SPEAKING WITH NIC DE LA PAZ OF BOTÁNICA
In the beginning stages of her career Nic's focus was on the music industry; a world that doesn’t operate on chivalry and tends to have more hurdles to jump if you happen to be a girl. After successfully trying her hand at managing rappers, music journalism and a semester in fashion school, a hallucination set her on the path of making art of her own for a company she now calls Botanica. Before hopping on FaceTime with me she had just gotten in from walking her friend’s dog in what I pictured to be a quaint and foggy park, in London, England. From 3,459 miles across the pond the call connects and it becomes evident that her days working for XXL left her familiar with the interview process. She empathizes with the challenges of transcribing dialogue and we both agree that that people have a tendency to edit their words after reading them in conversational context. The New York native tells me how her early years in public school and living in literally every borough taught her to have thick skin. In reference to a neighborhood kid clocking her for her sneakers, “What size shoes you wear?” She reenacts what that would have sounded like at the time, “My size!” This is the spirit of her persona and the attitude that sets her apart from other girls; gaining and keeping respect where it counts. She shares with me, what it was like to be in the midst of the rap world while making her way as a hip-hop journalist who had bigger dreams of her own.
“I was doing some creative directing for different rappers and I started to realize... I’m never going to be a rapper. I’m never going to be a singer or a producer and in this weird selfish kind of way, I’m never going to be known for something I did myself. I’m always going to be the support for someone else or someone else is going to be the face of something that I think is a really cool idea ...and that bothered me.”
That’s when she pump faked on the rap game and took a shot at something completely new. In 2011 Nic left her east coast nest in search of a new beginning in the city of angels where she found new devotion in the form of a rosary.
“I was just trying to find myself and figure out my life and what I wanted to do. One night I was in the studio with Kendrick Lamar and Ali (Mixed By Ali) because my friend Brooklyne was interviewing Kendrick. I had turned around really quickly and for some reason I believe... Ali had on a rosary and Kendrick had on a herringbone and when I turned I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, a herringbone rosary.’ I was like wow that’s it, I really wish that existed but I never thought to make it until I got back to New York, that’s when I decided I was going to make it for myself. I wanted to see what it would look like on, I wanted to actually wear it, so that’s how I approached it. I ended up taking it to my friend Chris Mendes and when he looked at it and tried it on he said, ‘If you don't sell this to a company or make it yourself to sell, you’re an idiot.’ [Laughs] I was like damn, maybe I don’t want to be an idiot, so I made it.”
Nic’s original rosary piece was 14 carat gold. After talking more with Mendez about creating a collection she decided it would be more cost effective to start out by making plated gold jewelry and work her way up. She became committed to the science of gold and finding the technology that would prevent the jewelry from turning people’s necks green. She started out working with nickel plating then to electroplating in order to prevent any allergic reactions to the nickel plating. This year she began with 10 carat, moved up to 14 carat and finally 18 carat in order to prevent any allergic reactions to the nickel plating.
“At that time I was listening to a lot of Pusha-T...don’t judge me [Laughs] and I was thinking to myself I don’t want plated jewelry so I threw it all away. I was focused on gold because growing up that’s what my father wore, I would wear it but always have to return it.”
She proceeds to break down her gold knowledge,
“Nickel plating is an adhesion of mixed metals that creates an illusion of gold. Electroplating is a stronger adhesion that does not use nickel. When dealing with real gold we’re on an 100 percent scale, 24 carat gold is 100% gold & does not contain any alloy. Alloy is a mixture of metal to make gold strong because gold is really soft and scratches easily if it is pure. 18 carat would be 75% gold and 25% alloy. 10 carat is 41.7% gold / 58.3% alloy. 10 carat is ideal for setting diamonds in because it has the most alloy so it will hold the diamond better. 14 carat is 58.3% gold / 41.7% alloy. 14 carat is what I grew up wearing, it’s the most common in the hood, it’s not expensive but it’s not cheap and if it’s a good piece you can sell it and actually make some money off of it.”
Nic is a daddy’s girl. When she talks about him I recognize that she becomes that proud little girl again and the impact he has had on her life is clear. Growing up in a traditional Puerto Rican household in New York City gave her the wisdom and wit to navigate through life without losing sight of her morals and family values. She attributes the Don Eliette collection to her upbringing; her parents instilling the importance of acting like a lady mixed with her desire to embrace the culture of the neighborhood, where flaunting jewelry and luxury things is part of a lifestyle heavily influenced by rap music.
“My dad was really into gold, he was a 70’s pretty boy. It’s funny because I still have grown women come up to me because they know about my dad from back in the day. They ask me about my mom...and I’m like get out of my face before I punch you. [Laughs] My dad has always been like that, an attractive Puerto Rican pretty boy. I’m a mixture of my parents. My mom is a little more aggressive and she might punch you in the face and my dad is chill and everybody’s friend. He’s materialistic, he introduced me to fashion in the first place. I went to fashion school but then I dropped out because music started picking up for me and I was making more money doing that. But when I was young, I would watch him organize his clothes and see the way he was with his things. They way he would put away his gold and line up his ties and his shirts. I was always fascinated by his style, he was always very clean, that was his thing. I was the first girl so everything needed to be pretty and nice, he made sure I knew how to behave like a lady.”
When Nic was only 8 years old, the first issue of XXL Magazine was released. Throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s it became the face of Hip Hop and one of the main sources of the culture. Little did she know she would later end up working for the publication and her hustle would afford her the opportunity to interview the likes of Nas, CeeLo Green and Diplo.
“My very first interview in life was with Action Bronson and this was before he was famous. It was kind of something I was asked and encouraged to do rather than me saying, I want to do this. I did it because I was good at it not because I had a passion for it. I was always way more creative and there was an itch that I wasn’t scratching until I found Botanica.
I could never truly leave music, I tried so many times but I can’t it’s too hard. It’s still the most natural thing for me because that’s where all my friends are and I have so much knowledge in that field. When I was a kid I had a Spice Girls CD and my brother threw it out the window! He told my mom that I couldn’t listen to it because it was over sexualizing me, but instead puts on Mase and Nas and all these songs that we’re like “fuck bitches.” But in a weird fucked up way it taught me who not to be. People would ask me how I was so involved in rap when it’s such a misogynistic industry but it taught me not to be that girl that goes to the hotel with some guy. Not to be the one that hangs around for too long, so through speaking about other females taught me don’t act like that, act the opposite and they will respect you. It just ended up to be that a lot of my friends were raping and they would have me around because they knew that I would be very straight up and never bullshit. I’ve been asked to manage artist a lot in the past, I was offered to manage Just Blaze and young Guru on a tour but I decided not to because I didn’t want that experience of managing people older than me...It was people that were way more developed and I wanted to work with somebody young. But recently this one artist, Slayter a rapper from Uptown came to me within the last six months and asked if I would manage him and I had a really good feeling that I could make a difference in this person’s career. I ended up getting him his debut song that premiered on The FADER and then we followed it up with a feature on Complex and Shade45 and DJ Drama’s show. I genuinely love his music but after I get him to the level that I believe he deserves, I’m going to go back into my design world and just retire from that part of my life altogether. But I know this is going to be a 10 year journey of making this person’s life what it should be because I believe in the message he’s trying to convey.
"I went to Made In America a few months ago and I was looking at the way people were reacting to musicians and how they would connect to the music. Artists like Chance The Rapper, Jay Z, Kendrick, J Cole and Big Sean have the ability to emotionally connect the thousands of people watching, you can tell that the connection is so much deeper within them. The music not only affected their life, but their world. And I always thought to myself that I wanted to do that with design one day. I want somebody to connect to this the way that they do to a song. Emotionally, get you through something because that’s what music does, it’s therapy.”
Nic is now living in London where she attends Central Saint Martins University of The Arts. She expresses the importance of having headphones on when being in a new city and out of her usual element. There is a marriage between music and jewelry for her, it’s a physical reminder to stay strong when things get tough in the same way that music can be your best company when you feel alone.
“WHAT I’M TRYING TO DO WITHIN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS IS DESIGN MEN’S WEAR AND CREATE A BOTANICA MENSWEAR LINE. I WANT MEN TO BE COMFORTABLE WITH EXPERIMENTING DIFFERENT CUTS, FABRICS AND STYLES BECAUSE ALL OF THE BROTHERS AND MALE FRIENDS ARE VERY MASCULINE BUT THEY LOVE FASHION. FASHION IS A FORM OF EXPRESSION AND I WANT TO MAKE MEN FEEL LIKE THEY CAN TRY NEW THINGS.
IN MY FIRST YEAR OF FASHION SCHOOL ONE OF MY PROFESSORS SAID SOMETHING THAT STUCK WITH ME MY ENTIRE LIFE AND I APPLY THIS TO MY LIFE, building a wardrobe. Don’t just buy pieces because they are trendy. Buy pieces that are going to last and stand the test of time.”
When Nic first envisioned the herringbone rosary at the studio in L.A. she referred to her idea as a hallucination.
“Ever since I was a kid I would have these hallucinations...not in a scary way but I would see things that weren't really there. I always say that I was born naturally high. I don’t know what my dad was doing at that time in his life, but I feel like when they made me, he might have been high. Im such a naturally spacey person, still sharp but I go into my own littles worlds and zone out and think I see things that aren't there.”
Nic tells me a funny story about how she chased a man down the block during fashion week because he was wearing what she thought was an inflatable coat. She ran down 14th street until she got close enough to see that it was merely wool coat and nothing like the plastic blowup chairs from the 90’s she was hoping for. But thanks to her impulse the mysterious coat sparked an idea that turned out to be well worth the chase. The adventure of the plastic coat took her back to L.A. where she sought out a float company that would assist in making this vision tangible.With a sketch and a recycled bubble wrap sample she had retrieved from her mother’s vitamin supplement package, Nic was on the next flight to Los Angeles.
“If I see something that already exists I don’t want to make it, I feel like I’m wasting my time, so I googled for days. That jacket was originally intended for someone that was going to perform at Coachella. We’re still working on getting it used in an editorial shoot. That was probably my proudest hallucination moment that i've ever had because even though I felt crazy and I was literally chasing someone down the street and explaining it to everyone possible...I still get this weird high by doing things people tell me I can’t do. I get this feeling of accomplishment.”
“My mom instilled in us to always try, don’t say you can’t because the minute you say you can’t you won’t. So you have to keep trying even if someone tells you that you can’t just keep going. I decided on the name Botanica because of my friend Chris Mendez, he was the one who pushed me, hes was that friend who was encouraging. Botanica sounds Luxurious but still hood at the same time and that’s what I wanted. I remember the first time I saw the logo on the back of the herringbone rosary and it was like the first time I ever gave birth…[Laughs] I’ve never given birth before but I would imagine this is what it’s like because it’s so beautiful. Victor Roman….who is the coolest did so good with the logo. At that time I had been watching this film called Objectify, which is an amazing design film that was on Netflix and under the suggested there was a documentary called Helvetica A lot of Italian designers used Helvetica for some of their most prestige jobs one of which was designing the signs for New York City public transportation. I noticed that our font was an updated version of helvetica. It all made sense, the font tied our city with our brand. that’s how I knew it was right.”
“I’ve gotten a lot of shit for it because in the Caribbean “Botanica” is identified as Santeria or witchcraft. I wasn’t raised like that, not that I don’t believe that it could be real but I just don’t mess with it because it’s dark. I’m just excited about the possibility of healing and I approached the idea of Botanica because I believe there is healing in those places. Like the candles and Saints as well a the mindset behind someone who prays or does rituals to cleanse. I’m not religious, I’m more spiritual than anything else and I believe in God heavily because I grew up Christian with respect and love for God but I like this idea of a Botanica.
I believe jewelry in a sense is healing, you keep it close to you and you look at and remember a person. Back in the day in High School if a guy was wearing your nameplate that was your dude. Jewelry is one of those things that is emotional and healing.
I want Botanica to be as big as Louis Vuitton and Celine. But you have to understand that LV started as a luggage company in the 1920’s and that Celine was originally a kid’s show brand. It’s interesting that over time brands can mature and it’s literally like a person. The most important thing for me is that over time Botanica becomes something that not only people grow with, but that after I die someone is going to want to become the creative director and take care of it they way people have done with these other fashion houses like Dior.
Brands like Karl Kani and FUBU the brands we grew up with and loved but the urban community doesn’t support each other and that’s a problem and that’s why brands like Rocawear, ENYCE and Karl Kani which is the most fire brand to me from back in the day…There is lack of support for each other and how inconsistent we are as a culture.
I hate the term “urban,” I heavily identify with hip-hop culture and the hardest part about running Botanica and being a Latina girl and having the background that I do with an understanding for rap music and being so involved in the culture is that when I take something to a buyer they say,
"We love this but it’s too urban.”
But Raf Simons or Moschino can turn around & make something with in your face letters, rope chains, nail acrylics and it’s edgy. Something I wouldn’t make cause it’s too obvious.