“There is no longer a need for anyone to do what is explicitly right or wrong for their assigned gender, they can simply explore their identities themselves through whatever means necessary.” Designer, Neil Grotzinger of NIHL comments on gender roles, wrestling with Arca, porn categories, Nihilism and which Robyn track best embodies his love life.
YOUTH and ROLE MODELS
Growing up in the authoritarian and conservative state of Colorado, did you rebel as a teen and is your label, NIHL an act of rebellion?
I was definitely much more of an introvert while I was growing up than I am now, which I think was in part because I felt like I didn’t really fit within any crowd. In a lot of ways, I was more of a conscious observer than a rebel, but I think that kind of fuels the work that I do now, which is very consciously rebellious. Being removed from my conservative hometown gave me the confidence to make a statement about my experiences growing up.
Who would be your pipe dream crush that you would wrestle with?
Oh my god, haha. Maybe Arca?
A peer in the fashion industry who inspires you and why?
I’m very inspired by Raul Lopez and his brand Luar. I think he has a very unique voice within fashion and isn’t afraid to challenge the norm. What he does is different in a lot of ways from how I design, but that’s why I love it. It’s complex and seems sort of unfathomable to me how he can conceptualize certain shapes and silhouettes, but it still all bares reference to an aspect of his personal experience, which I really admire.
In your youth, what was your relationship with queer culture and do you remember becoming aware of the fact that we’re conditioned to adopt conventional gender roles – was this the genesis of NIHL?
When I was younger I used to dig for anything queer I could find on my computer. I felt really isolated where I grew up so it seemed like the only thing I could do was hole up in my room and watch Rupaul’s Drag Race or sift through Mapplethorpe photos online. I can’t say I remember a moment where I became aware of gender roles, I just feel like I always saw heteronormativity as a grandiose fiction that I would never relate to no matter what. NIHL came about as a reaction to everything I witnessed as a part of that facade.
If you’re love life was a Robyn track, which one would it be?
Dancing on my own is the ultimate jam. I’m always losing my shit on the dance floor by myself!
“I’d love to create a lampoon of the gym within the framework of one of my collections as a vaudevillian space where everything is uniquely set up to seem athletic and charged.”
Talk to us about the philosophy of NILH and did the philosophy of nihilism influence the label?
The name NIHL came about as a sort of joke when I was in college. I made it up with my friends as a reaction to the “un-pronounceability” of most high-end fashion brands, which I’ve always felt was kind of funny and unnecessary. In a way it does bare relevance to the idea of nihilism, as does the statement behind the brand. Everything that I do is about breaking down and manipulating a facade that we accept as a daily truth, which in a sense makes the initial reference meaningless.
The role of fashion and makeup and how we choose to express or repress our “manhood” is vastly changing. Do you think we’ll witness a resurgence in fashion where men dressing extravagantly in heels à la King Louis XIV will be synonymous with power and authority and replace the “suits” of today?
I think it’s actually already happening. In a lot of ways certain people are challenging themselves to think beyond what is considered acceptable based on their gender or their sexuality. It’s hard to assume that anything in fashion will really transform male identity overall in the same way that it might have in the eighteenth century, because fashion today has so much to do with subculture and assimilation. It doesn’t really seem all that possible for us to completely reimagine manhood across the board. What I think we’re witnessing now is the unleashing of the grey area. There is no longer a need for anyone to do what is explicitly right or wrong for their assigned gender, they can simply explore their identities themselves through whatever means necessary.
Outside of fashion how do you attempt to disrupt the notion of what it means to be masculine?
I suppose I just try to adopt the perspective that I am in no way superior to anyone simply because I’m a man. I also think so much of our idea of masculinity is a daily performance, and I like to treat life like a bit of a joke sometimes and play characters as a way of displacing and lampooning masculinity.
We can’t help notice that the traditional hyper-masculine stereotypes that you’ve reinvented such as: football players, militants and wrestlers are all porn categories… Which of these three porn categories would you reinvent for a future collection: “Texas Cowboy,” “College Roommate” or “Mormon?”
Oh my god I love them all! The only one I haven’t already toyed with is the college roommate. Last season I was doing research on Cowboys and Mormon’s as figures of authority because the collection was called “Subservient Authorities.” But a collection about frat bros and dorm hoes sounds amazing!
NIHL veils All-American archetypes in effeminate detailing to reinvent male masculinity. How would Neil Grotzinger tackle redefining health and fitness and the masculine connotations of this “macho” space?
I think there’s a lot to parody about the performativity of exercise which I’ve been trying to unpack for a while. There are so many dramatic aspects to the way men work out, especially at the gym, and what I do now is almost more about poking fun and exaggerating something. I’d love to create a lampoon of the gym within the framework of one of my collections as a vaudevillian space where everything is uniquely set up to seem athletic and charged.
“Our goal is to work on a much more feasible scale, making sure that our products are produced in numbers that are comprehensible to sell so that everything we make has a life span.”
What can we expect from the future direction of NIHL?
Right now, I’m all about specificity. I think the work I was doing towards the beginning was intentionally very broad and targeted this idea of the overarching male icon that is all too familiar to most people. Now I want to dig for the really specific, less familiar characters within masculine culture that I can unpack in a more comedic, subversive way.
An ambition of yours that’s come true and a dream you have for the future?
When I first graduated from the MFA at Parsons I was shortlisted for the LVMH prize which was such an incredible experience. It feels so good to be recognized by your peers and has also given me the opportunity to expand the visibility of my brand. In the future I just hope to build my vision even further, reach more people and continue this dialogue.
Are there any upcoming designers from Brooklyn we should have on our radar?
There’s a designer named Vasilis that is really paving his own way in the queer fashion space that I love and there are also a couple of other designers like my friend Shanel, who is building her brand around the unspoken black female narrative. There are a lot of young designers right now that are starting their own dialogue, which I think is amazing.
How does NIHL endorse sustainable fashion and what do you want customers to know about fast fashion?
We endorse sustainability by being the opposite of fast fashion. I think most people automatically assume that sustainability is all about eco-friendly processes, without thinking about the issue of over-production. Fast fashion, and even brands that utilize sustainable processes are contributing to an ever-growing problem that is the act of making clothing that never gets worn or used. Our goal is to work on a much more feasible scale, making sure that our products are produced in numbers that are comprehensible to sell so that everything we make has a life span.
What would you graffiti on the back of a toilet door?