Melding vibrant colours, fetish and body armour into pieces that are often 3D-printed, Nixi Killick is not your everyday streetwear designer. We find out how the Aussie tastemaker got her pieces worn by the likes of Lady Gaga and Kimbra.
Nixi Killick was just out of fashion school when she landed Lady Gaga as a client. It was a very early break for the young Australian designer, who has built her unique career on ingenuity and embracing weirdness.
Creativity in the genes
Fashion “imagineer” Nixi Killick never had to run away and join the circus – she was born into one. Her free-spirited childhood was a kaleidoscope of festivals and performances; making huge paper lanterns with her father, sewing colourful costumes with her mother and juggling, fire-twirling and stilt-walking with her brother, Jasper.
“We were always creating together with mum and dad - painting, sculpting, sewing,” Killick recalls. Her parents were artists in the Slippry Sirkus, an outreach arts initiative working with regional, remote and rural communities in northern NSW and Queensland.
So for Killick, combining her own arts practice and passion for vibrant colour, psychedelic pattern, technology and nature to create wearable art was a logical career path – and within two years of graduating from a Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) fashion degree, she’s launched her own label - NXK - and already counts Lady Gaga as one of her clients.
Working with Lady Gaga
“I was at the abandoned primary school in the bush where my parents live and Dad said, ‘It’s Lady Gaga’s stylist on the phone!’ It completely propelled me into another dimension and I was so happy my work was resonating with her,” she says.
In a mad rush, Killick returned to Melbourne, bundled up her graduate collection and sent them off to New York within four days, so Gaga could wear Killick’s creations on her ArtRAVE world tour, and appear in posters and videos wearing the unique costumes.
The young designer’s combination of fluorescent colours, fetish, corsetry, headdresses, body armour and geometric designs drawn from nature – with a big reference to serpents - apparently appealed to the American singer’s artistic sensibility.
Gaga’s stylist had pounced on Killick’s work after she’d been chosen as one of the world’s “100 independent designers to watch” by Not Just a Label, a London-based company that supports emerging designers globally. Not Just a Label flew Killick to Vicenza, Italy, for an event with the other winners.
Learning from fashion mentors
“It was like a designers’ summer camp,” Killick says. “It was so different from the usual fashion scene, which is so closed off and not much sharing or mentoring happens. Now all the walls came down and designers and stylists were so generous and open with their advice and experience.” And she’s been invited back next year.
What’s followed has been 18 months of rollercoaster success. Killick showed at Melbourne’s Spring Fashion Week, in Venice, and next year she has invitations to take part in Berlin, Melbourne and Italian shows– so she’s now busily designing her next collection.
Finding inspiration everywhere
Developing collections is a long process, Killick admits. As a self-confessed bower bird, she gathers ideas from her travels through Nepal, India, Japan, Korea and, this year, Amsterdam, Antwerp and Berlin.
She compiles scrapbooks of inspirational images and natural patterns, electronic and architectural components, fabric samples and industrial offcuts. The next step is to start painting her designs and use 3D-printing to body-sculpt the fashions.
Her collections have three levels: the one-off collectors’ pieces that are more embellished and tactile, the runway collections that tour the world, and the streetwear, which echoes designs and colour from the runway that is then digitally printed on more accessible clothing sold on her website.
“I am very conscious that I really want to let everyone share in the magic, to make fashions that are reachable for many people,” she says.
At first, Killick manufactured her clothing in Australia, but to ensure her streetwear’s affordability she had to take production overseas. “Now I use manufacturers all over the world and find the right one relative to each piece, that has the suitable material or factory,” she says. So far she’s worked in Bali, China, Japan and Pakistan.
Building a fashion business
Despite her innate creativity, Killick says that studying fashion was invaluable to mould her career. “I am already pretty motivated and determined, but going to such a magnetic uni, working within a structure and the sheer amount of work we were expected to create really pushed us,” she says.
Another boost came right after graduation. Killick got on the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, which paid her a Centrelink benefit for a year while also providing her with business mentoring and training to get her fashion business up and running. Even today, she is still a one-woman company. With no staff, she relies heavily on interns to help get everything done.
Looking to the future, Killick says she is not motivated by financial success. “I have achieved what I have so far by maintaining my independence, by not making compromises on my ideas or dreams just to make money,” she says. “I just enjoy the journey, learning from other creative people and spreading it around. Let’s see where it goes.”
Does your creativity need an outlet? Check out our guide to careers in fashion.
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