Writer Colleen Nika on Cyberpunk Style, Warzone Shopping, and Why Culture Needs Disruption

colleen

Colleen Nika was Rolling Stone’s first style editor, and she’s known for running the fashion-music intersection column Thread Count, but she’s now a contributing editor at Refinery29.

Nika is best described as a champion of the underdog. She’s a creature of formed opinions, but she’s also a study in chaos theory. She tirelessly hopscotches from Copenhagen Fashion Week to Milan, sifting through the present, the past, the zeitgeist, and the lesser known subcultures. She scribes about fashion, music, technology and their dynamic interplay. I met her once at a Lanvin fashion show. She’s a beautiful, knowledgeable arbiter of culture who knows how to wear architectural vinyl. Her social media presence was intimidating to me. But after separating the myth from reality, I realize she’s just a very nice person who’s into cool stuff.

For eighteen months, Nika checked out and stopped reading other people’s feeds. “My intuition was screaming out for me to pull the trigger.” She needed the time to envision her storytelling project that spent two years in the incubator. “People might think I’ve fallen off the face of the earth, but I’ve just been in the lab.” The occasional DJ can’t reveal what it is, but says it will be “future-based literature, music, tech, and disruptive art, with a timeless story at its core.” It’s coming late this year or early 2015. Here, she talks about scoring high-priced fashion at massive discounts, why culture needs disruption and being genuinely excited about what she loves.

So what do you see as your job?
Hmm, maybe “digital seeker?” My focus is disruptive and exploratory, bringing attention to new and exciting people and ideas that might otherwise be bypassed for something clickier. I’m kind of a cheerleader for underdogs, and I love that role because the media is so geared towards snark and I’m the opposite of that. But I started in this industry really young, when I was barely out of school — and I’ve changed a lot since 2009.

Interesting you mention being “the opposite” of snark. Your tone is what I might call “present,” was there a time when you felt, “okay, I’ve found my voice now”?
I think, like all parts of me, it’s always evolving. I’m still young and experimenting. All I can do is be the most honest version of myself at any given moment. What I write for publications is one thing, but there’s nothing like making your own statement within your own art. That’s why this project is so important and timely to me. I like that you said “present,” though. I think I’m a balance of primal and intuitive. And I’m not jaded at all. I’m always on the brink of elation over things I truly love.

What are you really obsessed with?
My obsessions change frequently but always are reflected in my work, especially now. Some things that never change: I love unearthly electronic music, health food, Scandinavia, horror films, cyberpunk, and pretty much all forms of nature. A recent obsession is wearing color again and everything marble — I am even marbling my tights. I’m really into straight up pop with a weirdo twist, like Alunageorge and Allie X; that’s my kind of zone right now. I’ve kind of backed off the usual heavy techno fare I like. I think the long winter turned me away from darkness. I’m feeling happy, surreal, and optimistic.

I know you for your black. Were you feeling happy and surreal last spring?
No, but a few years ago, I used to only wear color. I loved geometric color blocking. I remember Zac Posen, when I interned for him, once remarked how he loved how much color I played with. It’s ironic, because after that I was known as the girl in black. But enough is enough!

What do you like about cyberpunk?
I’m not hardcore about it, it just feels like home to me, the way certain albums and people do. That was true when I was a kid, too. If you watch the show Batman Beyond, you can see my soul reflected back within 30 seconds. That show was way ahead of itself, and inspires me everyday.

What would you like to see more of in art, or music or fashion?
Less politics and myth preservation, and more disruption.

For the unfamiliar, what do you see as the relationship between music and fashion, traditionally?
I think in the rock ’n roll context, it’s always been about designers providing the visual fantasy for the music. Whether it’s Mary Quant dressing the mods, or Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s Sex shop creating an aesthetic mecca for punks, or Hedi Slimane reintroducing a new generation to this hybrid concept of “soft grunge,” it’s basically the same code, just through different sensory channels. It works best when there’s a genuine shared goal among the creators, when the people behind the music and clothing are both interested in having the same conversation with their audience. When it’s forced, everyone will know.

Your style is striking. Where do you shop in the US?
I actually shop way less now than five years ago. When I do, it’s targeted. In general, I don’t like spending a ton on clothes because how I want to dress changes so often, it’s not worth it for me to invest a lot. I’m super sleuthy though, so I manage to get things like Commes des Garçons dresses for $100 or Margiela for $40. I like the warzone mentality of getting ridiculously overpriced items for dirt cheap. It feels disobedient. This goes for furniture and home decor, too. I can’t afford my own taste, but I find a way to approximate. I live in Greenpoint so there’s not a lot of boutiques here (yet), which is good, because I don’t want to deal with the stimulation. In general, I like clothes that look like they’re from a near future or another world — and I don’t accept that it should cost thousands. I like avant-leaning vintage stores like Tokio 7 and The New World Order, but also random thrifting wherever I happen to be, as well as online rabbit holes like Yoox and eBay. I’m proudly digital and I don’t discriminate. I see potential in everything.

What’s your most victorious of warzone shopping victories?
A free ‘Arena’ Balenciaga bag — was about to be sent to a local charity and I rescued it. This wasn’t in New York City, haha.

But have you ever worn anything uncool in New Jersey? Have you burned evidence of this?
Definitely. I was a mall goth casualty up through age 21. And before that, I dressed Victorian, which was not uncool but definitely isolating.

You had some balls wearing Victorian. What kind of comments did you get?
I was nine at the time, and it was the late ‘90s, so no one really appreciated it. I was the weird petticoat girl among flannel bought from The Limited. I also tried to convince everyone I was off-the-boat British. Honestly, I was probably insane.

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