Article by Michelle Rose
Photography by Lauren Wade
Nick brought an amazing proprietary brand of graceful, freewheeling skate style to two full looks designed by Michelle. First was our exclusive Cha Cha Chakra Ruffle Bottoms with matching Five Point Halter Top in Lavender Elevation; then the Kalasiris Underalls in the very appropriate Roller Boogie Stripe Velvet. For a third look, Nick mixed other pieces with Michelle's Dilophos Ruffle Crop Blouse in Black & White Stripe.
After the shoot, Nick and Michelle talked color therapy as personal style, the art of getting out of one's comfort zone, and the benefits of shopping local.
Watch the interview on our YouTube channel, or read on & view photos from the shoot below.
Michelle Rose: We’re here with Nick Ley.
Nick Ley: Hi! How’s it going?
MR: Hi! So, tell us about yourself.
NL: About myself! What do you want to know?
MR: Tell us about your artistic endeavors.
NL: My artistic endeavors. I have a lot of endeavors! I do a lot of things. They can all be summarized in making joyful experiences for as many people as possible.
NL: Yeah! My goodness – I do music, I am an internet radio DJ, I also work in animation for my day job, and I also produce silent disco bar crawls on the monthly. So, I kinda do a lot of different things. But I ultimately just love bringing people together, and bringing joy to a bunch of people.
MR: Would you like to shout out – are there any names of things you’d like to shout out specifically?
NL: Yeah, totally! My monthly show is Strictly Nick Ley’s Music Schoolbus, it’s currently playing on Gutsy Radio. I’m a big fan of world music, global music, so every month I do a deep dive into a different region or country’s music. Think like, Magic Schoolbus meets radio. I love to just teach people and myself about music from different parts of the world. I’m from Miami, so I grew up listening to all different kinds of music, particularly Latin American music and Caribbean music, and then that kind of branched into West African music, and then Saudi Arabian music, and Middle Eastern music, and yeah – eventually I wanted to share that love with as many people as possible. So, every month I pick a different country to explore their music and do a history lesson on it, and then kind of dive into contemporary underground stuff.
NL: There’s also my monthly silent disco pub crawl flash mob dance odyssey extravaganza. I work with a company called What The Float. They’ve been based out of New York for a little over a decade now, and in LA for 4-5 years. What The Float is a really unique – very unique – dance experience, because what we do is we take the concept of a dance party, but put it on the street, and we give you headphones and we literally take you on a dancing tour of a different neighborhood in LA every month, and the music kind of synchronizes to your journey and space. So like, “Bitch Better Have My Money” will come on outside of the bank, or something like that! Yeah, and we’re trying to tell stories, and have a wild good time in the face of anyone who will watch.
MR: Yes, I’m going to have to come to that very soon.
NL: Please do! First two Saturdays of every month – it’s a wild time – we will make you sweat. You can literally wear this, and we’ll give you lights, and we’ll give you the headphones. Yeah, come dance with us. Come sweat a little bit.
MR: Yay! I would love to. So, what are you wearing today? This is actually your third look, of three. Tell us about this outfit.
NL: You know, this wonderful wonderful designer who I know on the east side of Hollywood made this lovely top. I’m sure it has a name, but I kind of call it my Non-Binary Beetlejuice moment sometimes.
MR: Oh, I like that. The official name is Dilophos. Do you want to know where I got that from?
NL: That sounds like a dinosaur. Like Dilophosaurus.
MR: It is a dinosaur, good job! Do you know which one?
NL: Dilophosaurus – the one with the big like, frill that – the one that killed Dennis Nedry! Of course!
MR: Yes! You see why?
NL: Of course. I’m a huge dinosaur fan – how did we not know this about each other?
MR: I don’t know! I’m not necessarily a dinosaur fan, but I was thinking of how to name this top, and I was like – and I’m not necessarily not a dinosaur fan, but I was trying to figure out how to name this top, and that was all I could think of, was this dinosaur, and I had to figure it out.
NL: Okay, I’m taking Non-Binary Beetlejuice, putting it in a cupboard, and I’m going to refer to by its actual name because I had no idea I was wearing a dino reference! I’m obsessed with that. I just went to the Natural History Museum, too.
MR: Oh yes. Alright, so on so many levels.
NL: Literally on so many levels. Oh my god, I’m going to spit acid as soon as I get home.
MR: Alright, well, will you tell us about everything from head to toe?
NL: Oh goodness, everything head to toe. Gosh, I’m wearing Kenneth Cole Reaction boots, they’re pretty old, and a little dinged up. But, let’s see, I’ve had these for a hot minute. Literally, I thrift kind of everything. I tell people that I honestly, I wear thrifty stuff, and then indie designers who I find. I was gifted this hat from my friend Chloe. I literally got these boots at Crossroads, I got these black overalls from a Goodwill somewhere? I like to just throw it all together, to be totally honest.
MR: That’s fantastic, I love that too.
NL: Yeah! I like having the combination of thrifted and clothes made by friends, you know. Really when I think about it, so much of what I’m wearing is a gift from somebody. Like a gift from you, a gift from my friend. I love just acquiring pieces that are not only fashion statements but acts of love, in a way.
MR: Wonderful! Now, earlier, okay – second look, to go back in time – was the Kalasiris Underalls in Roller Boogie Stripe, which is perfect for you.
NL: Oh my lord. I remember trying those on –
MR: Oh we’ll get to that too.
NL: Oh my lord. That’s the first piece of yours that I bought, just when I was getting into roller skating.
MR: Oh, that was at the beginning?
NL: Well, maybe not right at the beginning, it was just when I was getting very good at rollerskating. Because I love to go to Moonlight [Rollerway], I love to go on Wednesday nights, and I put that on and I immediately just thought, “Wow, this makes sense in a roller rink.” And then you told me that it’s the Roller –
MR: Roller Boogie Stripe, is what I called it.
NL: It just made sense, it reminded me of all the patterns that I see there, and as you saw, it looks fantastic on skates. And the dance parties that we love to throw, the silent discos, I mean literally – you know how to outfit for my life. So I just – I love coming back, I love seeing everything that you make. But that roller jumper/unitard, I’m so obsessed with it. I’ve had it for such a long time, I’ve taken it up Griffith [Park] – insert photo of me dancing through Griffith right here. I’ve worn it in music videos, I’ve worn it out and about on the streets, I’ve worn it on dates that didn’t go great.
MR: But you felt great!
NL: But I felt great. Yeah, I love that piece. I wear it all the damn time.
MR: Yay! And outfit number one – that’s a borrowed, maybe will-own-in-the-future.
NL: I love that so much. Oh, I may or may not be stealing that from the car as soon as we’re done. Whoopsies.
MR: Oh, alright. So, that was our pretty new, one of the newest pieces that I’ve designed. I call it the Cha Cha-Chakra Ruffle Bottoms in Lavender Elevation, and the Five-Point Halter Top.
NL: Listen, I am half Cuban and Puerto Rican. Give me a spiritual astrological Chita Rivera moment – I am here for it. I cannot wait to get that. I felt so good in it. It’s so bright – all of your stuff is so bright and colorful, but this just like – the color combinations worked right, and I mean – just like this with the ruffles – anything that’s got ruffles, and anything that’s got movement. I have a very active, artistic, free-flowing life, and your clothing really just helps accentuate that, and is such an extension of what I do as an artist. So, truly I feel like – your clothes help support my art and what I do, and it’s this beautiful trade and marriage that I don’t think I have with any clothes that I have, truly.
MR: I love that! I feel truly honored seeing you in my pieces, because I feel like you embody the perfect style and exuberance, and –
NL: Exuberance is it!
MR: And I wanted us to talk about the first time that we met, which we kind of just touched upon. But literally, you came in with a mutual friend, and another friend that I didn’t know yet. You were very quiet actually, at first. Very quiet, and then, it was kind of like – there was a lot going on in the shop, I was talking to a bunch of people, and I saw you holding some garments that you were going to try on, and I went up to you and I asked if you wanted to try those on, you said yes, and we set you up in the fitting room, and as soon as – you just went, I think you went – boom! So it was like, night and day, where like, Nick was so quiet at first, and then we saw Nick come into everything.
NL: You met my Pisces sun, and then my Aries rising came right out of the dressing room. Like I said, your clothes make me come alive. I can be very shy at first, but then I get to know someone, and I get to try on their clothes, and I feel so much more alive. And I loved meeting you that day, because you were so warm, so friendly. You were willing to work with me, and you were willing to make adjustments. I’m six feet tall, and I think at the time, the outfit wasn’t in my size –
MR: We adjusted the straps, maybe?
NL: Yeah, you adjusted the straps. You took it right in the back. I was like, it’s almost there, just, there’s something – and you were like “one second.” And you went, and you took it, and you went right in the back, and you adjusted it for me, right there. And it was in that moment that I was like “Okay, alright, I feel very seen and taken care of here by such a generous, beautiful soul. Not only do I feel good with how I look in the clothes, but the person who made it is pouring so much love and personage into it.”
MR: That’s what I love, like the real tender moments. I mean, to me, truly, I roll my eyes at fashion sometimes. You know, the concept of fashion that we’re all familiar with. But when I can really work with someone one on one and make them come alive – that’s what makes it all worth it. Anytime when I’m like, “Is this important enough?” Or whatever. And it totally is important enough when I see people like you coming alive within my clothing.
NL: And you were so quick to pick up on that, and you were so quick to make me feel comfortable, and you were so quick to give me permission to come alive in the clothes. I felt, I mean – people were coming through the store, just like – “Alright!” They were part of the show, and it became a little runway moment in there. That to me – I mean I also roll my eyes at fashion, and I roll my eyes at the general shopping experience. In general I usually know what I’m going for and I’m in and I’m out, but I loved loved loved just hanging out, getting to know you, trying it on, seeing how it made me feel.
MR: And that’s how it should be, really. And especially why it’s important to keep local shopping, local businesses, small boutiques like mine alive and well and thriving – because we do care and we want to have that connection and not just to sell things but to really make a contribution to your life. And you’ve made a contribution to my life.
NL: I bought a t-shirt – I saw you were selling a shirt on your Instagram, and it’s a graphic tee, I love a graphic tee, and it’s this psychedelic trippy forest scene with the words “Don’t be sad it’s over, be glad it happened.” There was something about the message behind it that I was like, “I need this shirt so so so badly.” And it’s also so unique and so beautiful, and I had to have it immediately. I remember I drove right down to the store, and I was like “Is this shirt still here?” I found it and I was like “I’ll take that.”
MR: Yeah, that was a Boss Dog t-shirt.
NL: Yes, oh my god. It was so cute, so cute. I literally wear it around the house all the time.
MR: Yay! Do you have a way you would describe your own personal style?
NL: Hmm, how would I describe my personal style? My personal style is very, like I said, thrifted. I –
MR: Yeah. You mix it up.
NL: Yeah, truly I like to tell a story, I like to tell a color story. The Chakra Ruffle pants – I love that they’re called Chakra pants, because I really do believe in chakra work, and every day I can focus on a different chakra that needs a little bit of opening up, or a little bit of work, whether that’s my throat chakra, or my root, or my sacral – and you know, each one is associated with a a color, and I love that about the chakras. So if I had to describe my style, it’s very color story, it’s very chakra-focused, it’s very spiritual-based, and all kind of mixed into one. So, when I open my closet, there’s so many different colors looking at me, but I’ll pick the one color that I want to focus my entire outfit around. I remember I was going to work one day, I had just bought this traffic cone orange hat, and I wanted to wear that hat to work, and I was like, “Okay, this hat is what I want to focus – what I can I wear?” So I put on this sleeveless white button down shirt, and I had also just bought traffic cone orange prison pants, that just matched with the hat. So – long answer to your short question – it’s colorful. I try to tell a color story, and I try to –
MR: I guess, bringing out the chakras!
NL: Bringing out the chakras!
MR: For what you’re working on, or focusing on.
NL: Truly, you know, if I’m focusing on my career, then I’m really focusing on my solar plexus chakra. If I really want some direction in my life, then I’ll try to bring in yellows and oranges in my life. If I’m a little too grounded, and I just need to open myself up to the ether, then I’ll try and bring in more purples, lavenders and whites. It really is color therapy. That’s it. My style is “color therapy”.
MR: And when you can embody, that color, then you feel that color, you are that color.
NL: Absolutely. And that’s what I love about your clothes, because it’s so colorful, it’s so spiritual. Hell, chakra’s in the name. That’s why I have to get it.
MR: So – for you, where do style and art intersect?
NL: I mean, you and I live our lives so artistically. So it feels like it’s happening all the time. But, maybe for people who don’t feel that way, I think it’s coming out of your comfort zone. You know, for people like us and maybe people that we talk to all the time, it seems like it comes so naturally. But I think encouraging people to come out of their comfort zone is artistic, in and of itself. Art is not art unless you’re pushing some sort of a boundary, unless you’re feeling courageous about it, and –
MR: Perhaps modifying something, such as modifying someone’s comfort level. Modifying their own acceptance of themselves.
NL: Absolutely. Totally. If it’s as simple as that person who never wears anything other than cargo shorts and a t-shirt putting on something pink, or something a little more tight, or just coming out of your comfort zone allows you to feel more artistic. And stylish doesn’t have to mean trendy. Stylish can mean you’re trying something different. Artistic doesn’t have to mean it’s meaningful, it can just be something different. And I think when you foster an experience like the kind that you do at Spacedust, you’re encouraging people to do something different. You’re encouraging people to come outside of their comfort zone. To find that place where style and art intersect.
MR: Yeah, very cool! I love that answer. Do you have a favorite place or environment in Los Angeles that you like to create in, or be inspired by?
NL: Oh my lord, Jesus Christ. I’ve been in LA for like, ten years. The one that comes to mind is the [Griffith] Observatory. I love space. I love space, and Spacedust. I love the Observatory, I love everything about looking up. And that reminds me of a recent philosophy that I’ve kind of adopted – you know, look up. Look up, and zoom out a little bit. I have a really tenuous relationship with my phone and social media, and oftentimes when I’m worried that I’m spending a little too much time down here, I tell myself, “Look up.” When I first moved to LA, I lived on Normandie, and that’s right under the Observatory, so I would look at that observatory every day. I now live just a little south of that, and I can see the Observatory from my room, and I look at it all the time. The silent disco that I help put on – my first time making music for them was going up to the Observatory. So when I was asked to produce music for that, it was such an honor because I love that place. It is so inspiring to me, not just because of the architecture, not just because of what it is scientifically, but because of the journey it is to get there. It is such a monument towards learning. Chadwick Boseman gave a commencement speech at Howard University, I think 2008? In the commencement speech, he said that institutions of learning are built on top of hills to signify that great struggle is required to reach enlightenment. When I made that mix of music to take a group of people up to the Observatory, that’s what I embodied. I wanted to tell a story of great struggle to reach great enlightenment. And that’s what I think all the time when I’m walking up it. People walking by, and I’m sitting there having a literal crisis moment, walking up to the Observatory, every time. I get all existential, I’m like “Yes please ascend!”
MR: Yeah! That’s wonderful, I love that. So – what is a positive change you’d like to see in the world, and how do you think we can enact that, or achieve that? Just one thing.
NL: I would love to see people get off of social media. I really would love to see that. I just finished reading a book by Jenny Odell called “How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.” Great book, highly recommend. Barack Obama’s reading list, it was so good. It’s all about, you know, the obvious – social media’s bad for us, blah blah blah. But it’s also – there’s a case for why getting off of your phone and getting off of social media can be good for the environment. And it summarizes that by getting off of our phone and challenging ourselves to look at the world around us. That’s not just a tree, that’s a bird of paradise. That’s not just a bird, that’s a house sparrow. Learning how to really appreciate and sit in the world around us. I think that’s one change that I would like to see in the world, just be a little more patient and open with each other. Sorry, that’s going to meander.
MR: Well it also just happened, I mean come on through. I love that!
NL: I kinda want to not make it all about social media though. Cause it’s so silly.
MR: It’s not silly. I think that it’s really important for us to become more present with each other, and to be more aware of our surroundings. To not get lost in this abyss of a screen.
NL: It’s not just about getting off of it and cleansing ourselves of it, but it’s about diverting our attention in meaningful ways. So, maybe another way of summarizing it is patience. I’d love people to just exhibit a little more patience with each other. We live in such a fast – like, “What are you doing? What’s your next project? What are you up to? Are you working, are you…?” I pride myself on my ability to go to bed at the end of every day and feel like if I don’t wake up, I’m very happy with where my life is at. I have achieved a lot of things in my life thus far, and there’s plenty more that I could, but I try to live each day feeling like, “Alright, I’m happy with what I’ve done." I’m patient. I sit in this space right here with you, and what could be better?
MR: Yeah. We tend to want to be getting ready for the next thing, or thinking about the next thing, and really all we have is right here in the present moment.
NL: And congratulate yourself for what you’ve done!
NL: You’ve done – you, you, Michelle – you’ve done so much!
MR: Oh, me!
NL: You’ve done so much, but sometimes we just need to tell each other that.
MR: Thank you!
NL: And another change that I want to see is that I want people to congratulate each other more. I want people to just be like, “Oh my god, you did the thing, yes!”
MR: Or just to say, “I’m proud of you.”
NL: “I’m proud of you!”
MR: Yeah! That’s really wonderful. Yeah, I love that. So – human interaction, and/or the ability to do nothing.
NL: Yeah. It’s hard. It’s really hard. I think, especially given the past few years with social isolation, I remember going out one time. It was one of the first weekends going out [post-pandemic lockdown], and people were just really impatient. We were all standing in line to get in and people around us were just like, “Ugh, this line!” I was like, “Guys, we’re outside. It’s kinda nice, don’t you think? We’ll get there. Chill out!”
MR: Yeah, the destination might be there, but we can enjoy here.
NL: Yeah, grant people the grace. Grant yourself the grace. Life is much better than you think. Life truly is… I know that the world sucks, and we shouldn’t be complacent, I get that.
MR: But in a way, being more present locks us into that more. The positivity that we can embrace and find meaning in our daily lives with each other.
NL: Yeah. You can channel your energy for change so much better when you are grounded and when you appreciate where you’re at.
MR: And paying attention to just this. And radiate outwards, the change that you want to see.
MR: Amen. Alright, is there anything else that you’d like to say, or is there anything you’d like to ask me?
NL: Oh my goodness, I feel like we’ve covered it all. I just want to say: go to Spacedust. Go to Spacedust in Echo Park. It’s not just a clothing store, it’s an experience, truly. Blast off!
MR: Thank you.
NL: Thank you. I love you so much.
MR: I love you. This is so wonderful. You’re so wonderful.
NL: Thanks. You’ve unlocked me, truly.
MR: I love that. I’m impressed with myself.
NL: I’m impressed with you.