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Fashion Star Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

Nikki Poulos

This is an interview with Nikki Poulos on April 12, 2012 about the show Fashion Star.

Question:
Do you feel that during the designer portion of the episode that you get enough feedback from the mentors in order to create a really good runway?

Nikki Poulos:
I think that we do. I think the setup of the show is we start our designs before we actually meet with the mentors, and they sort of come in about halfway through the process. The feedback that they give us is very good. I will say though, I am pretty much, of all the contestants, I will say I'm pretty much the most focused on what my line is about, where my brand is going, the direction it's headed in. And maybe for me I might take less of the mentor feedback because I'm so certain about what I'm doing, I don't' want to sound arrogant. But the mentor feedback is really great, but for me, I always very clear about what I wanted to do. I don't know if they show the footage or whatever, but you'll see that sometimes they'll tell me to say something's a good idea and I will definitely say, ???I'm not sure about that. I think this is what I'd like to do.???

Question:
What, if anything, would you have done differently from the beginning to this point?

Nikki Poulos:
In retrospect maybe I might have thought about doing a capsule collection from start to finish, like building on that each week to create a capsule as we were going along. But, the way I design is not really like that. I mean, I just kind of was really on the show. Obviously as an independent, I wanted the platform to be able to show what I could do and obviously to reach a broader audience with my brand.

So for me my design process is very much like, I've got to find fabric. When I find the right fabric then I really know what to do with it, and the challenges were a little bit, for me, like when they asked us to do one challenge, and I'm like, ???Okay, I can do this challenge,??? but I don't just like sort of turn it on. I need to mull things over a little bit. And I probably, in retrospect, maybe I should have gone in there with a whole series of sketches and a huge collection done, and then each week kind of done that collection.

I don't know if that would have been better or not? Maybe. I know some of the other designers sort of had that in mind, but I'm a little bit more organic in my process, so maybe I could have done that, maybe not. I don't know that I could work like that, but that would be the only thing maybe that I could have done differently.

Question:
What's next for you?

Nikki Poulos:
Global domination. No, I mean look, I did actually really listen to what the mentors and the buyers told me, particularly the buyers. Mostly for the last three years have pretty much resortwear, swimwear, sort of easy glamour/casual for the beach to dinner where I do a lot of maxi dresses and things like that; very, you know bright, lots of color, lots of fringe. And so, I did take what the buyers told me to heart.

I've done my very first fall collection, which I showed at Charleston Fashion Week a few weeks ago. I've done like pants, I've done like knee-length dresses. I'm sort of going for more like an office to cocktails look, rather than a beach to dinner, so that's sort of what's next for me immediately. But yeah, eventually I'd like to develop my brand into, you know it's a real print-type brand, I'd like to really use that leverage to do print face design across the board, be it women's, men's, homewares. I really see that the brand has a large scope, so for me it's one step at a time. I guess one step at a time will equal a marathon at the end of the day, so I really want to try to take over the world.

Question:
Barbara said this week that you're quite difficult to work with. Do you think that's fair?

Nikki Poulos:
I always say, I'm very upfront and honest. I call a spade a spade. There's not BS involved with me. I think that's a cultural thing too. I mean, being Australian, we are very upfront. We say what we thing. We don't dance around the truth. And to some people that do dance around the truth I could be a little upfront and maybe a little bit too assertive for them.

I do say that, and I have to own my personality and I have to own my design strategy in the way I work. I know what I want and I know how to get it. But in saying that, I do work well in a team. I think that it's important to remember that it's a TV show. There's a lot of editing that goes on there. Barbara and I actually worked really well together. I think what people didn't really get to see was that Barbara is very much the Chicago sort of kind of very nuts-and-bolts ballsy tough woman, and a lot of what she says is said with humor. And if it's just edited in the way that maybe it was edited it comes across that she's a little more aggressive than she actually is.

And I think some of the editing makes me come across as a little more assertive. I am very assertive. But I also have to say, I never say anything with ill will or malice, and I think for some people my upfrontness and my honestly can be a little bit confronting for them. But no, I mean it's TV. It's reality TV, I will say, and it's all fair game.

Question:
We've seen you in the show sort of branching out from your comfort zone and from the beachwear, and doing something a bit different and being successful at that whereas maybe some of the others are startled a little bit. How did you do that do you think?

Nikki Poulos:
Well, I think there's a couple of things there. One, I always stay really true to myself because if I don't believe in my product no one else is going to. But, I grew up on a huge cattle farm, 54,000 acres in the middle of the Australian Outback. I read a lot as a kid, and I always imagined a life elsewhere. I imagined a life in Paris. I imagined a life in New York. As a 43-year old woman, who lived in a beachside suburb in Florida, I still imagine a life outside my own.

And so, I think we're tasked with these different challenges, but I am constantly restrategizing my business and my ideas about how I want my business to grow. So it's not that difficult for me to imagine, what would I wear if I worked in an office, if I had a conventional corporate job? What would I want to wear when I go to a cocktail party, even though I don't go to that many and I'd probably just wear a maxi dress with flats if I do.

But if I did, if I was in another environment, what would I wear? What are these pieces? What are the pieces that I really would love to have the opportunity to wear? And that's how I do it. I mean for me, like I say, and I'd say it a million time, I'm so organic in my process and I really do have to believe in the product and I'd have to feel good. I fit everything to myself, you know and if it feels good and fits me and makes me look and feel good it's going to make every other woman feel good too, and that's the point.

Question:
Can you tell us what it feels like when you're standing on that stage and you're getting offers or having a bidding war?

Nikki Poulos:
It feels pretty damn good. I am going to say that. It really validates your hard work and when you asked me about Barbara, you know when there's some things that come across that maybe don't portray you in quite the pretty, happy, bubbly light that you might envisage for yourself, this is the point where you say, ???You know what, I am writing what I'm doing. That's where I forging ahead.??? And no matter what happens it's the clothes at the end of the day. And I will tell you, Catriona, I mean my clothes have sold out within minutes, and a secondary to standing on that stage and having that light. I mean, there's happiness, there's relief, and there's a real gratefulness that people have recognized what you've done and they believe in you, and that's so encouraging. But to also now have the pieces selling out everything I've done on the show that sold has sold out. So, that to me really validates me as a designer.

I know that my designs are very easy to look at. It's that easy feeling. It's easy glamour. I'm not a couture designer and I never claimed to be. The show is not about that. It's about a commercial designer. It's about reaching the everyday people. And when my designs sell out really quickly it reassures me that I'm on the right track, and that feels really good. That's really encouraging. I mean, it's phenomenal. It's really, really amazing.

Question:
You seemed really opposed to the idea of having a story behind some of your designs this week. Can you talk a little bit about why that was?

Nikki Poulos:
Well, I've said a couple of times on the show, on the stage with Oscar, the very first week, I said, ???You know you can talk Oscar, my designs, I've shown them, they speak for themselves. I guess I am a little bit more low key. I'm a little more subtle in my approach. I believe very firmly, and you know you make a great design it's going to stand on its own. I don't believe it's necessary to create some story around it to sell it. Yes, I understand that that's part of commercialism, and that definitely helps, but I guess I'm just kind of like, ???You know what, I make a great piece. It resonates with you or it doesn't.??? I hope that it does, but all the frou-frou and fan fare isn't going to make you love it and buy it.

Question:
Is there another designer on the show who you think is really especially talented?

Nikki Poulos:
I think there's a couple of people on the show who really standout to me. I think there are various reasons. Obviously, I think Kara without a doubt has a very interesting and great eye. She's very, very talented and that's very obvious to many people. I also think Sarah is very talented. Even though she's such a newcomer to design and has had no formal training, I think she's got a really nice eye. I think with time she will develop her skills and I think she's a designer to look out for.

Question:
Since you're so driven and determined, how tough has it been to be yourself as a designer, but also believe in other people's ideas as well?

Nikki Poulos:
Yes I am driven, I agree with you, and I don't think it's hard to believe in anyone else's ideas. I think for me not just as a designer, but as a person, you know I believe very firmly in supporting people around me. I believe very firmly in supporting my colleagues and sharing information. I don't think that it's hard to believe in other people. I believe very firmly that I have a very good eye and I think that eye is not just for my own design, I think that I have a good eye in being able to recognize somebody else who is a good designer and I say give credit where credit's due.

It is a competition, but during the course of the competition, you know actually I gave some fabric to somebody and their design got bought with that fabric. Now, do I care about that? No, because what they do is entirely different from what I do. And I think that what happens is you can give us all the identical piece of fabric and ask us all to create something and it's going to be different, and that's what you're supposed to revel in. That's the whole process where you revel in other people's skills and talents, so it's not just you doing the success of your own. That's what makes you stronger, and I think a group is always strong together like that.

Question:
Can you talk about how the buys have helped your confidence as a designer, as compared to before the show?

Nikki Poulos:
I can actually. I'll have to tell you. They asked me on the show what was one of the things that I took away from this show, and I'll tell you. For three years I've made dresses. I've made swimwear and I've made dresses and blah, blah, blah, but I'd go to parties and people would say to me, ???What do you do,??? and I'd say, ???Oh I make clothing,??? and they tell you, ???What do you make,??? and I say, ???Oh, I manufacturer dresses. I make dresses.???

But after having done the show, I feel a little bit hesitant to say it, but I believe it, you know I'm a designer. That's what I do. The show and the buyers' confidence in me really made me feel like I can say I'm a designer now and not just I make clothes. But, I will tell you, I mean Caprice from Macy's was very supportive of me and when she made the first buy with me she said, ???I'm giving you this money as encouragement to what we see as your potential.???

And through the show all the buyers have really made me recognize that I'm, without sound egotistical, I actually have a very nice gift for prints, choosing prints and color, and putting it together and it's always something that I love to do. But, having hearing those buyers week after week after week has been incredible for my self-confidence. It's been amazing. It's like, ???Wow, other people get what I'm doing and they like it.??? That's amazing. Really fantastic. So yeah, I feel more confident about my uses of prints and color, like really to be brave and just go for it.

Question:
When you're in the design studio and you're given a challenge, whether it was the high or low or it was must have summer items, were you thinking, ???How am I going to push myself as Nikki,??? or were you thinking, ???I'm going to make this, looking forward to make a bid on?

Nikki Poulos:
I wasn't designing for the retailers. You are in a sense because you definitely want your clothes to be bought that evening because A, you want them to be I the stores and B, you want to go on to the next round. You don't want to go home. But I think, you know it was the reason why I went on the show was obviously to have a platform to show what I could do, but the lure of the show was that we'd be able to push ourselves as designers to do new things. We had pattern makers to help us, we had sewing people to help, as well as we were very skilled.

So for me, it was really about being able to push myself and see what I could do that was new. How could I expand on what I already do, because who wants to stay in the same place? I really want to expand. I want to grow my brand. And I felt like every week I tried to push myself in each situation, definitely the first two weeks I did the things that I knew because I thought, ???You know what, if I can spend some time, at least I'd be able to show what I currently do.??? That was kind of like a bit of a safe strategy, I guess, I played in the first two weeks. But then after then I've sort of tried to push myself every week.

Question:
I know that you mentioned that Caprice was a huge sort of influence for you during the show. I'm just curious, which one of the mentors offered you like the best advice and were very supportive of your design?

Nikki Poulos:
Probably John Varvatos offered me the best advice, and I don't necessarily think that it was on a design level. Really, it was on a personal level. I guess in the second week of the show I was really quite struggling about my grand identity or struggling with my grand identity. I use such bold prints and really full on strong colors, people often see my work and refer to me as being bold, which is very, very flattering.

But, as an independent newcomer designer I really need to work out how to create a signature style and brand that's distinguishable as mine, as a Nikki Poulos brand, not a derivative of somebody else. And I remember in the second week I actually had a very nice heart to heart with John Varvatos about my feelings about that, about that moment when I really realized that this was my opportunity to kind of carve out my own niche, my own brand, and how to get beyond that, you know and can to try to work out how to stretch myself further than that. So I would say John Varvatos, particularly with regards to developing my brand itself. And that's what the show is about, really trying to stretch myself and my brand.

Question:
Have any of the other contestants inspired you?

Nikki Poulos:
In showing a design label, I have to say, because I think we all had such different design aesthetics. But, I will say I've met some very nice friends, having done the show, that have taught me just some lovely things about friendship. That's what I'll say to you, and that's been really very, very nice.

Question:
In spots that we've seen from the design studio, we've kind of seen some of the friendships that have blossomed, like Orly and Sarah, and Luciana and Ronnie. And I'm just curious, a lot of the spotlight hasn't been given to you in that area. Did you also manage to network with a bunch of the other designers?

Nikki Poulos:
Yes. I will actually tell you that Sarah and I are very good friends. We speak daily, but we are very good friends. I've been to visit her in Atlanta and our trips to New York we often do them together. And Kara and I are very friendly. We have a very similar, I'd say, intellect and sense of humor and dry sense of humor, and naughty sense of humor, and so Kara and I have definitely become good friends. So that said, they're the two people from the show that I am closest to, and that I am in contact with and have built very lovely, rich, rewarding friendships with.

Question:
What do you want your legacy as a designer to be? How do you want to be remembered?

Nikki Poulos:
I'd like to think that I'd bring color influence. I never really thought about leaving a legacy. I'm just starting. It's probably a little early for that. To be honest I feel like if I could do anything it's to inspire people to just do whatever they want to do, you know? Life is too short. You need to just get out there and do things.

My biggest thing is be honest, be upfront, be open, and don't take no for an answer. Often in the show it was kind of interesting and we've had a lot of questions about stretching myself as a designer during the show, and even with a lot of the things I wanted to do on the show the pattern makers would say, ???Oh no, that's impossible.??? And I must have said a million times, ???Please don't tell me that's impossible.??? Everything is possible. There's a solution for every challenge and every problem.

Question:
If women had to have three things in their wardrobe or in their closet what should it be?

Nikki Poulos:
In my wardrobe it's always like a really long glamorous, easy flowing maxi dress. I will say seamless panties, and classic straight statement jewelry.

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