Nicole Tomney, of NRT, talks about the struggles and successes of fashion design in Calgary’s growing market
On a footstool in the middle of a white-walled living room that has been converted into an artist’s workplace and showroom, sits local fashion designer Nicole Tomney — the mastermind behind NRT.
Covered head to toe in black, Tomney, 25, is a convoluted vision of a stunning blonde beauty that has been dipped in metal music and punk influences.
Gingerly uncrossing her tattooed bare feet that were crossed over her leather-clad legs, Tomney laughs at the mention of having a personal life.
“I am so good at work life and so bad at personal life, so I don’t even really bother,” Tomney said in a recent interview.
The work life that Tomney is referring to is so extensive that it would easily exhaust two people. Getting up by 5:30 a.m. every morning, she begins what will be a 20-hour day of measuring, sewing, designing, and emailing.
Photo by Bre Brezinski Tomney started NRT, which stands for Nicole Rita Tomney, after completing her fashion design diploma at the Blanche Macdonald Centre in Vancouver.
“Throughout high school I took fashion class, I applied for scholarships and different things and I was like, ‘Okay I really like this.’ And then I got out of school and was like, I want to go to design school.”
Back in 2011, when she first started designing, her focus was to “make art,” she says. She would spend hours making runway ready outfits that would give her idols, such as Alexander McQueen, a run for their money. However, after realizing that these pieces were harder to move off the shelf, Tomney’s focus switched to making a ready-to-wear line.
“I get to create what other people like and want, but at the same time I still get to create my own style and what I like,” says Tomney, describing her line.
NRT is a beautiful collection of dark-coloured fabrics that have been sewn into a vast assortment of sweaters, dresses, T-shirts, pants and skirts. Tomney takes trends in the fashion world and mixes them with her latest inspiration to create daring and inimitable pieces.
Len Mastaler, agency director at I Model Management, describes NRT as “looking like rock n’ roll.”
“I get to create what other people like and want, but at the same time I still get to create my own style and what I like.”
– Nicole Tomney, creator and designer of NRT FashionsThe two met five years ago when Tomney approached Mastaler looking for models for a fashion show. Mastaler recalls Tomney as being “fun, innovative and light-hearted.”
“I think that a lot of people, especially in conservative Calgary, which tends to be kind of an old gentlemen’s club, pretty conservative in the fashion scale of things, might find her to be a little edgy, a little dark,” says Mastaler.
However, since that first meeting, Mastaler has seen Tomney’s influence in other fashion lines throughout the city.
“I’ve seen other designers willing to take a little more risk with their designs, and you know, make things a little more cooler and a little more edgier.”
Even with other local designers starting to be bolder, NRT stands apart from every other designer in Calgary since each and every single item is handmade by Tomney.
Photo by Bre BrezinskiWhen Tomney is not making items that reflect her inspirations from Marilyn Manson lyrics, she devotes time to making custom design pieces for clients. She has done everything from custom-made wedding dresses and pink party dresses to iron welded skirts.
Being able to be this diverse and change with what her clients want is part of what makes her line so successful, says Tomney.
Although, getting people to understand that she makes custom-made items was one of the main struggles that Nicole has had to overcome, says her older sister, Sarah Tomney, 26.
“Nicole is totally open to working with people one-on-one and creating different looks for them,” says Sarah Tomney.
All three agree that breaking into Calgary’s market was a challenge for NRT.
“Getting people to understand that I don’t just make couture, I make wearable clothing as well. Now it is definitely at that point, but before people just didn’t get it,” says Nicole Tomney.
“As much as they were excited because it was so weird and so different and creative and stuff, but nobody understood that I want to make clothing for you to wear. And now people finally understand. But it was a very difficult process to try and figure out the balance between couture and wearable clothes.”
Photo by Bre Brezinski After nearly two years of making this conversion, Tomney’s line is finally at a point where she is able to fully rely on NRT Fashions as her sole source of income.
“It’s crazy to think that I can go from bartending and cleaning houses…to creating a dress all night that will pay for double whatever they were paying me,” says Tomney.
Another aspect that has driven her popularity is her constant presence on social media sites, Tomney’s sister says.
NRT Fashions has nearly 4,000 followers on Instagram (@nrtfashions), which Tomney uses to post pictures of her latest creations. Using social media allows NRT to reach audiences as far away as Australia.
Back here in Calgary, Tomney and her ready-to-wear line, which is best known for its “Drop Dead” catch-line and gasmask imagery, is becoming more and more recognizable.
Seeing people wearing her clothing, and receiving complimentary emails are two of the best parts of her job, says Tomney.
“When somebody is so appreciative and so excited about something that maybe I thought was so simple it’s awesome.”
NRT can be bought from Tomney’s website www.nrtfashions.com. You can also find her collection at a newly opened clothing boutique Lexington Ave.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated following NRT’s expansion into a Calgary clothing boutique.