Through her deft touch as a designer, Aimee Nielsen brings together a symphony of colours, textiles, and techniques to craft garments and clothing that not only make the wearer look good, but help them embody the person they always dreamed of being. Her latest collection — the gender-bending Distancia — is a look into what was seeping into Nielsen’s mind during the lows of the pandemic. The word means ‘distance’ in Spanish, pulled directly from the swirling emotions felt in the aftermath of the pandemic. The garments explore the emotion of two individuals desperately trying to come together — both individually and collectively — in the wake of distance separating them.
Schön! chats with designer Aimee Nielsen to discuss her new collection, her design inspirations, and more.
You studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology — how did that learning environment help inspire you and shape your designs?
Studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City was one of the best experiences of my life. The learning environment there gave me the creative freedom to delve deep inside myself to learn how to harness my feelings and translate the feelings and experiences into designs. This is always something I tap into when I am creating and designing. The learning environment also gave me the necessary tools of garment construction for anything that I would have the desire to make. As a result, I always give great importance to how a garment is constructed. While the school was not easy, the experience gave me the tools to be the best designer I can be. I have always carried with me everything I learned while at FIT and I am grateful for the opportunity I was given. I still actually have all my notes and assignments from my classes, and I even now refer to them from time to time.
What would you say your brand’s ethos or mantra is?
Three places have been important in your development — Iowa, New York, and now Miami, where you reside. How have these three places influenced or inspired your designs?
I grew up in Iowa and my work ethic was shaped by my upbringing in Iowa. I was also involved in a lot of sports in Iowa, which ultimately led to me running track and cross country in college. Being involved in athletics for so long influenced my interest in stretch/knit fabrics and I am always thinking of different ways I can design using that fabric. My family on both sides of my family immigrated to the U.S. and ultimately ended up in Iowa. When I go back there to visit, I always feel connected to my ancestors, and my family, and inspired by the beautiful open landscapes in Iowa. Being in New York for fashion school was an amazing experience for me and it was the result of me following my dreams to pursue my passion for design.
In New York, I was immediately immersed in constant inspiration which gave me the strength to pursue my brand. New York City will always be a special place to me and a place I found myself. Miami is a place I will always hold in my heart. I am always moved by the beautiful shades of the ocean and the different vegetation in Miami. Miami also has electricity that is inspiring in itself.
Your designs explore different facets of womenswear and menswear; you mix different textiles and blend techniques to develop gender-neutral designs. As a designer, why is it important for you to do this?
As a designer and for myself it will always be important for me to mix different textiles and use different design techniques in my designs because it is who I am as a designer. I love gender-neutral designing due to the versatility and the creative challenge it affords me. I find beauty and inspiration in mixing textiles and techniques that one would not expect would work together. I am always trying to expand ideas in design and create something different.
You find inspiration in architecture, geometrics, natural patterns and historical events. Where did this interest come from and how do you implement these interests into your work?
I’ve always had an interest in history and learning about the past is important in understanding the future. I spend hours sometimes scouring historical fashion photos from different periods. It is fascinating to me and I tap into historical fashion in my creation of new designs. I also have always had a passion for art and architecture. When I travel places or in places, I’ve lived architecture and art are always a source of design inspiration. I do often find inspiration from other areas of design.
Are there specific artists or craftsmen that have influenced your work?
It would be hard for me to pick one specific artist or craftsman that has inspired my work. I would say that my work is inspired by a collection of artists/art, musicians/music, nature, history, architecture, and my personal experiences as a whole. I don’t think I could ever pin down one person or thing that inspires my work alone.
Inspired by the emotional aftereffects of the covid pandemic, your collection Distancia demonstrates the different ways it impacted relationships. Why was this important to you as a designer to implement and weave through this collection?
The pandemic as a whole put a lot of things in perspective for a lot of people, myself included. The pandemic also, I believe, put our mortality as human beings at the forefront. Because we could not see family and friends or the people closest to us for extended periods it amplified feelings of grief, distance, and never knowing if the last time you looked at someone or called someone would be the last. Many people struggled with losing loved ones and the hardship distance from loved ones created. I think it also forced people to assess their own lives, realizing that our lives are quite short, and evaluate their relationships, jobs, and overall happiness. I always strive as a designer to create designs that are reflective of a certain period or feelings. It was important for me as a designer to harness all these feelings created by the pandemic (because it affected so many people) into designs that I hope inspire someone in some way.
As you reflected on your own experience during the pandemic, how did this shape or influence the designs in the collection?
The pandemic was a scary and frustrating time for me. I experienced loved ones going to the hospital and never knowing if they would return. I experienced elderly loved ones being cut off from the world for over a year, and for a long time, I could not see them due to nursing home protocols. One of the most important people in my life, my grandfather Richard, passed away this past March and you can’t help but feel that the pandemic “stole” precious time away from the ones you love. A lot of times that was a source of sadness for me and sometimes it was hard to be positive.
Like many, I also experienced being very sick from covid. The pandemic couldn’t help but put into perspective what is most important to me in life which caused me to do a lot of self-reflection and prioritization of what I want to be doing for the remainder of my life. Many of my designs are also inspired by my own experiences and feelings. The pandemic for the past two years created a multitude of stewing emotions that come out of me in the form of designs and art.
How do you see the Aimee Nielsen brand growing and evolving in the future?
I see my brand continuing to evolve and expand into the luxury market. I see the brand continuing to create cutting-edge menswear, womenswear, gender-neutral, and street-wear designs.
Lastly, what do you hope those wearing your designs feel or think when wearing your clothing?
I want those wearing my designs to feel inspired and to feel free to be their authentic selves in expressing themselves when they wear my designs. I also want people to feel like they are wearing something unique, and cutting-edge, while still being classy and stylish. I always want people who wear my designs to feel like they are standing out and making a beautiful fashion statement.
To learn more about Aimee Nielsen, visit aimeenielsen.com.