Clothing Designer Nicole Musselman Loves Her Work and it Shows
November 3, 2011
By Caroline Foster
In a slightly disheveled studio in Oak Cliff where clothing samples in various colors and styles clutter the room, sits an effortlessly cool looking woman surrounded by three colleagues.
The team is planning a fall collection inspired by music man Bob Dylan. The topic at hand is what kind of leather should be used for a pair of shorts. “Soft doeskin leather in an Hermès brown” says one, they all agree. A sun-kissed blonde woman is spouting ideas fast and furiously. From slouchy hats to fisherman knits and bomber jackets, she definitely has a vision.
“Did you get my e-mail?” the perky blonde asks her team. She has a habit of writing down her inspiration when it comes to her, often in the middle of the night. She e-mails her team with phrases or YouTube videos that embody her vision. Last night it was videos of musicians from the 1960s.
The idea generator is Nicole Musselman. With an extremely upbeat personality and an effortless California-girl look she is like the cool best friend every woman wishes she had. Musselman is wearing a gray t-shirt with an eagle printed on it, cobalt blue mini-shorts and short olive-green suede cowboy inspired booties. Just by looking at her you know she’s got style.
This makes perfect sense because Musselman is the owner and designer of clothing and accessories label, Koch. Pronounced “cook” the label has been successful since its official launch into clothing two years ago. The line’s fall collection is sold in more than 40 U.S. stores and is popular in Japan. So far the sales for spring after the Las Vegas and New York shows have increased by staggering amounts. The number of stores buying the line in New York has doubled for Spring 2012.
But the brand was a long time coming. Musselman first became interested in fashion when she visited her mother and stepfather while they lived in Bangkok, Thailand. While in Bangkok she became attracted to the silk industry and businessman Jim Thompson’s approach to revitalizing it. From here came the idea of the signature style of the Koch line, hand printed fabrics.
No matter the inspiration of the collection, hand printed fabrics always make an appearance in Koch collections. When a theme for a collection is decided upon Musselman finds an aspect of that she can sketch. From there the sketch is transferred to a computer and then the design is hand printed on screens and applied to fabric.
The long process of designing wasn’t always easy. “I was thinking ‘Will anyone see my stuff?’” Musselman said.
But buyers did see her stuff, and they liked what they saw. The contemporary line has an effortless look, as if nothing is too thought-out or too perfect. Each season Musselman finds a different inspiration based on music, art, film, travel or philosophy. For spring it was a combination of travel and film. Musselman went to India and stayed at a hotel used in the James Bond film, “Octopussy.” From there she drew the inspiration for her hand printed garments. Guns and daggers are patterned on tank tops and tunics.
For the fall collection its Bob Dylan’s all-American androgynous look that’s the inspiration. The look book of this collection, which showcases all of the pieces from the line, will be filmed and photographed in Detroit. This made in America aspect of Koch is important to Musselman. “I’m proud my line is made in the United States,” she said. “I’m working, and there are other people working alongside of me that are from where I’m from.”
Since the first ten-piece capsule collection two years ago, the line has grown exponentially. This evolution of Koch is just one of the reasons friends like Kristie Ramirez Hoitsma, a Dallas blogger and past employee at magazines such as Lucky, Texas Monthly and D Magazine respect Musselman.
“I love her clothing line. I’m a walking advertisement for it. It’s subtle, chic and it’s evolved over the past two years,” Hoitsma said. “ It’s gotten national attention. And up until one and a half years ago it was a one woman show!”
Musselman has widespread support, from national magazines like Marie Claire to her friends and family. As her work life becomes increasingly busy, the size of her team has increased as well. Musselman’s right hand woman is Holly Jonsson-Panis. “She’s like family,” Musselman said. She commonly uses this phrase, and it’s made even more endearing with her slight southern accent, presumably from her time in Texas, where she came for college and never left.
Jonsson-Panis and Musselman have known each other for ten years. Initially they were purely friends, but now it’s a working relationship. They share the same aesthetic and look strikingly similar. Every idea is always met with the “so cute” seal of approval by each of them.
Jonsson-Panis describes Musselman as “a ray of sunshine.” “Nicole is inspiring, energetic, has a great vision and a great sense of style. She’s generous beyond.”
Musselman relishes the support she gets from friends and family. “Anytime you do something untraditional, to have people who support you is great,” she said. Her mother and her father, who are no longer living, are constant inspirations in her life. They taught her “giving up is not an option,” Musselman said.
There are two reasons Musselman gets out of bed every morning. The first reaches far deeper than her clothing line. Musselman’s seven-year-old son, Henry is her number one priority. Not even two minutes into our conversation she pulls out her iPhone and shows a picture of her tow headed first grader. But the second reason is work. She lives by her own advice, “Find something you love and make it your work.”
But in a more serious tone Musselman acknowledges that it’s not easy being a single working mom. “It’s so tough to balance, it’s a constant struggle,” she said. “I always wonder if I am doing it right.”
This uncertainty usually goes unnoticed. Koch team member Alex Winnubst describes her boss as, “driven and confident in every aspect of her life.” Alex has been on the team for a couple of months and enjoys working for Mussleman because of her fun personality.
Mussleman’s fans think there are great things ahead of her. Unanimously people close to the designer see Koch’s expansion with a lifestyle line and Mussleman’s notoriety growing. “Nicole will be the next Tory Burch, but the cooler version,” Ramirez said. “I think Koch will be an instantly recognizable brand.” Alex sees the brand in every upscale department store in the world in ten years.
Musselman has eventual hopes for a flagship store in Dallas. She notes that customers, “like the look, like the vibe” of Koch. But she doesn’t take the credit for this; it’s all about the teamwork. “I love working with whose in my office,” she said. “I feel really lucky.”
The conversation turns to dating and Mussleman laughs distinctively about a text message a suitor sent her. But within seconds Henry is mentioned and then it’s back to business. Musselman has her priorities, and lets nothing stand in her way.