Studio Visit: Nightwalker
Photos by Isabella Behravan
Ladies–prepare to crush. Nightwalker, with their bad-girl silhouettes and urban fabrications are bringing new meaning to “slay.” And not only because their muse is a clandestine warrior princess (with an insane origin story the design duo invented themselves), but also because they manage to do it all while running a showroom, creating their own comic book, and raising two kids (did we mention they’re married??). With their new L.A. studio just blocks from NGHQ, we took a second to catch up with this (cute as hell) dream team and find out how it is they manage to kick so much ass…
So awesome that we’re neighbors now–you’re literally around the corner from NGHQ! Talk about your move from N.Y. to L.A.
Melissa: We love NY, and the genesis of Nightwalker was New York city–but the evolution has led us out west. A lot of our buyers and retailers, like Nasty Gal, are out here, so I feel like coming to L.A. was the right move for the brand, and for personal reasons.
Chris: Yeah, no more east coast winters!
Melissa: Yeah, come February, we’ll be sitting pretty. We’re just excited about the beautiful weather and a slower pace of life. Especially because when kids are factored into the equation, it literally changes everything. Plus if you haven’t noticed, I’m Australian, so I’m a stone’s throw closer to home!
Tell us about this incredible space.
Melissa: Nightwalker is a part of Melt Management, so we’re a showroom, and we represent a whole host of international designers–mainly Australian. But we definitely saw a gap in the market for product like the kind you see at Nightwalker, and we felt compelled to develop and create our own brand. When we were looking for a space, we didn’t want to be amongst our peers, we wanted to do our own thing, and knowing that this little cross-section of South Los Angeles and 9th St. was the epicenter–we couldn’t believe that nobody was in this space yet! We just wanted to have our own identity so that when someone comes here, they can experience Nightwalker and Melt Management, and they’re not walking through a supermarket of showrooms and brands.
Chris: We’ve always gone it on our own. We started the business out of our apartment, and every time we’ve had a little step up it’s been special. Our first showroom on Broadway in SOHO was amazing, and then we moved uptown on Broadway in another stand-alone building, and now in Los Angeles, this is the epitome of our business so far. It’s awesome.
You guys are quite the power couple! How did you meet?
Melissa: Oh my gosh, do you want to tell the story or should I?
Chris: [Laughing] I met her in my underwear.
Melissa: One hundred percent fact.
Chris: On a casting for a gay magazine.
Melissa: Long story short–Williamsburg, 2007, had a friend who needed to hold a casting in my apartment for DNA Magazine, and he asked if he could use my space for a few hours. So I said okay. Next thing I know, there’s this herd of men coming into my apartment in their underwear, and in comes Chris Powell, telling us a story about how this girl broke his heart. We all thought, Awwww, how cute. Six months later, I’m in a cafe in the Lower East Side, hanging out with a friend of mine, Fernando, and he looks outside and sees Chris. He goes, “Hold on, I’m going to go outside and bring back your next boyfriend.” He left; he came back; Chris sits down–I had no idea who he was–and we started talking. Halfway through, he says, “I’ve been to your house.”
Chris: I met Fernando randomly the first time I ever went out in Williamsburg, and partied with him all night. And I remember that day that I ran into him, I was walking through the Lower East Side thinking, “This is kinda the best day of my life; it couldn’t get any better.” And then I saw Fernando at Teany–it’s Moby’s cafe–so I went in there and sat down with him and Mel. Five minutes later, I put two and two together, and was like, “Hey, we’ve met before… I was in my underwear.”
Melissa: But the thing was, I really couldn’t take him seriously because he was in his underwear during our first encounter, so we became friends. And then somehow the lines got blurred–
hris: Through techno music, actually. About two years later, she messaged me out of the blue asking me if I wanted to go see some music in Brooklyn. So we went out and stayed up till 8am, and after that we were thick as thieves.
Melissa: We were just at the right place at the right time, and I had a moment where I realized that I was ready for marriage and children, and I think he was at the same place at the same time. Within a month of officially dating, we moved in together; five months after that he proposed; and nine months after that, we got married. And the rest is history!
Chris: Now we’ve lived in three states, had two houses, two children, one dog, and we live across the country!
NG: Plus you own this amazing company together!
Melissa: Yeah, it’s a lot of work, and it comes with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and a lot of passion, drive, and hunger, and I think that’s what makes it work. You have to do it together.
So you originally had Melt–tell us how you decided to start Nightwalker.
Melissa: I love humor, and I think it’s a great way to deal with life. I always bring everything back to comedy–that’s something Chris and I have in common. I kind of chuckle at the fashionistas who really take fashion seriously. Though we love fashion and we get excited about it, it’s not the be-all end-all–we’re not saving starving children in Africa. So, we wanted to create a brand that hit all the key notes as far as trends, but didn’t take itself so seriously. In some ways, it’s kind of a covert feminist movement in the sense that we’re no longer the kind of feminists who are screaming at the world, we’re really comfortable in who we are, and we can be feminine and masculine all at the same time. And funny! We now can be heard and not just seen. You kind of have to have a brain to be funny, so bringing humor into what we do gives women a more well-rounded voice. We created a fictitious character called Nightwalker, which is kind of like my alter ego, and stems from my obsession with being a superhero. When times get tough, I sort of switch into Nightwalker mode, so we develop clothing that empowers women. For example, we have the [Phantom] Cape Coat, and it’s very empowering when you wear it–it’s got the square shoulders, it kind of drapes in the wind–it’s totally boss bitch. So the clothes are sexy, but they’re sensible. They have all the elements of a woman’s personality.
Speaking of the fictitious character, your site talks about some of the background of the Nightwalker–how she’s this subversive superhero, sneaking through the night with her entourage of anti-establishment baboons–give us the background to the whole story.
Melissa: So, it’s a story I created. Think Book of Eli, Mad Max, post-apocalyptic world–before that time there was a truck of baboons going to the Bronx Zoo. Right at that time, a UFO landed, and these aliens were about to die. Before they did, they wanted to pass on their superpowers, and the baboons happened to be right there. So, the baboons became this super breed of baboons. Well, it just happened to be fashion week in Manhattan. The baboons storm into fashion week and start biting everybody, and people started to perish. Nightwalker was a model on the runway–she got bitten, but she was rescued and got away. As a result she became a shapeshifter, so she’s part baboon, part human–baboon in the day, human at night. Any humans that still live are just exotic pets. She creeps at nighttime and tries to salvage the remaining humans out there; her goal is to round them up and make the human race thrive once again. The whole story is about her and her posse of anti-government baboons, they’re called “The Resistance.” It’s a top-secret, undercover operation, and it’s all about the adventures of Nightwalker.
NG: That’s amazing! That’s all your creation?
Melissa: Yes. And the reason we did that is because us women really have to be superheroes to get through. To be mothers, business owners, and just getting through life–you have to be a superhero! I take my hat off to single women, and other women who have it tougher than me. I have a real appreciation for females in general, so doing this storyline, I feel like it’s a way of conveying the trials and tribulations of women and how amazing we are.
Tell us about the comic book that you created for the story.
Melissa: Chris and I had been talking about a way of expressing this story because it had always been the backend of Nightwalker, but we realized we should kick it up a notch and share it with our fans.
Chris: The day we decided to do this, it was really funny. Mel said, “I need you to find me an artist.” That day, we were also moving out of New York from Brooklyn to our house in Connecticut. I didn’t realize she’d switched our credit card to our new zip code, so when I went to the gas station and tried to fill up, the machine said I had to go see the attendant in the gas station. I went inside and saw that the guy who worked there was doing the most amazing sketches inside the booth. He was from Barundi, Africa, and he’d immigrated to the U.S. during the Rowandan genocide. This kid was an uber talented artist who was being forced to pay off his legal bills because of bad immigration papers–for four years he’d been working at a gas station so he could get back into design school. We were able to hire him to do this project and give him a pathway to get out of the gas station. It was pretty amazing. So he sketched the book, and then a friend finished the inking. Now we just have to take it to print! Everyone wants to have their own little marketing thing, so this is ours. It’s really unique.
Melissa: I think having a showroom and understanding the market so well, we wanted to create a brand that had some depth to it. We don’t take ourselves seriously, however, the message is serious in some ways. So again, that juxtaposition of light and dark. It’s really important to us that we’re not creating a brand just for the sake of creating a brand. It had to make sense in this deeper way. I’ve been in the business for 18 years, so it’s taken me this long to realize we wanted to create our own brand, and this is the story behind it.
ell us about your design process.
Melissa: We come up with a theme for the season, and a lot of it has been in line with each subsequent chapter in the story of the Nightwalker comic book. For example, in the winter collection, in our heads it was “The Red Wedding.” Nightwalker was being betrothed to the King of Baboonia’s son, and the The Resistance was going to be at the wedding to slaughter all the bad guys. So we made the dress for the champagne toast and the victorian style lace tops–but then they changed into their ninja gear, so we created the Raw Overall Dress, which we pictured with sneakers for that moment they got all karate on them. So that’s the first thing–we look for a theme and a reason for the collection to exist within our story. Then we start looking at trends, color palettes–textures are really important. After that, we need to make sure that the architecture of the collection is right, so bottoms, dresses, overalls–making sure it’s a nice, cohesive assortment of items. Then we start working with our factories and developing the product from there.
What’s it like working with your boo?
Chris: It’s great! But we also have different roles. We work in such close proximity to each other, it’s good if I do my own thing and she does her own thing so we can have a little bit of autonomy. Basically, she rolls with the clothing. If she asks for input, I’ll give it, but I love that it’s her baby, and I want her to grow with it and keep exploring.
Melissa: And Chris is a shoe guy–he used to work for Carolina Herrera, Prada, Roger Vivier–so he really knows shoes.
Chris: I’ve loved footwear for a long time. I think it’s the jewel of the accessory group.
elissa: If we were to be realistic, I think we’re actually more likeMarried with Children–Al Bundy, Peggy. That’s the reality.
Chris: [Laughs] Yeah, pretty much. It’s a juggling act.
Melissa: And sometimes we’re more like Mr. Burns and Smithers. [Laughs] But again, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Chris: It’s good to have a partner you can rely on. She picks me up when I’m down and vice versa.
Do you feel like living in L.A. will affect your aesthetic?
Melissa: I would have to say yes. The reason why is because we recently did the Axis trade show in New York, and it was the second time I’d been back to New York since we moved here. How I packed for dressing in New York was interesting because I had an L.A. vision in mind, and when I got there, I realized it was something I would never wear in New York. If you look at the evolution of our brand, we started out with a somewhat of a tomboy take, and then we introduced more femininity and more of a boho, earthy vibe, which I think is very L.A. So it makes sense that we were here to flesh that out. I think it will change more–if we had this conversation in 12 months time, I think we’d be talking about a more significant change.
Chris: I definitely feel more productive out here though. The weather is inspiring, and it’s great to be immersed in that west coast energy. Having the east coast experience was amazing, designing collections for fall/winter is a strong suit for us because we know what a lot of America is going through for that season. Spring/summer is a different story–being out here and seeing how people dress–it’s casual, it’s cool. I think it’s going to have a big affect on the collection moving forward.
Melissa: I agree, and I also think that as far as the contemporary market goes, L.A. is the epicenter. New York is advanced contemporary, but it gets lost with contemporary. This is where it thrives. We are a classic contemporary brand, and this is where we needed to be–at the heart of that category.
What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned since starting Nightwalker?
Melissa: Quality, not quantity. Making sure that we create a collection that is all killer, no filler. People don’t need basics from us, they can go to other brands that do that; we’re more about the curation of show-stopper styles and statement pieces. We’ve realized through trial and error that that is our focus and our strength.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
Melissa: Sleep. It’s funny because we have so much going on, at the end of the day, we have to look around and do a roll call to make sure everyone’s there. Like–did we all survive? No one died? Great. No but really, we just want to incubate and nurture the brand. Because it’s still so new, we want to hear from people about what they love about it, and what they would like to see us add on or change in the collection. So we’re really ears to the ground right now.
Chris: Yeah, and to make our Fall/Winter ’16 collection super rockstar. It’s gonna be awesome.
Photos by Isabella Behravan