In Conversation With Tracey Nicholson
Meet Tracey Nicholson, fashion stylist, consultant and long term friend of Envoy's. Based in New York and originally from Northern Ireland, Tracey studied at Central Saint Martins London. Following her graduation she joined the team at Another Magazine and Dazed & Confused. After moving to New York she began her career in the US assisting at American Vogue and later would go on to work as the New York Fashion Editor at i-D Magazine.
Tracey’s aesthetic is modern, dynamic and precise. She represents an independent and subtly confident vision, with every element thoroughly considered and executed.
What were your early influences when growing up in Belfast?
It’s funny to look back and answer these questions as so much of growing up and influences only make sense when looking back. Now that I live in New York I realise how lucky I was to be surrounded by so much history and nature growing up. To be able to visit a castle or a Celtic motte on the weekend and just run around seems very dreamy to me these days while I sit here during lockdown in Brooklyn! The mix of Belfast being an industrial city with a lot of history but also being so close to a lot of nature and wild coastline is really special I think.
My family were also a big influence… my mum was born on a farm in Fermanagh and one of ten kids and my dad was born in Boston and one of seven so I think I always had the influence of both Northern Ireland and the US growing up.
Another memory that sticks out was stumbling upon my substitute art teacher’s copy of The Face on her desk one lunchtime. I’m dating myself by saying this was when the internet was in its very early days and so magazines like The Face were really a lifeline to another world. This was the issue with Alexander McQueen dressed as Joan of Arc on the cover and that really opened my eyes and probably changed my life in many ways. I still have the issue at home in my teenage wardrobe somewhere with all the other magazines that my parents don’t understand why I’m still holding onto.
I would also say the people in Belfast were and are an influence. Fashion has the potential to take itself a little seriously. It's hard to fully get lost in that when you’ve grown up in Belfast! I think it helps keep my head screwed on!
Alexander Mc Queen photographed by Nick Knight for The Face (not styled by me!)
How do you feel the city has changed when you return from NY?
I think it has changed a lot and in my mind for the better. There is more diversity, it's more connected globally, more tourism and more artists and musicians visit from around the world. When I was a teenager many bands didn’t visit Belfast I think for security and insurance reasons. It feels more open now and more creative which is great. There is a strong creative community in terms of design studios, artists, chefs, writers and performers. I also think having more film and TV shoots in Northern Ireland is a big change and brings Northern Ireland to peoples' attention which is a good thing. It also seems like there is more to offer people who want to stay in Belfast or Northern Ireland. With changes in technology it’s no longer necessary to move away if you want to work in certain fields.
What inspired you to pursue styling as a career, and more specifically in the US over Europe/UK?
I’ll start by being honest and say I don’t see myself living in the US forever… it’s a great place but in my heart I still feel very attached to Europe. I’ve lived and worked in both the US and Europe and lived in London and New York for about 9 years in each city. I’m not sure if it was a conscious pre planned decision to live in NY to be honest…which I know sounds a bit mad.
I’ve never been someone with a rigid plan and I think up until this point I’ve made decisions depending on the circumstances that arise in the present instead of having a grand master plan. Things change in fashion very quickly and I think its essential to be flexible and adapt as best you can.
I studied at Central St Martin’s in London and I loved spending time in the library and looking at all of the magazines and books on fashion designers and image makers. When my course was over I thought that world would be an amazing thing to be a part of so I called a few stylists agencies and ended up working with Alister Mackie for a few years and that got the ball rolling and opened me up to the dream (and the reality) of styling.
T Magazine photographed by Lena C. Emery styled by Tracey Nicholson
Have you had any mentors?
Lots. I feel so so lucky when I think of that question. I’ll start with my art teacher Mrs McCarthy. I think I drove her up the wall but I’m very grateful to her for her support and encouragement. I would say all of the stylists I assisted and worked closely with; Alister Mackie, Katy England, Venetia Scott, Tabitha Simmons.
Alastair McKimm who is also from Northern Ireland has been a huge support and inspiration to me and makes me laugh and want to be better. Also my agents throughout the years especially Liz McKiver who gives great advice and has an amazing perspective on the industry and life in general. My best friend Laura Holmes who has her own incredible production company and has a work ethic I can only dream of! I’m forgetting to mention lots but these relationships are so important and mean so much in an industry that can be tough and competitive.
You’ve worked with a lot of big brands and publications, from Vogue, T Magazine and ID Magazine to Nike, Kenzo, Khaite and Gap, looking back now - has there been any particular high points?
When I assisted Alister Mackie he styled the Alexander McQueen shows with Katy England and those were some of the first fashion shows I worked on. To work with Lee and be around him was incredible and intense! It was the most amazing experience and introduction to the fashion world. Tiring, emotional, hard work for an assistant but a high point for sure and I still look back at images and memories from those shows so fondly.
I did a big travel job with Nike when I was a few years into my own styling career and that was amazing. We traveled to Australia, Japan, LA, New Orleans, London, Paris, Berlin over six weeks and worked with amazing athletes like Serena Williams, Nadal and Perry Shakes Drayton. That was a highlight for sure and I love working with Dani Kiwi Meyer who was the producer on that job and in his own words wants to set everyone up for success.
I also worked on a project for Gap a few years ago where alongside art director Jillian Haney I photographed, styled and cast a digital shoot for them. That was a new challenge and something I would like to develop and work more on; being involved in every element of the creative process.
Nike Running photographed by Anthony Blasko styled by Tracey Nicholson
Do you think print media will always have a place in fashion?
Yes I do, though I think its being renegotiated at the moment. I still love looking at printed images on paper as opposed to on a screen. That experience has a different quality to it and I think people will always want and respond to that. But it does have a lot to do with the intention and quality of the images being printed. I think covid is accelerating the decline of printed magazines and I think printed media is no longer the most commercially viable way for magazines or brands to communicate with their audience and customers.
What’s your creative process like?
Hard question…. It depends on my life at that time and what projects I’m working on.
The pace of work when you are a stylist working on commercial projects can be really fast and that often dictates the creative process as you need things to come together quickly. One positive at the moment is I have more time to think about long term goals and invest time and energy on ideas that don't need to be realised this week. Thats been freeing and more like art college in some ways. I’ve had time to look at things I love and work on ceramics and read poetry which for me has been kind of wild and a different process than working for clients like Nike or Gap who hire you for a few days and you need to adapt to their way of working and creative vision.
So I would say my creative process is evolving and becoming more self directed as I get older with pleasing myself becoming more of a focus. That feels good.
Kirsten Owen photographed by Charlie Engman styled by Tracey Nicholson
How do you stop yourself from getting burnt out?
Another good question! I think the people around you are the most important asset when it comes to burn out. People who support you, understand the stresses and demands of the business and can help you navigate those. People that make you laugh and keep things in perspective. Also time spent in Belfast with family and friends is so helpful. It feels like a real break and I always come back to work with new energy and motivation after a few weeks at home. I try to maintain perspective and remember how lucky I feel to have the job that I do.
What are your mood board goals for 2021?
I would like 2021 to be a year where I develop my own vision more and not limit myself to only working in fashion. To expand and grow and be more creative. To use any extra time I have to push myself and my ideas and dreams. To apply imagination and the idea of realising a creative vision to all parts of life, not just work and fashion.
Kenzo Eyewear photographed by Hart+Leshkina styled by Tracey Nicholson
What are you reading at the moment?
I love Nick Cave's website The Red Hand Files. I love his writing and lyrics and the website is beautiful where he answers questions that readers email to him. My parents are both social workers and that influence is beginning to catch up with me. I’m reading more about psychology and philosophy especially Carl Jung who talks a lot about creativity. I’ve also been reading John O’Donohue and David Whyte who are both writers/poets influenced by Ireland and the Irish landscape. That feels like a nice escape and also very familiar to me at the same time.
I also won't pretend I’m above a dailymail.com celebrity news check in once in a while! Its the devil but a real guilty pleasure none the less!
Kenzo x Vans photographed by Ari Marcopoulos and styled by Tracey Nicholson
Thanks Tracey for speaking with us!