Designer Spotlight Nicole Heim, Cienne

Image via The Style Line
Image via The Style Line

Hometown: Orange, CA

Current location: Chelsea, NYC

Your top 5 favorite spots in NYC:

Dashwood Books, McNally Jackson, Wallflower, Haven’s Kitchen (the private floors upstairs), vintage showrooms/markets

Your go-to outfit:

Vintage Levi’s & Cienne…The Hudson Dress and The Jagger Robe are current favorites, and The Jude Jumpsuit – instant badass, baby!

Your guilty pleasure:

A good cocktail and a lot of La Colombe.

Favorite beauty products:

Dr. Dennis Gross Daily Peels, Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask, Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer, Glossier Coconut Balm Dot Com

Coffee or tea?


What’s your best Instagram tip?

I’m all about the Boomerangs – you can’t go wrong!

Tell us a little bit about your background:

After a brief stint in LA, I moved to NYC about 10 years ago. My background is in art and design, and I’ve always explored different creative mediums while usually keeping the focus on fashion. I also come from a family of entrepreneurs, and have always found business extremely fascinating. I sort of fell into an apparel design role in corporate fashion after college, and despite a couple of travel hiatuses, I spent the next eight or so years working for various brands. I’ve also spent a large part of my life traveling, specifically with a passion for developing countries and exotic locales.

How did you start Cienne?

During my career I spent a lot of time traveling to overseas factories, and I became discouraged with the sheer amount of volume involved with mass-market production. I also had grown creatively discouraged with corporate fashion, and on the other side of the spectrum, felt frustrated as a consumer for many reasons. Then my mom was very unexpectedly diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer, and passed away about a year later. It gave me a really fresh dose of perspective on life – it was the ultimate push I needed to make a change. I ended up taking a sabbatical to find a way to merge business and design in a purposeful way. I ended up following my passion for travel to East Africa, where I went on an independent 3-month journey. I was working with charity: water as a field correspondent in rural Ethiopia, and while there I fell in love with the intricate craftsmanship of local textile weavers. That was the beginning. The idea was to look to a global marketplace and source a place for its unique specialty – like hand-printed silk from India, hand-woven cotton from Ethiopia, quality tailoring of New York City. Overall, I was just really inspired to have aesthetics and ethics co-exist within the context of a modern fashion brand.

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Where does the name come from?

It means traditional coffee cup in the Ethiopian language of Amharic, and long before that, it was a play on the letters ‘C’ and ‘N’ – a phonetic amalgam of me and my design partner’s (Chelsea Healy) first initials.

What is your design process like?

We kickoff each collection with a concept, which usually stems from whatever is inspiring me at the time…usually books, music, cultural references, art, etc. Then we dive into the fabric process – we often look to antique textiles, which we’ll design around and adapt to work with our artisans. We’re also simultaneously sourcing fabrics from places like Japan and Italy. We’re hugely print/texture/color focused, so the largest majority of our time is spent in the fabric and concept process. We then move into sketching. We’re hugely inspired by vintage, and silhouette wise we focus on clean lines, plays on proportion, and styles that are classic and versatile. We also believe in doing more with less, so a lot of styles continue to live beyond one or two seasons. We then go into months of fittings – refining, tweaking, and sometimes even re-designing or scrapping all together. The fittings are the heavy lifting of the design process.


LA or NY?:

New York

What are your plans for the summer?

We have a lot of fun pop-up events and offline initiatives in NYC and Montauk for Cienne. I’m also traveling a bit…personal trips to Ireland and Italy, and Bolivia to work with our newest artisan group.

Where do you see Cienne in the future?

We have a lot of great things in work that I’m excited to roll out throughout the rest of the year – our AW16 collection that includes a new partnership with Bolivian artisans, and a lot of focus on continuing to connect with our community and customers in interesting ways. Beyond that, I’m just really interested in continuing to learn and grow and push both the collection and brand forward in creative and meaningful ways.

What is your advice for people who want to start their own line?

Work for someone else first! I have always been entrepreneurially driven, but I don’t think I would’ve ever fully realized that had I not spent so long working for someone else. The fashion industry is a really tough one, and on a daily basis I am reminded of how valuable my experience level is to Cienne. Learn as much as you can while it’s on someone else’s dime! 

If you could go back 10 years, what would you tell yourself?

Just keep doing what you’re doing…eventually it’ll all come together in ways you could’ve never expected.


Below: Our Editor in Chief Olivia Perez in Cienne's Charlotte Pant and Brigette Top, now available on

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For more Cienne, follow @cienneny or visit them online.