It’s the 1940s. You jump out of your Cadillac convertible to lay out on el Varadero, sip some mojitos, and get some sun. Nicole Di Rocco has made such time travel possible with her funky line of Cuba-inspired bikinis. It’s not just the cuts that are Cuban retro – some of suits have prints of platanos, dominos, cigars, and even the mountain ranges of Cuba’s Vinales Valley.
Di Rocco, a Cuban-American from California, created Nicolita Swimwear in 2003 to bring her parents’ Cuban heritage to life. In 2009, a documentary was made when the designer traveled to Cuba for an on-location photo shoot and to reunite her parents with their homeland and family after 49 years.
She was in Miami on Monday for her runway show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim. New Times spoke to Di Rocco about what inspired the collection, her trip to Cuba, and the documentary she created to bring nostalgic Cubans back to their homeland.
At her runway show, Di Rocco included fun, vintage-inspired Cuban-style bottom – which, by the way, have more coverage on the hips, a heart-shaped backside, and no-pinch-fit elastic. They’re perfect for Latinas’ backside curves. King of fashion kitsch, Jeremy Scott, would probably crown the sassy Nicolita as his queen, with all of her cutesy Cuban sandwiches and mojitos printed right on her old-world bikinis.
New Times: What inspired you to take the trip back to your parents homeland?
Nicole Di Rocco: It was just this past year when I found out that Obama was allowing Cuban Americans to go back. I’ve always wanted to go back with my parents. I thought it was important to at least see where they were born. After some convincing and a lot of paperwork, we were able to put together this trip. I knew I wanted to bring Nicolita to Cuba because that’s really the reason why I started Nicolita, to have the opportunity to reach back to my Cuban heritage. Growing up on the West Coast, you really don’t have that everyday influence of Cuban heritage and roots.
So tell me about Nicolita.
I created this character, which is my nickname, but she’s my muse. She’s just this fun, flirty Cubanita that wants to do the strangest things in her caliente bikinis. I have had her go to Spain in a bullfighting ring, and to belly dancing in Morocco.
All the photos that we did were all over historical areas of Cuba. I have a cigar bikini that I got to shoot in a cigar factory on a rolling table. I was looking to recapture that moment of the old world and how it was, and give that back to my parents. It was a really emotional trip. It was life-changing. Absolutely life-changing.
So if you’ve been designing for eight years, where does the inspiration keep coming from?
Well I’ve always wanted it to have this ’40s feel and these old images of Cuba. But because I couldn’t go back, I had to invent my own way of travel. And it’s evolved throughout the years [laughs]. But it’s always been about her being Cuban.
What inspired this particular collection that you showed at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim in Miami?
Yeah. I’ve always wanted to do this show, but I guess I was just waiting for the right time. I’ve always designed these fun, flirty, timeless pieces, but another big part of what I did this season was I was able to create custom-printed fabrics, and have a literal translation — I mean I had going down the runway a Cuban sandwich and a mojito that I made in these prints. Last year, I made tostones, platanos, dominos, cigars. I’m just creating a fun, kitschy, looks, and am novelty-involved with it.
Did you spend any time in Miami at all?
Over the years, we’d always go back to Miami and see family. My parents have an apartment off of 18th Street and James Avenue, and to be able to actually show where I used to walk to the beach every summer as a little kid. We’d get our Cuban sandwiches at Latin American Cafe and eat lunch on the sand, and to be able to be there at this prestigious event as a headlining designer was… I mean. Somebody pinch me.
I was concerned, thinking, “How are Cubans in Miami going to accept this?” But you know what? I’ve had such an overwhelming support of love. I think it’s because I’m presenting it in a way that I’m not doing anything political. I wanted to learn about my family and where I’m from. That was taken away from me… Through the documentary I made they can take this journey that they’ve longed for without crossing the boundaries of what they believe in. I’m so happy with it, because I hope when Cubans see it, they feel a little closer to what they long for. What is it to be Cuban? What is it that my parents lived?