Nikki Kule is a seasoned designer with fashion in her blood. Her parents created together the very successful Happy Legs line in the 70s. Nikki studied fashion design in Paris and New York, and spent her first career years working in Italy, before returning to launch a childrenswear line in 2001. One of the first of it’s kind, luxury childrenswear was new to the US market and the brand quickly gained a popular following and a CFDA invitation. Nikki then took a few years to revamp the children’s collection at Brooks Brothers, and finally in 2011, she re-focused her attention to her own line and launched a womenswear collection of the same preppy luxe aesthetic she refined so well over the years. The instantly recognizable Stripes collection (for men and women) is masterfully Parisian in fit and American in design. A winning combination for a brand beloved by so many.
One could say that you were almost predestined to become a designer, given your parents’ successful careers in the industry. What was it like growing up in such a fashionable household?
I loved that it was a creative household, and l always knew I wanted to follow in my parents’ footsteps. They have always been an inspiration to me and their partnership in both business and in life showed me what it takes to build a business at a young age.
Much of your aesthetic is a derivative of blending classic European and American motifs. When did you first start to develop your “Preppy Luxe” style?
It’s an aesthetic that I’ve always personally loved but it really developed while I was working in Italy at the beginning of my design career. Merging classic American styles with a European take on bold colors remains a constant in my design process.
What made you gravitate to childrenswear in the beginning of your career?
After I had my first child, I saw there was a real opportunity in luxury childrenswear as so few brands existed in this category back then, especially in America. I wanted to be able to offer beautiful clothing for children too.
It all boils down to the simple, yet well-crafted striped tee. How did this come to be the focal point of KULE?
KULE is based on my love for stripes and it’s great to focus on one thing and do it really well. I’ve been collecting striped shirts my entire life but haven’t been able to find the perfect fit, so I thought – why not just create the perfect striped shirt myself?
Your tees have four styles: the classic, the boyfriend, the modern, and the modern long. What went into the process of narrowing down the silhouettes?
I had one of those amazing epiphanies when I realized that striped tees are similar to jeans – there is no single perfect fit. The 4 core silhouettes allow women of all body types to find a style that works for them. In addition to fit, I wanted a refined European quality so we now produce our shirts in an all female factory in Portugal. They make the shirts with the same care and love that I put into creating them. Overall, the process of getting the shirts right took 2 years, but I’m happy with what we’ve brought to the market and will always continue to work towards perfecting the striped tee.
How has your experience as a designer been different since relaunching KULE with the Stripes collection?
After transitioning my kid’s business to women’s, it’s been great to now be able to design for myself too. Most importantly, stripes genuinely make me happy and channeling my energy into a focused collection makes such a difference.
The brand includes much more than perfect t-shirts, and you’re introducing more accessories next season. What pieces are you most excited about?
The reaction to our striped accessories have been so positive that it encouraged us to add more each season. I’m excited to introduce our new oversized canvas totes detailed with bright fur stripes come Fall. It’s a play on our branding tag.
What is your favorite way to wear KULE stripes for Spring?
Since it’s still a bit cold in the mornings and evenings, I love pairing the Classic or Boyfriend tees as they have a year-long weight with an amazing coat and jeans. If I have meetings, I like pairing them with designer loafers or sneakers.
You have quite a few fans in tastemakers like Sofia Coppola and Alexa Chung. Are there any other celebrities or influencers with whom you’d like to collaborate?
Yes, there are many icons that are sources of inspiration but one uniting factor is that they are strong and confident. I’d love to collaborate with Lauren Hutton – her understated but quintessential tomboy style is impeccable.
What do you enjoy most about working out of your Soho studio?
The location can’t be beat and I also love what we did with the space. KULE is luxe but we also have a sense of humor and know how to have fun. We’ve created a gallery wall and the décor throughout has touches of whimsy – for example, photos of Picasso wearing striped tees alongside vintage Louis Vuitton luggage with KULE branding painted over them.
I’m kind of obsessed with the fact that you have an actual collection of t-shirts. How many make up this collection, and which one or two stand out as the most memorable?
Oh boy! I have over 200 but perhaps the most memorable is the one shirt that started my stripe obsession. My parents brought back my favorite tee from a trip to Portofino, and it’s where my love for stripes and all things Italian began.