When asked to think back on the origins of their affinity for fashion and design, Nicó Lee reflects on their roots. “Growing up in South Texas, like many young brown boys and girls who admire beauty, my first memory of falling in love with fashion was centered on Selena,” the founder and creative director of the brand NICÓ shared. “I always felt she embodied the essence of a perfect woman.”
Lee’s sights were set on building a fashion brand in their early teen years. With a fierce vision, supportive parents encouraging the pursuit of dreams and an older sister always willing to stand in as a dress model, the young artist began forging their own path. Now, as the designer approaches their 10th anniversary of working in the industry, we catch up with the Corpus Christi native to discuss their recent New York Fashion Week (NYFW) debut, how South Texas continues to inspire their designs and more.
Kylie Cooper: You made your NYFW debut with your AW24 collection titled “La Doña de la Casa.” What was that experience like?
Nicó Lee: It was a wonderful experience for my team and me. Our debut felt like an introduction, giving a glimpse of what our brand’s future seasons will look like. There were learning moments, both positive and negative. However, I’m glad it took place and pleased with how well it was received. My focus was making sure the garments looked amazing and the team did amazing, and we achieved both despite the chaos and challenges during the process — like with all productions, things can go awry. Yet, something beautiful emerges from the chaos, much like a diamond under pressure. I feel proud and confident in my team; they’re not afraid of challenges and genuinely support the brand’s journey and legacy. Seeing their dedication and effort was truly special.
KC: What was the inspiration behind the collection?
NL: I aimed to create a collection that, first and foremost, embodied the core of the brand. If NYFW audiences were seeing the line for the first time, I wanted them to grasp the brand’s visual essence. Coming from humble beginnings, like I did, often means you make them yourself. This collection serves as a testament to what emerges when femininity is stripped away and how one might discover and piece it back in fragments. In “La Doña de la Casa,” my vision was garments appearing as though we’ve gathered the finest fabric fragments, assembling them on bodies to step into a world of glamour. I also wanted to make it the essence of South Texas. The fabric shreds look as if they’ve been grazed by mesquite thorns, and I opted for lighter materials to counter the region’s humidity. It’s an artistic representation of femininity, viewed through the lens of a South Texas native.
KC: What lessons from your NYFW debut did you take home with you?
NL: Always be overly prepared and push aside any doubts. No matter how rare it is for someone like me to make it to such spaces, it’s important to remember that I belong there, that it is my space to occupy and it should be treated as such.
KC: Do you have any backstage rituals or superstitions?
NL: For every show, just before the models step out, I make it a point to express my gratitude to them for their contribution. True to my señora nature, I always give them a hug and a kiss on the cheek. I believe models are the unsung heroes in the world of fashion. While we design and craft the outfits, they bring them to life. Apart from this, I often find myself praying backstage, expressing gratitude to those who came before me to allow me to have that moment. Post-show, it’s a tradition for me and my team to enjoy a big meal together.
KC: It seems as though South Texas is still very much a part of your inspiration. How are your roots incorporated into the brand as a whole?
NL: I always envision a specific woman when I design, and it’s always a South Texas woman. Each of my designs displays a balance. Like South Texas, [my designs are] delicate, yet gritty; tough, yet gentle; feminine, yet masculine; hurtful, but kind.The designs relay that same message — a gown might be crafted from the most delicate chiffon but feature raw hems and unfinished flowers. Or a luxurious silk evening gown might showcase exposed boning, reminiscent of getting caught on a mesquite thorn. All these facets of South Texas blend into the brand because South Texas is just that: It’s a juxtaposition of ideas. And I think the area I grew up in is just as much of a design factor as the fabrics I use.
KC: Okay, you first started your brand in 2017. What do you think 2017 Nicó would say about where you and your brand are today?
NL: I frequently discuss my journey with my best friend, Frankie. Frankie often provides a grounded perspective, offers solace during challenging times and encourages me during moments of doubt. Reflecting on a recent chat before Fashion Week, he made me realize that I’ve grown into the person the younger me needed. So, I believe that the 2017 Nicó would have greatly benefited from the guidance and experience of 2023 Nicó. I think they would be very excited about our progress and how their dreams have come to fruition. It’s full circle to compare my aspirations at 25 to those that younger me had.
KC: What advice would you give to a young designer just starting out?
NL: To any young designer just starting out, I’d say make a mess and make it big. Dive into every technique you want to try, explore all styles that pique your interest and even craft some of your own. I’m completely self-taught, and it took me almost a decade to solidify my own personal branding and aesthetic. I wish someone had told me earlier to try everything, to mess up a lot and to really embrace the chaos of creation. While I was often told to keep things clean and precise, I believe there’s immense value in making a mess and learning from it.
KC: Can you give us a sneak peek into what’s next for your brand?
NL: We’re in the process of planning a hometown show in Corpus, and it’s been about five years since our last runway event. Now, as I near the 10th year of working on my craft, doing Fashion Week and then celebrating with a show in Corpus, where everything started, felt poetic. Of course, we’re always working on our next collections, and we’re always a season ahead in our planning. We hope for more fashion shows and perhaps another moment at NYFW. But right now, I’m looking forward to the hometown show.
Get tickets for the hometown show on Dec. 1 at the Art Center of Corpus Christi.