Prior to April 2017, Nicole McLaughlin was a novice designer, committing her ideas to InDesign files as part of her day-job in Reebok’s graphic department, rather than anything more hands-on. But a driving curiosity and an affinity for the iconography of archetypal Americana labels – that polo player, those South American mountains, and the Carhartt C – saw her stumble across a new pastime, creating “fantasy pieces” – slides, shorts, sweaters, slippers – out of branded scraps of material, discarded labels, and even acrylic beanies. Some 85 Instagram posts later, McLaughlin has amassed 82,000 followers, intrigued by and envious of her creations, as some of the hypest grails they’ll never own.
Your first piece was made from Dover Street Market tissue paper. How did you put that together, was it with tape?
With hot glue, actually – I had to be super gentle. After that, I did a puffer dress out of bubble wrap, or something. I was experimenting with heat and melting plastic, and then I started hand- sewing things. This past summer, in 2018, I really started to move more into footwear and seeing how much you can do with one shoe. That’s why I’ve been doing the whole slipper thing, just exploring that one unique shape.
Was there a specific piece that led to you blowing up on Instagram?
Yeah, it’s kind of crazy because this was something that I had been doing for a while. I was a little bit worried about posting things, because they were my ideas, and I didn’t want them to get stolen or something. I was battling with that for a while, but I guess in July, that’s when I thought: “I’m going to post it and see what happens.” I guess I just started doing it more and made it part of my routine. I would spend my nights and weekends making projects. In October, I made a shoe out of tennis balls, and then I started doing the Carhartt stuff. Vogue reached out and wanted to do an interview, and since then, it’s been pretty crazy. I think the Carhartt stuff is really what got the Internet’s attention. After that, I got crazy followers.
How long does a piece like that take to put together?
Surprisingly, not that long. I think once I have the idea and have the materials that I need, or go out and find what I need, it really only takes a couple of hours to construct it. But it’s a lot of trial and error, so I put it all directly on my foot and shape it, cut it, and sew it into how I think it should look.
Do you actually wear the pieces?
I don’t really wear them, even though most of them can be functional – other than maybe the balloon shoe. It has often been more like an idea that I wanted to get out. I also reuse a lot of things. For example, that Carhartt beanie slipper doesn’t exist anymore, I had to take it apart to use the sole. But usually, the upper part that I sew, I keep that constructed, in case I ever want to put it back on a shoe. It’s more of an art thing than a fashion thing.
Was it a practical decision to start using stuff that was cheap, like old beanies or shirts?
Definitely. That’s been my number one thing. I want to be able to make all these things, but it comes with a cost, too. I don’t want to be going out and buying new things. I try to avoid that. I always try to find weird, obscure bits from thrift stores. It also brings a sense of uniqueness, because it’s not something that you usually see. It’s a brand that you recognize, but it’s not a normal product.