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Maker Moment: An interview with upcycled fashion designer Nicole Deponte

Posted by Melissa Massello  April 15, 2013 10:20 AM

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Photo: courtesy of Nicole Deponte

Known by many a hip, young Boston fashion lover by her iconic upcycled silk neck tie creations, Massachusetts native and Mass Art alumna Nicole Deponte returns to Boston for her second spring to exhibit at the Craft Boston market this week — with a new couture line, new offerings for men, and an excitement about where the local maker movement is going.

In this second installment of our Maker Moment series with Massachusetts artists showing at Craft Boston this week, we caught up with this cool emerging designer amidst the madness of packing up her studio for the show.

What was the inspiration for your fashion label, Lilian Asterfield?
Lilian Asterfield is one of my alter egos. She is the pet name my Gramps gave my Mum when she was little and it stuck with the family and with me. My Grandmother is the original Necktie Maven — she hand-embroidered pillows made from neckties and vintage fabrics. All of our neck pieces are, literally, hand-sewn (and no we don't just use lode neckties). Every one of our gorgeous silk neckties is hand-selected and sourced from all over the world, chosen because the color/print has inspired me. As much as my product is a fashion piece, it is also a handcrafted work of wearable art.

What's the first project you remember making/crafting?
I've been making art since I could hold a crayon. Both my parents are artists and we always crafted our own Halloween costumes, built cities out of refrigerator boxes, created the worlds our imaginations lived in. Speaking specifically to accessories, I started a little jewelry line called "Giggles" when I was 12. All the pieces were sculpted from Fimo and I sold them at our local craft center. That was by first go at the biz.

Most successful project?
I created a livelihood from two bags full of neckties, so I would have to say that Lilian Asterfield has been my most successful project. I don't really measure things by "success" and "fail" — it can keep you from awesome very quickly by limiting your ability to just play.

Biggest fail?
The process of making a business of your art may be hard at times and totally suck in the moments of extreme stress, but failure is a horrible word since each hurdle just pushes us all to make better work, right?

What do you DIY the most?
I love interior design and antiques, so I would have to say my space. My creative language is rooted in repurposing. Right now I am working on cork boards in vintage frames for my studio. Since I am designing constantly, it doesn't leave much energy or time for a lot of DIY. I love supporting others that are amazing at their craft.

Favorite/least favorite tools/materials?
Favorite material would be vintage prints/fabric, but this list is enormous and always changing. I love the inspiration I get through repurposing, whether it be fabrics or in my mixed media collages. I also love crystal, leather, feathers and felt. Believe it or not, satin silk often times is the bane of my existence and very unforgiving. I am also not much a fan of polyesters, and is why I stick to silk neckties when making my Ruffs.


Photo: courtesy of Nicole Deponte

Has a project outcome ever surprised you?
Om my gosh, yes! Almost every day! I am not trained in fashion, construction, or design, surprise-surprise! Everything I do is self-taught, learned through trial and error, pulled from my sculpture background and understanding of material. I am always redesigning my product to improve the process, form, and function.

What's the best advice you've ever received?
That would be from my mother, when I shared a few pieces with her that would soon become the label itself. She said "Nikki, I have never seen anything like this before, you have to see where this takes you. You just HAVE to". My folks have never told me what to do, but there was a gleam in her eye that I had to take seriously! Since then, she and my dad have been my biggest supporters. Also, you'll all laugh I am sure, but this quote from "I bought a Zoo" kills me every time I read it. "Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery...and I promise you something great will come of it." So there's that, right — you're kinda feeling like you can do anything right now, see what I mean?

What's your top tip for first-timers?
Do it! Ask questions, find a good mentor because having someone in your court can turn an "I can't " to "I'm going to kill it!" At the end of the day, everything IS possible, you just have to be ready to throw yourself into it, ignore those that say it can never happen or that will be too hard, be reasonable with your time, and know when to take baby steps versus diving in head first. But then again, sometimes you just have to dive right in.

Anything you DIY now that you never thought you would?
I have started dying clothes that I have lost interest in with the hopes of giving them a second life. I would love to learn how to upholster — that's top on my list. I've kinda always made stuff, so this question is a hard one for me because I want to say "EVERYTHING."

What won't you ever DIY/when do you call in the experts?
There is SO much! I run the high end craft show circuit, so you can imagine the talent I'm surrounded by! If I am keen to try a new material I will, but I will never recreate somebody else's art.

"When I'm not making stuff, I'm..."
Most definitely outside with my co-pilot, my hound Mon Cher (chere for short), biking around town, gardening, spending time with family and friends, seeing art and finishing it all off with some good eats or music.

What are you most excited about with this year's CraftBoston show?
I am showing a collection of our bespoke bolero shrugs, which are all draped and completely couture. I'm also exhibiting pieces from my "Ruff Dye" collection — all hand-dyed ruffs in lovely color combinations as well as something for the boys: hand-dyed neckties and bow ties.

How do you think the craft/artisan/maker community in Boston has changed over the years?
The capital-C "Craft Market" is being reinvented to reach a broader market and younger collectors through education and unique new talent. Shows are trying out new things to see what works and that's excellent. There's an influx of do-it -yourselfers and weekend crafters, and I think that can be frustrating for artisans trying to maintain the integrity of their design and process, but I'm thrilled to hear and see the growing patronage and marketing toward buying locally. In this throw-away society, it's amazing to walk into a show like Craft Boston and be surrounded by designs built to last.

Who are your favorite local designers/artisans showing at CraftBoston this year?
Monique Rancourt, Lauren Blais, Hannah Niswonger, Ashley Conchieri, and Swan & Stone Millinery to name a few! I believe they are all based in New England and very talented ladies!

Thanks, Nicole!

Catch Nicole at the CraftBoston Spring Show, Friday, April 19th through Sunday, April 21st at the Seaport World Trade Center, 200 Seaport Blvd, Boston, or shop Lilian Asterfield online through Big Cartel and Etsy.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the Authors

Melissa Massello is a newspaper journalist turned startup junkie and lifelong Bostonian who prides herself on her do-it-yourself attitude. From making her prom dress out More »
Tara Bellucci is a Boston-based writer that lives for fonts, food, and flea market finds. Whether decorating jars of her homemade jam for The Boston More »

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