A few weeks back we had the great pleasure of meeting and chatting with New York fashion icon Nick Wooster at the launch of his latest collaboration with Kiehl’s. We gathered with a select group of media from around the globe at NeueHouse in Midtown Manhattan for the announcement and the launch of their new Age Defender range of products designed specifically for men.
In this interview we sit down with Nick to discuss fashion, his grooming and skincare philosophy, his career and lifestyle, and, of course his recent partnership with Kiehl’s.
Sidewalk Hustle: Why did you decide to partner with Kiehl’s?
Nick Wooster: I’ve lived in New York for many years and been familiar with Kiehl’s for as long as I can remember. I actually turned my brother on to them when they still had just one store in the East Village. Earlier this year, Kiehl’s approached me to partner with them because they saw a shared philosophy between how I think about Men’s style and how they resonate with men in grooming & skincare. So we built a series of videos together that communicate my personal tips for various scenarios that men face every day. My hope is that men will find these tips and hacks useful while learning a bit more about skincare and style in the process.
SH: What are your favorite Kiehl’s products?
NW: Some of my favorite Kiehl’s products are their Facial Fuel Eye De-Puffer because it reduces puffiness immediately and camouflages any traces of fatigue; the Facial Fuel Energizing Scrub is great in the morning or even after a flight when you want to shake-off a long journey; and Ultra-light Daily UV Defense is my favorite sunscreen because it’s very lightweight and has a matte finish.
SH: What makes Kiehl’s appealing to men?
NW: Kiehl’s has a 60 some year history in the grooming category that men appreciate. Men care about authenticity and credibility. If it’s real, relatable and not made up, then a brand and its products will appeal to them. Kiehl’s delivers that from their products, to their stores, to how they speak to their male customers across the board.
SH: You are in the great position of choosing who you want to collaborate with. What’s so special about Kiehl’s?
NW: Kiehl’s is the first grooming brand that I immediately connected with. Not only are the products effective, I was always attracted to the packaging – that is just as important for me. When I open the medicine cabinet, I love the way it looks.
SH: Tell us your thoughts on the Men’s Grooming category today.
NW: Products have evolved over the years as men have become more comfortable and educated about grooming. But even though men today understand that a simple bar of soap isn’t going to cut it, most still don’t spend a lot of time on a routine that will take longer than a few minutes. That’s why I gravitate towards brands like Kiehl’s, and most recently, their new Age Defender line because it offers a simple system of a serum, moisturizer and eye cream that addresses multiple concerns all at once.
SH: What’s the most important thing to you when choosing a skincare product?
NW: Generally speaking, I want clarity, transparency and most importantly simplicity. I am not a “product guy,” so I look for what is easy to use – nothing fussy – and products that provide the essentials I need to look put together. I also appreciate authenticity. Kiehl’s has a 60 some year history in the grooming category that gives them an expertise I appreciate and trust.
SH: Tell us about your morning skincare routine?
NW: My skincare routine in the morning is all about efficiency. I typically wash my face in the shower to save time. Afterward, I apply a serum, eye cream and moisturizer all from Kiehl’s Age Defender collection. I’ve been using the line because it’s a system of three simple steps, but it tackles a number of aging concerns at once. I’ll then layer on SPF and make sure I have lip balm on me before heading out the door.
SH: What’s the first product you bought when you started using skincare?
NW: I think the first product was Tenax, a hair gel in 1982. My first Kiehl’s products were Crème with Silk Groom and Crème de Corps in 1987.
SH: What are your thoughts on anti-aging? What’s your secret against aging?
NW: I don’t obsess about aging, but I’m certainly more aware of what will slow down or accelerate the hands of time now than I was in my twenties. Regardless of your age, my number one piece of anti-aging advice is to start using SPF. Men – especially younger men – are often unaware of its impact, but it’s important to know that no matter how long you spend outdoors in a day, if you don’t use SPF, then all of the other energy we put towards our appearance is a virtual waste of time.
SH: What do men want now from the beauty industry?
NW: Generally speaking, men want clarity, transparency and most importantly simplicity. They seek products that are easy to use – nothing fussy – and that provide the essentials needed to look good. While there are many men who will dedicate more time to grooming and skincare than others, most don’t want to spend the time on a routine that will take longer than a few minutes. That’s why I personally tend to gravitate towards complete skincare systems like Kiehl’s Age Defender line, as it consists of 3 simple products that address a number of concerns at once.
SH: Any special routine for your beard?
NW: Men don’t realize that having a beard is a lot more work than a clean shave. When I started growing a beard I noticed the skin underneath would get dry and irritated. Beard oils are great for this, as they keep hair healthy and skin underneath soothed. Kiehl’s recently introduced a Beard Grooming Oil which I highly recommend because it’s very lightweight and has a woodsy aromatic quality that isn’t overwhelming.
SH: Does your hair look just as perfect when you disembark from a long flight? What do you do to reshape and style it?
NW: I use a heavy waxy pomade on my hair, and it literally doesn’t move…even when I fly half way around the world.
SH: Is there a grooming step you’re faithful to at home but skip while on the road?
NW: It’s actually the opposite. Because flying is exhausting and the climate on planes is so dry, I tend to use more products for travel than I do day to day. I’m not a “product guy.” On a daily basis, I keep grooming as simple as possible. I use Kiehl’s Age Defender because it’s a very straightforward system of 3 formulas that tackle a number of skin issues at once.
SH: What grooming products do you use while in-flight to arrive looking refreshed? Do you apply more than usual? Any special tricks, like applying eye cream every few hours/wearing a hydrating mask?
NW: I never travel without an eye product because it keeps me from looking as tired as I feel. Facial Fuel Eye De-Puffer is great for this because it works fast and erases the inevitable signs of jetlag. And then I always keep a lip balm on me. It not only hydrates lips, but I also apply it to my cuticles to keep them from drying out on the plane.
SH: You started working in the NY fashion industry 30 years ago. In what way has the fashion industry changed? Is it very different from the way it was in your early professional career?
NW: Of course the business has changed. First of all when I started as a buyer there were no computers. Then came the internet. And finally social media. Each of these has had a cataclysmic impact on the fashion business. That’s what makes life so exciting. Each decade seemed to be so great, so new at the time [in hindsight, the 80’s really were], but each season, we are always seeking the same thing: to be seduced.
SH: What about the evolution of menswear? If you had to pick the best and the worst menswear moment of the past decades, which ones would you choose?
NW: For me the best menswear moment is “the next one”. By that I mean, that I am always on a journey of discovery. Whenever I find something new, or learn about something I knew nothing about, I consider that a small victory. I would probably say the square to shoe moment of the mid to late 90’s is something I am not anxious to repeat. The fashion show periods [January and June] are always my favorite time of the year.
SH: Which are the key elements of NYC mens style DNA? In which way is it different from other fashion capitals?
NW: I think New York City men have a diverse and practical approach to style and grooming. In New York, you are forced to be pragmatic, which means it’s always best to follow the path of least resistance. I think Italian men are more calculated and Japanese men are the most educated.
SH: When did you find (and fix) your personal style?
NW: I don’t know that I ever have. I believe style and taste are an ever expanding and always evolving motion. If I stop growing or learning, I am finished. I always say that everything I know today is because of my time at Barneys New York in the late 1980’s. I learned from Peter Rizzo who learned from Fred Pressman. That was an education you couldn’t buy.
SH: What’s your favorite country in terms of style?
NW: Hands down, Japan.
SH: What are the style and beauty essentials that you carry with you when you travel?
NW: It all depends on the length of flight. For red-eyes, I like to wear sweat pants, but it‘s important to have a jacket or a beautiful overcoat on top, so that I don’t look like I’m wearing sweats. My ideal inflight sleeping look is a black cashmere cardigan, black crew neck t-shirt, black sweats, and Church’s brogues.
As far as grooming, I tend to use more products when I travel than I do at home because inflight conditions and jetlag can be so taxing on skin. I never travel without Facial Fuel Eye De-Puffer – it works fast to cut down on puffiness, dark circles and dryness around the eyes. I also always keep a lip balm on me. It not only hydrates lips, but I also apply it to my cuticles to keep them from drying out on the plane.
SH: We loved your outfit at the Kiehl’s Men’s Moment event in New York. Could you break down what you were wearing, please?
NW: I was wearing all pieces from my collaboration with Lardini, called Wooster + Lardini. The shoes were from a project of mine with Grenson.
SH: Now you made your way into beauty with the upcoming collaboration for Kiehl’s. Is beauty a part of the fashionable lifestyle you live?
NW: Even though fashion is my main area of focus, grooming is really the foundation of any look, and without it, the effort put into my personal style would be compromised. Having said that, I’ve never been one to obsess over products. I gravitate towards brands like Kiehl’s that offer straightforward yet effective products and I select them with a specific and purposeful use in mind – a heavy waxy pomade on my hair, an anti-aging routine for my skin and formulas that will make maintaining my beard as effortless as possible.
SH: Tell us about your tattoos? Any particular meaning? And are they part of your style?
NW: No—I just like the way they look. I do like that when I wear a jacket and trousers, no one has any idea they are there.
SH: Tell us something that we don’t know about you?
NW: I played the clarinet in 5th grade.
SH: How do you pack tailored items (jackets, shirts and trousers) in a suitcase so they’re not completely crushed when you arrive?
NW: The key is to pack like items together. I like to lay pants on the bottom, jackets on the top, shirts and sweaters on the side. Shoes on the top and bottom. Packing is like a game of Tetris.
SH: We know you pack in a specific colour palette to make things simpler. Do you adjust that palette based on your destination?
NW: Absolutely. All packing is based on two things a) the weather and b) who you are seeing/meeting with on the trip. If I’m going to the beach the colors are definitely brighter and there is lots of white. If I’m going to Paris or Tokyo, the palette is much darker.
SH: Are you a carry-on die-hard or a full suitcase packer?
NW: Are you kidding me, I ALWAYS check—I rarely carry on.
SH: How would you describe your job these days?
NW: My current role affords me the opportunity to work with a great number of brands like Kiehl’s that I respect and admire.
SH: You were born in Salina, Kansas. How did you manage to get out of there in order to become the icon that you’re today?
NW: One had nothing to do with the other. As a gay kid who grew up in the 1970’s, I knew that I needed to get to New York purely for survival. And New York has been very good to me, and many others just like me. I also needed to work, so I figured I would get as close as possible to the source of clothes, which for me was retail. The rest took about 25 years.
SH: You worked for numerous big names in the fashion industry before becoming a “free agent” to the market. Did you have a masterplan for your career?
NW: Of course not. I’m not that clever. But I tried to merchandise my career, by working with the brands and stores that I loved. It was a mixture of luck, timing and persistence that eventually paid off. Trust me, there have been ups and downs, just like everyone will experience in life.
SH: How would you describe what you do to someone who is not working in fashion industry?
NW: I don’t know, but I need to figure it out, because my dad and his wife still have no idea what I do. Basically I do three things: I design product in collaboration with brands, I consult with brands on the business side and I represent brands as an ambassador.
SH: When did you decide to open your Instagram Account? How does it feel to be a celebrity in times of social media?
NW: I was lucky enough to work at Gilt Groupe in 2011 and joined Instagram in the summer of 2011 because the young guys I sat with were talking about it. I was early and I was lucky. I had excellent teachers. Kyle Krieger who I haven’t actually met, but follow on Instagram, and has a huge following says: Being famous on Instagram is like being rich in Monopoly money”. I wish I had thought of that.
SH: Social media is so hot right now. Can you share how you think about the “digital world” or how you approach it?
NW: I owe everything in my life today to the digital world. In a certain way, we all do. It is rapidly changing retail and publishing, yet I love having a connection to both the past and the future. I have no idea how all of this happened, but I am incredibly grateful.
SH: Over half a million people are following your activities. Does that put a lot of pressure on your shoulders?
NW: No. I continue to do what I do, which is what I have always done. However, I am acutely aware that the opportunity that I have today is 100% related to that audience. It’s an amazingly powerful thing.