustice column coming up, which will be liberating as I get to be both witty and bracingly honest in it. I still DJ and will be doing more of that again this fall (stay tuned for some announcements).
As for collaborations and personal projects, I’m funnelling all my creative and curatorial energy into Nightvision, a new progressive music initiative I am developing that encompasses editorial, radio, and live capacities. It’s my brainchild and I’m really committed to making it a game changing platform for how we experience electronic and experimental music in the digital age. The trick is to get people off the blogs and into the concert venue to see visionary talents they are downloading and normally wouldn’t be able to witness live in New York City.
That’s in the works and people can expect to see some exciting things pop up this fall. It’s become not only a personal crusade but an inspiring collaborative project with an outreach way beyond this city. The future should be and is about unifying artists and audiences on a global level. My co-conspirators and I are weaving this modern ideal into reality together. The future is now!
Indigo Clarke: What are the biggest highlights of your career so far?
Colleen Nika: Right now, I’m hitting a new peak and I’m scared to jinx it. But I feel really on track and like this is just the beginning, not so much in terms of my own profile or whatever but in terms of what I can help make happen, which is so much more rewarding than personal notoriety. In the three years I’ve been doing this, I’ve had some unforgettable experiences to be sure. Meeting some of my childhood and contemporary idols: people like Neil Tennant, Mary Anne Hobbs, Peter Murphy, Peter Robinson, Primal Scream, Nic Endo and Alec Empire. Just getting the chance to relevantly connect to, profile and in some cases, collaborate with these people who helped make life make sense to me through their music and missions. The fact that I’m able to write about, DJ, broadcast, curate and present music culture, concurrently and harmoniously is incredible. The next step is producing original musical content of my own, which is in the works, but not for the immediate future.
Indigo Clarke: Tell us something people don’t know about you?
Colleen Nika: I got into grad school for philosophy but didn’t go, choosing instead to enter the fray of the media jungle. But I apply that level of critical thinking to what I do everyday, still. Once a favoured branch of philosophy infuses your thought process, you don’t really go back. It’s like Plato’s Cave – the light never goes out once you’ve hit that switch.
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