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Story by Rebekah Swank

Photos courtesy of Nick Vaaler


French Toast: a popular breakfast item and now, a popular clothing brand among KU students. The man behind the online clothing and accessory shop is Nick Vaaler, a fourth year architecture student from St. Louis. He’s been a creative his entire life, but when his parents refused to let him attend art school, he decided to use that creativity to make buildings. Art was always his first love, so when he was a freshman at the University, he turned his graphic artwork into fashion. Vaaler has sold his curiously endearing paintings and screen-printed garments online for four years. Lawrence townies, St. Louis homies, and even artsy fashionistas abroad wear his brand proudly. Style on the Hill sat down with him to see what makes him and French Toast tick.

Style on the Hill: Tell me about French Toast and your shop.

Nick Vaaler: French Toast is my monicher that I go by on the internet, and it’s turned into kind of a brand. It’s hard to call it a brand sometimes. Basically, it stemmed from artwork. Freshman year of college, I was painting a lot and posting stuff. That was when I really started posting what I was doing. I started drawing on my own clothes and shoes. People started asking for things. I needed a name, and it just happened to be my Instagram name, so that’s what I went by. 

SOTH: Why French Toast?

NV: That stems from early high school, when I first had Instagram. Me and my friends would go get brunch every weekend. French toast was my go-to brunch food, so I made that my Instagram name. By the time I had a brand, it was too late to change it because people had already started calling me “French Toast Nick,” so I felt like I couldn’t change it. It’s kind of a nice, silly name too, so it doesn’t feel too serious.

SOTH: Where do you get your inspiration for French Toast?

NV: My artwork is all inspired by my own experiences and thoughts. I draw characters and they’re always supposed to represent me in certain ways. I think a lot of my inspiration comes from buildings and people interacting with other people that I see. So, a lot of what I paint is a character in an environment. I think the environment is really important in what the character is actually doing in that space.

I think I get a lot inspiration from music. I like a lot of old music from the 60’s, and partially the clothing they would wear. Their album covers are always really graphical. I like a lot of jazz records. There was an era where the jazz record industry was producing probably the best graphics of all time. Those kind of things definitely influence me, and I’m always listening to music or watching an old TV show when I’m painting. 

I really like Boston for it’s Brutalist architecture.I went there about two and a half years ago, and that inspired a whole body of work. Most of the public doesn’t understand it, which is interesting to me because it’s my favorite architecture now. Just the name alone, Brutalism, gives it a bad connotation, but it’s not talking about actually being brutal. It’s just the forms being really heavy and solid, and typically made out of concrete. If you look at the work that I produced, especially the year right after I went there, it’s pretty clear that I was inspired by that.

SOTH: What has been the best part of selling your artwork and accessories?

NV: I’m my own boss, and luckily enough, people have wanted what I want to make. I don’t have to cater to people. If they don’t want it, they aren’t going to buy it. The best part is just being my own boss and seeing people walking around wearing my clothes. Some of it is shipped overseas and all around the country. It’s really satisfying to know that my stuff is existing somewhere other than my house.

SOTH: Tell me about your creation process.

NV: For paintings, I do sketches that are really really small, probably a centimeter and half by a centimeter and a half. Little tiny squares. I do hundreds of those, and those are just compositional studies. Those may or may not turn into a painting. All my paintings are very graphically based, so the composition of the piece is probably the most important thing. Having all of those sketches is my way of translating looking at, say a window that is in a room and how that plays with the size of the walls, or where a person is sitting in relation to that. It’s a process of sketching and going through a picking which ones are interesting, and which ones tell a story. I think the clothing is influenced by the sketches more so than the paintings themselves. Recently I did a few prints that were direct paintings, but typically I think my sketches are more powerful as prints because there’s no frilliness to them. There’s no color, it’s just black and white, really graphical images that are almost made for screen printing. I think the sketching process is the basis for the paintings and the final prints.

SOTH: How long does it take you to make a print, a t-shirt, a tote?

NV: The screen printing process takes a good while. I’ll make a screen, and that’ll take about three days. I’ll do a series of test prints and determine if I need to remake the screen or not. Once I make the screen and the test prints, it probably takes a week’s time of pretty solid work to print one set. For example, I’ll print all the purple shirts at one time. It’s hard to tell piece-by-piece because I do so many at a time.

SOTH: Do you do anything else? It sounds like this is really time consuming.

NV: This is what I enjoy doing, this is what I like the most. I do some other things, I shop a lot. I really like vintage clothing and vintage furniture. I go to concerts. I don’t drink or anything, I don’t go to parties, so I think that saves a lot of time and money.

SOTH: How would you describe the French Toast style?

NV: I think just soft colors, typically, but pretty vibrant graphics. I’ve never thought about that before.

SOTH: Does French Toast as a brand influence your personal style?

NV: I think it used to influence it a lot more. I used to try to do the whole self-promoting thing and wear my own clothes all the time. I still use my own tote bag every day. I think I’ve tried to incorporate my things more subtly now, instead of being like “Oh I’m wearing an entire outfit that I made.” It’s influenced me a good amount, but I’ve also gotten a lot more into more tailored things and old clothing that I can’t produce. I think what I wear, what I desire to wear influences what I make. Trying to figure out how I can make what I enjoy making instead of just t-shirts or something.

SOTH: What do you see for the future of French Toast?

NV: I’m hoping it can continue to sustain itself, because I’ve used it as a way to continue creating things. My French Toast shop online will basically fund a big art show, where there’s no way I’d be able to frame all my art if I didn’t do something like that. 

SOTH: What do you get most excited about when you’re in the midst of creating?

NV: The end product is my favorite part. I think that’s why I create so much, just having those end products. It’s really nice to feel like you finished something. Especially in architecture, we do so many projects that take years and years to ever be completed, so having something I can complete almost on a daily basis. I like to schedule things like that where I have something done to make me feel good about what I’m doing.



By Justin Hermstedt

No musical act has propelled itself into the new year with more momentum than Brockhampton. The eclectic hip-hop group released three albums in the second half of 2017, each one more successful than the last. They left Los Angeles for a national tour which includes a sold out stop at the Truman in Kansas City. Most importantly, the self-described “boy band” has garnered a devoted following on the internet.

Brockhampton comprises roughly 14 members, an assortment of rappers, singers, producers, designers and other artists. Whether there’s a hint of irony to the boy band label or not, thousands of online teens and former teens have taken it and ran with it. Brockhampton found their niche with young people who never fit in with a musical fandom before now. A large segment of young people who were once the target demographic of One Direction never identified with 1D’s catchy, fluffy, and apolitical teen pop. Brockhampton proudly subvert the typical tropes of a boy band in terms of subject matter. *NSYNC never rapped about armed robbery, and K-pop stars BTS don’t lust over Shawn Mendes.

But Brockhampton aren’t just an edgy boy band; they’re also on the cutting edge of hip-hop. Brockhampton are challenging how hip-hop should look and sound, inspired by predecessors like Odd Future, Kid Cudi, and Kanye West (some of the members met on Kanyetothe, a Kanye West fan forum). From Saturation to Saturation III, the group refined its vibrant DIY style into a cohesive product. It seems like these boys are poised to take over the world.

But how sustainable is this level of productivity? Isn’t a tragic breakup an essential chapter in a boy band’s life? As Brockhampton begin to earn more mainstream success, we’ll witness not only the birth of stars, but also the supernova of the group that got them this far.

Brockhampton’s new year isn’t going to look like this past year, but they’re more likely to evolve than to fall off. Throughout 2017, Brockhampton members have consistently been creating on an individual level, including music, film, graphic design, and fashion projects. These like-minded artists have cultivated an environment where individual artistry is encouraged, and where they can make music on a group level without the pressure of an overbearing record label. All their creative endeavors will continue and expand in 2018, along with whatever Brockhampton produce as a group. They even already teased a fourth album, aptly titled “Team Effort.”

Regardless of what the future holds for Brockhampton, now is the perfect time to check them out.

WTF Is Up?! – The Media, the Women, and More!


By Darby VanHoutan


Just because it’s a new year it doesn’t mean it’s a new us. Well, it’s not a new me at least. It’s 27 days into 2017 and I am just a bucket of L’s. However, I’m an ~informed~ bucket of L’s. You can be too. Here’s (a very short list of) WTF happened this week.

Viola Davis Makes Moves

Award season may have just started a few weeks ago with the Golden Globes, but actress Viola Davis is already making history. The South Carolina-native just became the most nominated Black Woman in Oscar history. This is exciting (AKA Yasssss, queen).

It all started in 2009 when Davis was nominated for her supporting role in the movie Doubt. Her second nomination came in 2012 for her lead role in the movie The Help.

Her most recent nomination came for her supporting role in the movie Fences.
This all translates to the fact that 59-year-old Davis is a bad bitch regardless of her skin tone, age or gender and deserves all the awards the world can offer. Another point history moment to note is that for the first time in Oscar’s history, a black actor has been nominated in every category.

The award show airs this Sunday.

The Exact Reason the Media Won’t STFU

A fairly certain way to ensure journalists don’t STFU, is to tell them to STFU. This is essentially what Stephen Bannon, President Trump’s chief White House strategist, just did.

“The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country” said Bannon in an interview. This quote was precursored with Bannon saying, “I want you to quote this”, which makes what he said even better.

Based on this and other things said in the interview, it shows that Bannon is in agreeance with his higher-up, President Trump, who in one interview described journalists as “among the most dishonest people on Earth”. (If that’s true you should trust none of the information I provide you with in this column).

Bannon rarely ~graces~ the media with his comments, usually only providing interviews the journalists at Breitbart News, a website that Bannon was in charge of until about 4 months ago. Based on the bulk of what was said about the media in this interview, I’m sure they’re hoping he keeps that trend up.

My Kind of Mash-Up

Imagine if your best friend and favorite hunk got together and made a music video just for you. You’re in luck. Taylor Swift and Zayn Malik did just that. Well, I suppose the best friend and hunk analogy only works if you’re okay with a very strange sexual music video being made by the two.

Late Thursday evening, the two singers released the music video for their new song I Don’t Wanna Live Forever from the 50 Shades Darker soundtrack. Thankfully, the video features no clips from the movie. I say thankfully because sex-god Zayn and Taylor Swift need no accompaniment. Based on all the L’s we’ve taken this week, we’ll take this one as a W. Enjoy!


Heard on the Hill


HOTH crop

  • “I hate philosophy. Apparently, I might not be real. God might not even be real.”
  • “You look like the kind of kid to be deadly allergic to peanuts.”
  • “Does W come before R in the alphabet?”
  • Person 1: “When I’m high, I can tell which lines in reality shows are scripted.”
  • Person 2: “That’s like the worst super power ever.”
  • “I took so many damn chicken tenders, like I filled my bag up.”
  • “Imagine if cotton candy had nipples and you mixed it, that’s what this strawberry milkshake tastes like.”
  • “The guy next to me smells like cheese, Gouda.”
  • “Why are you studying for that final? You already took it!”
  • “Damn! That boy is serious if he took you to the Cheesecake Factory!”
  • “Why do I have to get a turtle for your success?”

Glossier Serums: How Super are the Supers?


By Rebekah Swank


Well friends, I have been using all three of the Glossier serums for about four weeks now. Here’s how it’s been going…

I pulled up the website to order these tiny bottles of goodness ($65 worth of goodness) and the Super Pack was sold out. I got onto Glossier.com four or five days in a row before I could finally order it (I took this popularity as a sign that the serums were truly worth it). When my package finally arrived, it came in a clean white box. “The Supers,” was printed in small letters on the front. When I opened it, powdery pink painted the inside. I pulled out a page of stickers, tiny emojis and graphics matching those from the website on it. Then I saw a poster, a few informational and promotional inserts, and under it all were the Supers. All three of them. I have to give it to Glossier, their design aesthetic is very pleasing.

When I first began implementing the Supers into my skincare routine, I realized that I was not exactly sure how to use these bad boys. Let’s face it, this was the most money I had ever spent on a skincare product (maybe any item ever) and I did not intend on wasting it. I didn’t know how to apply the serums, in what order to use them, or how they would react with my other skincare products. I tried searching online, but all I found were reviews and articles describing the serums. Then I realized something: Glossier is all about personalized and individual skincare and makeup. These products are gentle and natural so that they can fit into anyone’s routine. I am the one who decides how to use the serums. I make the decision on how to fit the serums into my daily routine. So that’s what I did. However, one thing became very clear during my research: one should never use a serum more than once per day. They are extremely concentrated.

Here’s how I incorporated them into my skincare routine. Every morning I wake up and use a tough cleanser with benzoyl peroxide and apply that with a Clarisonic brush. Immediately following, I use a gentle foaming cleanser from Aveeno. After I dry my face,  I apply a pore-shrinking toner to my face and neck with a cotton round. Then come the serums. I squeeze a drop of Super Glow on my forehead and both cheeks. I rub it into my skin, spreading it upward and outward. I do the same thing with Super Pure, and follow it with an oil-free moisturizer with SPF 15. I do nearly the same routine at night, and after toner I use Super Bounce (I usually rub this one over my lips and under my eyes too) followed by Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus moisturizer. Beauty is pain, right?

Since I have been using the serums, I see small changes in my complexion. My skin is extremely soft and smooth. I can definitely see Super Bounce at work. I think it is my favorite so far, especially due to its milky texture. I still have yet to see major changes in the brightness of my skin, and my breakouts have persisted. Perhaps, Super Glow and Super Pure need more time to take effect. All three of the serums feel light and clean on my skin, and they never feel slimy or heavy.

Overall I’m liking, not ~*loving*~, the results. Stay tuned for the final review in four weeks. TTYL <3


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