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Interview with Brooklyn-based designer: Neil Grotzinger

Interview with Brooklyn-based designer: Neil Grotzinger

By: Jade Ryals

“Looking at his pieces, the term “painterly” comes to mind.”

Brooklyn and London share a large number of characteristics. Filmy, polluted air spotted with rising cigarette smoke and star-studded dreams. An immense population consisting of multitudes of generations of those whose creative spark burns just a little bit brighter. There's something about both of these cities that draws in the brilliant. Forged in the crucible of small towns with idyllic views, they trade in personal space for the crowded sprawl of twisted streets and are inhaled into the machine of city living. It's a beautiful thing. We at Disorder love our city.

Neil Grotzinger is one such example of this phenomenon. This Brooklyn-based designer and his brand NIHL have been stamped by the thriving bustle of the city. His pieces throughout his collection offer not just wearable art though; his collection in its entirety is a bridge between fine art and fashion. Looking at his pieces, the term "painterly" comes to mind. Stemming from the Impressionism and Expressionism eras, painterly generally refers to a painting that showcases the fact that it is a painting rather than masking the art of creation. These images were characterized by their broad brushstrokes and recreation of atmosphere rather than their ability to recreate subject matter.

The greatest link between these artists and a designer like Grotzinger though is the focus on medium. Each of his pieces are hand-painted, hand-embellished, or hand-made and demonstrate both his skill and his attention to detail. As a recent graduate of Pratt Institute, Grotzinger's work has already caught the eye of the New York fashion scene. We caught up with him before the whirlwind of NYFW to find out a little bit more about NIHL and Neil himself.  

Your pieces all seem to have such an artistic foundation which allows them to mediate between beautiful and edgy. Where did you get your inspiration for your upcoming collection?  

Each of my collections is built around experimental textile research. That typically serves as my inspiration. Over this past year or so, I've been honing in on my embellishment skills, and trying to develop a new texture for the upcoming fall season. It's much more cluttered than last season, and has heavier densities of embellishment. Some of the garments weigh five or six pounds.  

Where do you begin your process for a piece?  

The process just starts with an idea for me. It's rare that it comes from any one place in particular, I usually just think 'oh wouldn't it be cool if...' and then it goes from there. I do embellishment samples, sketches, and start drafting shapes. It's very sporatic at times, but each piece usually leads into the next one somehow, whether it be some sort of discovery I made when I was building the last garment, or just a color that I found particularly interesting. I always let those little things trickle into the next garment to create continuity.  

What led you to designing? Where did your own journey begin?  

I started designing in my spare time when I was in high school, just because I thought it was fun. It wasn't until I started applying to college when I realized that this could be a real career path for me. It was kind of a whim, but I have no regrets. I think I used to have a lot of pent up creativity, with nothing to direct it towards. Design gives me a sense of purpose.  

What part of Brooklyn do you design/live? 

I recently moved to Flatbush, but I spend most of my time in Bed-Stuy and Bushwick.  

How has living in Brooklyn inspired your work? 

Brooklyn is an inspiring place to live because there are so many creative people here right now. It's like a massive artist's co-op, and I'm constantly being inspired by the work that my friends are doing.  

Do you have any restaurants, venues, etc.. that you would like to share with our readers?  

The Chelsea gallery district is where I like to go when I have free time. You can see some of the best art in Manhattan at galleries like Pace, Gagosian, and Cheimand Read. It's a very inspiring part of New York.  

So you're a recent graduate who has already received some great recognition for your work. Now you’re starting to really create the NIHL brand. What has been your most exciting experience throughout it all?  

This whole process has been an incredible experience, but seeing my clothes walk down an actual runway was what made it all real for me. The next day I saw one of my dresses on the cover of Women's Wear Daily and I thought to myself, 'this is what I want to do for the rest of my life'. 

What's been the most difficult thing for you throughout the process of creating your own brand?  

The hardest thing about starting a brand is just getting people to care. There are thousands of start-ups these days, and each one of them has something interesting going for them. Standing out is one thing, but it's typically those who are the most well connected that end up getting ahead in the beginning, which can be frustrating.  

Many of our readers are aspiring fashion students or designers. What advice would you have for any of them?  

I'd tell them not to let themselves get stuck in one particular style too soon. I'm not saying young designers shouldn't have their own style, but if I had a nickel for every Alexander Wang wannabe I met in college, I'd be rich. Something might seem so cool right now that it will last forever, but trust me it won't. You're only setting yourself up for a constant struggle to keep up with someone else.  

Where do you see your brand going in these upcoming years?  

I hope to one day have the opportunity to show my work at New York Fashion Week, and see myself potentially opening my own boutique for custom made garments. It's hard to say what will actually happen or how long it will take, but I'm just going to keep making clothes and see where they take me.