Nicola Formichetti Talks Uniqlo, Gaga, and Pandas

nicola formichetti

Photo courtesy of Nicola Formichetti

Designer/stylist/creative director, Nicola Formichetti

The inside of his brain may look like disco balls in a dungeon (his words!), but don't be fooled—there's still serious business going on in there. In addition to Nicola Formichetti's name-making gig as Lady Gaga's stylist and right-hand man, the multi-hyphenate also serves as fashion director of Uniqlo, creative director of Thierry Mugler, and recently opened his first pop-up shop in NYC's Tribeca as part of a collaboration with art non-profit BOFFO.

The store houses everything from Lady Gaga costumes (her famous machine-gun bra is on display, under a layer of iridescent cellophane) to iPhone cases emblazoned with Formichetti's signature cartoons, but on September 15 it was also the site of a preview of his new collection for Uniqlo's Innovation Project. Unlike most of what Formichetti's famous for, the Uniqlo collection is entirely practical, from waterproof parkas and down coats to heat-trapping pants and tees.

FashionEtc stopped by the shiny store—practically every surface, floors and walls included, is mirrored—to chat with the famously candid Formichetti about his retail aspirations, his penchant for functionality (really!), and the story behind his unusual nickname.

First of all, how did you come up with this décor?

I guess it’s not the most comfortable place to shop! [Laughs] I wanted the architecture and the interior space to be as if you were going into my brain. I wanted to figure out what that looked like, because I do so many different things.

So this is what the inside of your brain looks like?

Totally. It’s like disco balls … in a dungeon. And it’s always changing, and somehow it feels like it’s moving. It’s also very cost-effective, which is very me—I always work with what’s around. I don’t do this for money, I do it for love and fun. It took a week to build, and I felt like I was 21 again! I started in a shop. I was a shop boy in an edgy store in London.

This is just a pop-up, though, right? It’s closing in a few days?

I think I might stay. I don’t know yet. I have to talk to the landlord, but it’s doing so well. We’re going to start the online sales tomorrow.

What would be the merchandise that you sell if it is an ongoing project?

I have all the technology accessories, like iPad and iPhone cases, with my characters on it, like Nico Panda. I have Nico Panda rings in gold, silver, plastic. I have all the T-shirts. And I’m going to have all the designers I support from all around the world, all in one place. I didn’t start this to make money or anything like that, but there’s been so much demand. I want people to experience this. I would buy this stuff!

What’s the story behind the panda?

My friends used to always call me Nico Panda. I’m half Asian, and I used to have a long beard and I was a little bit chubby, so I looked like a bear—an Asian bear. And it kind of stuck. People started calling me Nico Panda on Twitter. And then once Gaga did that panda makeup, I created this character for the store. It’s done so well. I did one now that’s a zombie panda, and there’s one inspired by my ex-boyfriend who’s a daddy panda. I’m going to do a Gaga Panda … I want to have dolls eventually. It’s one of my dreams to do a toy collection.

nicola formichetti

Photo courtesy of Nicola Formichetti

A look at some of the Uniqlo offerings at Formichetti's pop-up shop.

Tell me about the collection you did with Uniqlo.

For me it was very, very, very important to do something functional. I usually work with costumes and things that aren’t very practical! I’ve been working with the company now for five years, and I enjoy working with Uniqlo as much as doing Mugler and all the other completely different things, because it’s such a huge company. It’s like when I work with Gaga and she wears one thing, and it goes to millions. It’s the same. I love that mass reaction.

For this collection, it was very important to work with the fabrics. Some of these are waterproof, some you can put in ice, some you can stretch like crazy and it keeps its shape. That was important to me, the functionality and the technical aspect of things. This is the first collection, and so next we’re going to start working on the design. For now, it looks like active sportswear, but now that we have the fabrics done we can start making dresses, suits ... it’s going to evolve.

You’re going to make Gaga costumes out of Uniqlo fabrics.

Yeah! I mean, look at that. [Points to a black puffer coat.] You could make an amazing red carpet dress out of that.

You have so much stuff going on right now—styling, Gaga, Uniqlo, Mugler, this store. Where do you see yourself down the road? Do you see yourself picking one thing and sticking to it?

That’s what I always had wanted to do, just do one thing. A few years ago I would have said I just want to do one collection. But that’s not me now. I’m so interested in new things. Technology has inspired me so much. I’ve been working with virtual pattern makers and designers. I want [people] to be able to design their own avatars, and make clothes for avatars, stuff like that. The possibilities are endless. I want to do costume for film, like a big Hollywood film.

So no plans to slow down?

I’m not dead! I’m 33, I can go another few years! [Laughs] Through social media, I get to meet all my fans, and they really inspire me. Gaga made me do that, she made me join Twitter, and it’s had such a huge effect.