Silhouettes in movement, each one stylish, happy and alive. A lady practices triangle pose under a beaming sun. Another walks her dog in Paris - her scarf and heels matching - against the backdrop of a pink Eiffel Tower. A trio of small dogs race across the page to say Merci Beaucoup! A pink hippo looks up, content. A jovial group enjoys cocktails, 1950s style. An elegant red-head applies her lipstick. A lizard waits in the middle of a calm dessert, prickly cactus all around. These are the evocative images created by Nick Hanzlik for his popular stationary brand, R.Nichols, through a process he describes as “collage art.” The whimsical designs are made by cutting out various colored paper, superimposing one piece on top of the other. The end result is a series of unique scenes bursting with life, charm and sophistication.
Fourteen years after emerging on the market R. Nichols is still going strong. The illustrations have appeared everywhere from shopping center advertisements, to Target gift cards and most recognizably, in Mireille Guiliano’s best sellers, French Women Don’t Get Fat and French Women for All Seasons -- the thin, elegant woman gliding though town on her bicycle on the cover is an R.Nichols creation! The stationary has graced the shelves of Neiman Marcus, Barney’s, Fred Segal among many, and of course, the flagship R.Nichols shop in Orlando, Florida. The line can be found in multiple stores around the South Bay, including Lulu’s in Manhattan Beach. Nick, as he prefers to be called, appeared there this past weekend for a special Mother’s Day trunk show where he entertained fans, signed copies of of Guiliano’s books and even offered a glimpse at his portfolio of original illustrations.
I had the lovely honor of meeting Nick on a beautifully sunny Saturday during his trunk show at Lulu’s where, surrounded by champagne and a delicate assortment of chocolate we sat down and chatted about the creative process and the newest R. Nichols addition: a line of scented candles. Each fragrance is perfectly matched with the design printed on that translucent glass encompassing. Some of the most remarkable include a Golden Gate bridge scene paired with a fresh, salty fragrance -- capturing the chilly seaside air so precisely one instantly transports to San Francisco. Another shows the trademark silhouette bending down to tend her tomato plant. The scent? It’s dead on: earthy, alive with a hint of ripe tomato. “One lady said she could smell the worm in it,” Nick tells me, laughing.
SWOOP: These candles are amazing! Each fragrance is so evocative of the image. How did you go from cards and stationary to scented candles?
NH: It’s all about purity. I envisioned what I wanted for all these candles and they all smell good, they’re alive. Each one is very sentimental. It’s sensory. The line is a collaboration -- I came up with the illustrations, and the scents were created by Gary McNatton. He’s created fragrances for many companies including Banana Republic and Gap -- the popular Grass fragrance was all him! When he said he wanted to do this with me, I was so excited. It’s like Tom Ford coming to me and saying, ‘lets make a clothing line.’ It was kind of magical.
SWOOP: Describe your creative process. How do you get inspired?
NH: Through observation. Just living. The desert scenes came to me when I was visiting the Huntington Gardens. I saw a cactus and thought it would be cool to do a card around that theme. And they turned out great! Each card tells a story. It just comes to me. When I’m illustrating, the whole thing is effortless. It’s a really happy place.
SWOOP: So many creative people struggle, having to work odd jobs to sustain themselves. At what point did you realize you could make a living through illustration?
NH: I still fantasize about working at Starbucks [laughs]. Just for the benefits and stability! I’ve been in business fourteen years, but sometimes it can be rough. It’s easy to start out and be fresh and new on the scene, but sustaining it is more difficult. I started out with a vision and I put together a small collection and a list of stores. I pounded the pavement. You have to be really naive in the beginning -- just go for it and don’t be shy. I find that I’m so much shyer now, after all these years. For example, I won’t make cold calls anymore. It makes me uncomfortable. But I’m always amazed when I hear anyone knows my name!
SWOOP: What do you love the most about the Beach Cities.
NH: I live in North Hollywood and I remember the first time I came to Manhattan Beach. I drove up and when I saw the ocean cresting over the hill it was such a magical moment. It’s so special here.
SWOOP: What is next for you?
NH: I love retail. I’m really good at it so I’d love to open up more stores across the country -- San Francisco, New York and LA. When I’m at my store in Florida I merchandise everything. I start to work and everything becomes whitespace, I don’t even know what I’m doing, but in the end it’s all perfect. Or maybe I’ll eventually get rid of all of this. Move to Paris and just do illustration -- no overhead, just paper and scissors.
Photos are courtesy of Nicholas Hanzlink
Learn more about R.Nichols and shop the latest collection at http://www.r-nichols.com.
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