Nicole Leth was going through a breakup — and at 18, that’s usually the first big, bad heartache.
Most teens bundle up in some blankets and cry it out with their friends. Nicole dug deep into herself and created Sex & Ice Cream, a girl-power clothing line with Lisa Frank color and Sailor Moon attitude. Pieces can be found in Raygun and Donna’s Dress Shop. But it all started as doodles and designs on paper.
“I wanted to create something that would empower me and the life I wanted outside of being with a boy,” says Nicole, now 22. The Kansas City Art Institute senior left Des Moines for art school.
She had a lot of ideas but didn’t know how to sew. As a fiber student, she learned how to take her hand-drawn, heartfelt designs and make them wearable pieces. Now, she can mix techniques like quilting, applique and textile painting with puffy paint and cheeky statements.
Her senior thesis and current collection, “Everything I Should’ve Said,” represents the many feelings women go through when relationships end. In her studio space in the KCAI fiber department, dresses, crop tops, tunics and accessories pop with neon, pastel, black and white. Most pieces feature sayings like, “In memory of when I cared.” On the front of one tunic: “I wore a push-up bra for him.” On the back: “Never again.”
Nicole stands there, with her bright blue hair and Barbie-pink lipstick, and I feel like I’m in the middle of her diary. A lot of people would freak out sharing their innermost thoughts. But Nicole wants to nurture girl talk. Her patterns and confessions serve as conversation pieces to help get over the hump of heartbreak.
“How many times have girls let boys make them feel bad?” Nicole asks. “There are so many instances when you don’t get to say what you wanted to say. I wanted this collection to bring girls together so they could feel better and know they aren’t alone. This happened to me, too. We can share our awkward, funny stories. And we can realize we deserve better.”
On Friday, Nicole is celebrating her collection with a fashion show at the Bauer in the Crossroads. It’s also a send-off. Come graduation in May, Nicole will head to Los Angeles, where she’ll run a pop-up shop, thanks to Kansas City’s own style girl, Peggy Noland. Peggy gave Nicole an opportunity to use her space on Sunset Boulevard for the first half of the summer.
“Nicole’s designs caught my eye before I had met her,” Peggy says. “Her pop influence combined with her personal stories make for works that people notice and respond to. For any artist, that is a crucial element for growth, and her growth over the past year is inspiring. More importantly, Nicole has a sincere and passionate spirit that is contagious.”
And since that breakup, Nicole has found courage immersing herself in Kansas City.
“Seeing Peggy be so confident and comfortable in who she is inspired me,” she says. “And being here made me feel like it was OK to be myself and it helped me find that part of me that couldn’t have existed in Catholic school in Iowa.”
As she gears up for graduation and starts on a path to one day run her own boutique, she wants students to stick to their goals even in the trying times.
“Sometimes trusting yourself is the hardest thing to do,” Nicole says. “But do the work and go for your dreams. It pays off.”
Sex & Ice Cream
Nicole Leth’s Sex & Ice Cream presents the “Everything I Should’ve Said” fashion show at 8 p.m. Friday at the Bauer, 115 W. 18th St. Other collections include Vintage Salvation and Honnêtebas.
For more about her collection, visit SexAndIceCream.net.