Artist, fashion designer, pop culturalist, club kid, drag queen, social media personality and meme star… this multifaceted creative has helped shape the nightlife scene in many ways over the years. After a short break from the biz, he’s back with a vengeance. His name is Nicky Ottav… look it up!
Thotyssey: Nicky, hello! Thanks for finding time for us today! You seem busy as hell lately. How do you find the time for everything?
Nicky Ottav: To get it all done, I just really try to focus on organization. I keep lists, calendars, deadlines, and reminders to make sure I accomplish everything and make time for personal projects! But really, it all gets done because I love making and creating. I don’t think any of us could work in the arts if we didn’t love it!
Truth! It seemed like for a few years, you kinda stepped away from nightlife and focused more on fashion, but in the past year or so you’ve gone back into both full force.
[My break from nightlife] stemmed from a bad situation with a club I was working for in a more full-time position. The people running the club put me in a really sticky situation when they mismanaged funds and started bouncing checks for me and all my friends (I was employing up to 60 people as hosts a week). I couldn’t deal with the stress of my people not getting paid on time, or at all, and I couldn’t control the behind-the-scenes of this club. So I just had to step away and think about my future in nightlife, and what other things might be as important – if not more – than hosting parties. My other passions are art and design, so I focused on that before I fell back in love with entertaining in the nightlife arena.
Your reason for leaving sounds like something everyone in the biz can relate to, unfortunately! So, let’s jump back to the beginning of it all for a bit… where are you from, and how did you begin as an artist?
I’m from LA, and I’ve always been into expressing myself visually. I was lucky enough to experiment with my look from a very early age. Eventually my club kid style got me noticed in LA when I was still a teen, and I was hosting clubs with a fake years before I got to NYC. Nothing could really prepare me for New York nightlife. But I did feel like already having worked around people much older than me helped me grow up a lot faster than others my same age, who were just starting to go out.
Describe what was going on in NYC nightlife when you arrived.
The first party I ever went to was On Top, because I could get in without a problem if I walked in with these two fabulous queens I met right away when I got here. I just remember being so excited by the looks I was seeing and feeling, like I needed to up my game big time if I was going to hang around! It was thrilling seeing legends like Amanda and Susanne in person, and just soaking it all in. Around that time I started hosting at The Box, which was my first gig in NYC — and that was similarly eye-catching and extraordinary, considering nightlife was nothing like it was in LA when I left!
What was the big difference between the scenes in NYC and LA?
At the time, nowhere I was going had anyone pulling artistic, inspired looks. There were, of course, drag queens in LA, but I had rarely ran into anyone doing androgynous, alien-esque, costume looks, which was the norm at many of the first NYC parties I went to. There’s so much more of a sense of legacy in New York; truly great artists , entertainers, and fashion icons have rubbed shoulders at many of the same places, on many of the same streets that we now inhabit. I think that tradition is evident in the creativity you can see when you look out an NYC club crowd.
That being said, LA’s scene has now really evolved, and I see a lot of amazing looks coming out of my hometown as well.
As far as the looks you make for yourself and the fashion you make for others, where do you generally find your inspiration?
I definitely find my aesthetic to be at the intersection of pop art and pop culture. My brand Meltdowns & Mugshots literally takes its name from tabloid meltdowns and celebrity mugshots that have stuck with me since childhood. And pop artists, most notably Andy Warhol, have always governed my sensibility. Pop culture and pop art reveal a lot about a culture’s psyche at any given moment, in my opinion.
I loved that Meltdown series! It’s funny (or totally not funny), our President has made the Celebrity Meltdown a daily legit news story. I wouldn’t wear him on a jacket, though.
I highly doubt he will ever appear in the brand!
Although, sadly, the documentary doesn’t exist online anymore, it was a really great moment in my life. It captured the spirit of what being a DIY “influencer” was at that time (and not an Instagram influencer). It showed me and my friends making New York and the world know who were we based entirely on our craftiness, boldness, queerness, etc. I’m really proud we’ve put our stamp on this city, and meant something to people worldwide.
You became meme-famous when you were featured in an on-the-street segment of Jimmy Kimmel Live! where fashionistas at a NYFW event were asked what they thought about a non-existent runway featuring men in watermelon masks, and you were like “it’s called fashion, look it up.” That was probably supposed to be a joke at your expense for the pleebs, but I’m sorry… that watermelon head totally WAS fashion!
That was the really awesome thing about that: they tried to play me, but bitch I would literally wear that. Take that, Kimmel.
And you got a tagline out of it! I watched this episode of The Special Without Brett Davis that served as the “Nicky Ottav: It’s Called Fashion Look It Up” takeover, featuring yourself and a treasure trove of your club kid friends in looks. That was fun! Did you ever want to do some sort of fashion-based web series or podcast of your own?
Absolutely, I’m really dying to. I always do red carpet reviews every award season, and people seem to really love them on my Instagram story. I definitely want to do a live stream in the future, and do my own fashion police. I’d like for people to know my personality on camera, not just in Instagram photos.
That would be amazing! By the way, Jessie Camp (a musician and scene kid from back in the day, and an ex-MTV personality) hosted that Special. He recently disappeared for a few days and everyone feared the worst, but than he resurfaced and was completely fine! What was your take on that?
I did not know about that, but it’s interesting because I just got a message from him for the first time in a while. He’s a wild spirit, so sometimes he disappears… but he will ALWAYS resurface! Legendary.
You’ve done some performing, both in recording songs / videos and features and also some live performance in drag. How does performance figure into your art these days? Is it its own thing, or is it more a vehicle to showcase your fashion?
Drag is really what reignited my love for nightlife. Now that I’m performing and giving shows rather than simply hosting a table, I feel like I can really express myself and showcase something more than my outfits. The fashion and the shows go hand-in-hand, but I wouldn’t say I began performing as a vehicle to showcase my clothes. I do love incorporating pieces from Meltdowns & Mugshots in my drag looks, though. I’m still developing my drag persona and style, and it’s really fun. I think everyone should try performing.
In the past few years, nightlife has really shifted from big fashionable dance kikis to bar drag shows (although we still have a serviceable chunk of the former). Are we okay with this transition, and might we return to the big dance parties down the road?
I actually love it, because I feel as though it’s much more intimate… and there’s more room for meaningful interactions with other artists, performers, designers, and creatives in general at these small venues and shows. I still work at some large venues where having a one-on-one with someone is almost impossible in the chaos of the dance floor and the booming speakers. I’m not sure when or if it will shift back, but I prefer these smaller kikis.
Yes, we’ve held two competitions thus far and are already planning our third for May: ‘Read My Lips: Rihanna’. It’s one of my proudest accomplishments. We’ve given 24 performers a stage to show hundreds of people how incredible they are, and our two winners West Dakota and Kimmi Moore are both spectacular local talents that are beginning to be known worldwide. It’s so exciting to hand over the crown and a $1,000 prize to deserving performers.
Tell us about “Phallic CVNT: Gods & Monsters,” a fashion event you will be hosting at 3DB on April 1st.
PHALLIC is my best friend, and I’m so so proud of his collection. I’m producing the event and helping run the show, since I have the experience to help it go smoothly. It doesn’t hurt that [Read My Lips] is at 3 Dollar Bill as well. The collection is all about drag performance. It’s theatrical, as opposed to a normal runway show.
I’m so so excited about this new brunch opportunity. The Liberty is a wonderful venue that’s super accessible (it’s by lots of trains near the Empire State Building), and it’s going to have unlimited mimosas and Bloody Marys for $20… so I know all my girls, rich or poor, can come have fun with us! I’m going to be premiering it with the help of the incredible Lady MacNCheese, who is a stellar performer. We plan to give numbers ranging from oldies and Motown, to current tracks and Gaga Mashups. Basically, expect a little of everything mixed with a lot of tomfoolery, because that’s what we do best!
What else is coming up for you?
I am bringing back my “It’s Called Fashion Flea Market” for the spring and summer, and we’re moving from the Museum of Sex to 3 Dollar Bill as well! It’s a bigger space, and I’m glad to be bringing the event to Brooklyn where most of the designers work and reside! Other than that, I have some secret events and projects releasing this summer… and you’ll be the first to know.
Looking forward to it! Who are you excited about for Drag Race this season?
Yes! Okay, last question: what’s the best piece of advice you can give to someone who wants to break into nightlife fashion?
I would say that you are you best selling point! You gotta make your fashion and rock it on yourself, because that will make people notice them. It’s really served me well to be my own model.
Thank you, Nicky!