INTERVIEW: ANGEL NOKONOKO

Words and images: Rhiannon D’Averc

I meet Angel in his studio – the home of NokNok London, in Whitechapel. From the denim-covered cushions and seats on the sofa and armchair to the racks of jackets, it is immediately clear that this is the domain of a man who knows his denim.

The designer originates from Ibiza, and when we sit down to chat, he has only just flown back – having celebrated his birthday on the island. I ask him what it was like to grow up on a notorious party island.

“Amazing,” he says. “Obviously, you touch a lot of nightlife whether you want it or not. It’s just part of the whole system of the island. I grew up with that type of lifestyle. That’s why I’m kind of excessive and eccentric and fun. And I’m… I was going to say I love to party but I don’t do it as much anymore, I’m focused on working. But I did used to do it, and I do it whenever I can.”

Growing up in Ibiza was an experience that gave him front-row seats to something a lot of people aspired to, a lifestyle that was about being free. “I think I like it because I experienced it when it was still a little bit more real, less about the money and the VIPs. It was more about the music, no matter who you were or what you wore, you could still have a good time as long as you wanted to have a good time.”

Of course, we all get a certain picture in our heads when we think of Ibiza. One that has been reinforced by reality TV and scandalous reports: half-naked Brits drunk and lairy on stages, foulmouthed, performing sexual acts in public, getting into trouble. Something that Angel also recognises.

“From my experience growing up, English people, some people that go to Ibiza, they change into something that I’m not sure whether they’re themselves. Because I’ve never seen it here, but when they go to Ibiza, trust me – they do things that I don’t know if they do it here! As soon as they get into the plane, the switch is different. Depending on the area that you go, you can see more bad examples of English misbehaviours!” Angel laughs. “But I think that’s young people who are going for the first time. But then you have another side of people that go every summer, so they know where they’re going and they know what to do.

“But the kind of conception of a hedonistic place… it’s true. It’s changed a bit over the years, but still there is that. Then you have the other side of, you know, drugs, sex, and dance. That’s still there. Because at the end of the day if you go to Ibiza for a week or two weeks, you’re not going to go to the beach every day. At some point you’re going to go out, because you want to dance and because there’s really good DJs and performers that come to play. It would be a shame not to actually experience the nightlife.”

It’s changed over the years, though – as Angel laments. “A lot of the people who used to run things, they don’t run it anymore. They kind of gave up, and there’s come in a new generation of people who just want to make money. Some of the places are just about money. If you have money, you can go to the VIP. The VIPs, they became bigger in every club, because they want to make more and more money. Also you have more competition, because there’s other clubs – but also they compete with other islands. You have Croatia, Greece, Mikonos, where they offer a similar thing for a lot less money. It’s gone a little bit down in that way, but you’ve still got people. It’s not like before. For example, in August that was the peak month, so everything would be fully booked, no space. Nowadays you still have spaces, you have hotels reducing prices.

“I want to bring a bunch of press people – not even to party, just to see the island, just to understand. To kind of show them the side which is not the lifestyle side, the sightseeing side, to see the spirit and the vibe which is Ibiza. It has changed a lot, especially lately. It’s becoming a bit of a Saint Tropez. Still, you have some places that are still kept as they used to be.”

Angel’s denim jackets have a vibe that obviously fits very well with the feeling of Ibiza – the customised, rock-yethippy style. Each one is also emblazoned with a message on the inside: ‘Always Dream’.

“It’s the phrase that I used since I was a kid,” Angel explains. “If I wouldn’t dream, I wouldn’t be here. Also it’s a positive message, that comes from being from a super-small island and coming here and, in a way, doing my dream. Doing what I like. It’s interesting, because a lot of people seem to connect with that phrase. A lot of people are in similar situations, they know what it means, you know? When you have something in your mind and your heart that you really want, that is your dream. The first thing is you have to dream it, and then it will come. The universe puts things in your way that helps you get to that dream.”

The brand has a clear style – the kind of look that becomes instantly recognisable, because it’s consistent and concise. “There’s two or three influences,” Angel tells us. “One is Ibiza, of course the excessive nightlife. Before you could party from Friday until Sunday, you had clubs that would open Friday night and then close Sunday night. That’s the excess. But at the same time, you have the hippy, the freedom side, the more easy-going side of the island. When I say the hippy side, I mean in the sense of being free, being open to anything, but at the same time don’t harm anyone else around you. Because everyone is based on peace and love and connection. I don’t know you, but if I’m having a good time with you, I don’t have a problem.

“But also I’m basing my work a lot on London stuff, subcultures like rock, punk, urban hip-hop, R&B, all these types of things. I base myself a lot in music, the aesthetics of music.”

Ah, the music. We can’t get far in any kind of piece on NokNok London before going into the music. It’s so clearly a part of Angel’s life and aesthetic; even looking down at his arms, tattoos spell out the names or recreate the faces of his favourite artists. Of which, clearly, there are many.

“Jimi Hendrix is my number one – obviously, I think you can tell! I think he was amazing. Not only as a musician, because he was an innovator. I think he would have been perfect for Ibiza because he had that dreamy and open mind, he was so forward. But at the same time he came from nothing. He had this kind of super-exciting mind but at the same time he had his demons. What I learnt from him is the guitars but also the colours and the way he used to dress, all that stuff.

“Then another one that influences me a lot, because I mix fashion and art, is Jean-Michel Basquiat. He’s another one of my very big inspirations in terms of his energy and what he did and how he was. Then Jim Morrison as well I really like, very much. The power of the music that he had, it was quite hypnotising.

“Then I have Janis Joplin as well. But I think those ones really remind me of the flower power revival and the hippy side. And then from the 90s I was quite into Kurt Cobain, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and things like that. But then for example, hip-hop, at the start I was quite into Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. Because of the messaging, I think, and what they went through to be where they were, and where they came from. Also they were dreamers, in a different world, dreaming of a more fair world.”

Is there anyone around today who can even compare, I ask? “Not Boris Johnson,” Angel laughs before continuing. “Nowadays, there’s a guy that I really like and I think he has a good message – Michael Kiwanuka. He does soul, a bit rocky, blues. He has a really real and raw message, plus he’s super talented.”

The conversation turns to London, and the fact that Angel chose to base NokNok London here. Having studied in Majorca, he then came to Central St Martins to continue his
fashion studies – and the way he tells it, it was love at first sight. “I felt I could be myself here,” he says. “I was born in Spain, but my dad was African and my mum is Portuguese – they came to Ibiza in the 80s. My dad used to work in the club, actually. I remember seeing pictures – you know, the big afro and the legwarmers! But, for me, I feel like in Ibiza there’s certain things that you cannot do, and one of those is fashion. You cannot really begin a career in fashion in Ibiza. I think you can do three or four things: music, DJ, hotel management, and that type of thing. The island is just based on that. I also felt a little bit limited in Spain, because I feel sometimes that the Spanish mind is a little bit limited. When I came here the first time, I remember I was 18, and I just saw myself here. Here, I felt like I could express myself.”

He goes on to tell me about the designers that inspired him from the beginning, and how his aesthetic developed. “When I was studying, my favourites were Galliano and McQueen. I managed to study with Galliano for a little bit, so I experienced that. That was amazing. I like them because, again, to be an artist you have to be express what’s linked with you, especially when you begin. For them, it was so personal, it was about passion and being against the rules and trying to create something new, and being edgy.”

And now?

“Nowadays, fashion has changed a lot. Everything is faster. I’ve learned a lot from Roksanda. Everything is from here,” he says, mimicking typing furiously on a phone screen. “But still, I think you have to try and mean something. It has to be something when people see it they’re like, fuck. It kind of kicks you back and you feel something. The piece has to have something exciting. That’s why for jackets, I can’t do a plain denim jacket – there’s trillions of denim jackets, but how do I do something a little different, a bit more exciting? Something people will remember? So it’s just playing around with the external and internal details, to give something in the product.

“There’s new brands that I’m into, like Off-White. Fear of God, that’s quite cool. Nowadays I’m into quite a lot of – not underground, but established brands that no one really knows. I think they’re a bit more in touch with the street, with urban culture. The Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent – I’m quite into Yves Saint Laurent just because of the boots. Since Slimane left, a little bit has changed, because he’s taken that to Celine. It’s still a little bit there. I was quite into his aesthetic. Although he uses very skinny guys – too skinny.

“I kind of want to have that aesthetic, but I want to mix it with a bit more of an urban touch. I will have a bit more variety in terms of genders of model, of colours. I have this hashtag, I call it #blackrockers, because rock and roll people don’t have to be only white. I think a lot of hip-hop people, they’re rockers in their own way. It’s kind of crossed over a little bit. They became the rock stars. Sometimes a little tacky, because they have too much champagne and girls! But they changed their baggy jeans for skinny jeans. They’re more into dressing nowadays than before. I think for a lot of these high-end brands, like Dior and so on, they are all looking to these guys because they have such a big network and they impact a lot of kids.”

We talk about the fashion industry and how it works these days. Angel finds the concept of seasons “boring” – wishing it was easier to break out of the mould and do things spontaneously. But above all, he’s concerned that there needs to be more sustainability. This ties in to that hippy culture he grew up with, the idea of not harming the world around you.

“Especially in denim, there’s a lot of pollution because we use a lot of water, chemicals for bleaching the denim, and so on and so on. The plan is to, step-bystep, introduce more sustainable touches,” he says. “For example, our denim is organic. Then we’re going to
introduce a [sustainable] laundry in Italy. A lot of companies as well are improving on sustainable ideas, like zips, buttons – so we’re also going to introduce that. Trying to work with companies that don’t use chemicals to bleach the fabric, no chlorines. They’re bringing in new technologies that can replace those kind of techniques. But it has to be slowly, slowly – of course, it would be great to do 100% at once, but it’s so difficult because the cost will go so high.”

And here’s a point that comes up so often when talking about sustainability: the price point, and the fact that unsustainable fast fashion is still winning the war for consumers. “I think as a designer, brands should teach the consumer,” Angel says. “They have to make the consumer conscious about this. At the end of the day, the second biggest polluter is the fashion industry. But no one really thinks that, because they want to be fabulous and looking great. But after the oil industry, fashion is the second – and denim is one of the biggest, because we use so much water to wash a garment. It would be quite nice if they would know that. I think in the high street, they are trying to introduce that, but I think for them it might be a bigger challenge, because of the price points they have. I think as long as they can teach the customer and make them understand what they’re buying, and why they’re paying what they’re paying, then that will help everyone.”

Finding suppliers who provide sustainable options has been getting easier over the last few years, and Angel has seen concrete changes taking places – machines being replaced to use less water, new techniques, and things that he hopes are not reversable. “I hope it’s not a trend,” he says.

And how about Extinction Rebellion threatening to shut down London Fashion Week? This triggers a wave of discussion in the room, as we consider the fact that the Showrooms are going to be sustainable this year and that the high street may be where the real problem lies. But Angel is all for a bit of rebellion. “They should do it. Go for it!” he says. “People should voice their opinions. I think it’s great. They do it all the time in France, they should do it more here. People need to start thinking about it, you know? They should go to the British Fashion Council offices and sit outside. They could give grants to brands that are trying to be more sustainable.”

And what is Angel’s dream for NokNok London now?

“Now, my dream is to grow the brand. I have short dreams and long-term dreams. Long-term dreams are to grow the product ranges. I’ve done denim for a long time and I think it’s a very versatile and exciting product. But then I want to move into different things, we’re starting to do boots, shoes. In the shoes as well I want to do a whole sustainable element using vegetable leathers. Synthetic leathers that are not that harmful for the environment. There’s things in position that you can do.

“But one of my dreams at the moment is I want to be in a few good stores and from there, expand the line and grow the brand gradually, have a good team. I think it’s very difficult to spot good people. To find a few good people that believe in the company and in me.”

Roxanne Chen, who works with NokNok London at Dyelog PR, tells me that their history goes back years – in fact, he was one of her first clients. Now they’re back working together again, and she’s excited by the prospect of a real denim expert creating this new brand – not just someone starting up another denim label for the sake of it.

“Be good and enjoy fashion, but also enjoy life. Party until the end. Partying is not only the concept of going out and getting drunk, but also, life is a party. You have to enjoy your life, whatever you do. As long as you’re true to yourself – that’s the whole thing about ‘always dream’, because regardless of what you, if you’re doing what you dream, you’ll be happy. And check NokNok London!” Angel tells us, his parting words as our interview comes to a close.

You can find the brand at noknoklondon.co.uk or at @noknoklondon on Instagram. If you’re reading this in print, be sure to head to londonrunway.co.uk and find the online issue to watch a campaign video (worth it for the cool vibes and soundtrack alone).


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