Elevating the Faces Behind the Brands: Tori Nichel of Maison Black

BY Taylor Rebhan

The multi-hyphenate designer and entrepreneur Tori Nichel is a Detroiter on a mission to elevate creatives in a fashion market that’s influenced by—but rarely gives due credit to—the Black culture and designers behind the trends.


It’s a word one hears often in the world of business marketing and metrics. But the kind of reach that Tori Nichel practices is something much more human.

It speaks to her curated e-tail platform, Maison Black, that lifts visibility for Black fashion designers. But it also encompasses her philosophy of outstretched hands and opportunities for authentic expression. For every step Tori Nichel takes forward, she reaches out and pulls an emerging young multi-hyphenate alongside her. For every collaboration she organizes, runway she populates, or project she begins, she pulls back an industry curtain to reveal the Black designers behind the fashion with the goal of educating the world and inspiring the next generation.

For Tori Nichel, the idea that aspiring creatives need to “see it to be it” is part and parcel of her personal mission, rooted in her own journey.

“Around the age of seven, I announced to my family that I wanted to be a fashion designer,” she laughs. “And from that point on, it was all things fashion.”

Tori Nichel is wearing APOTTS collection, designed by Aaron Potts, a born-and-raised Detroiter featured in the Maison Black pop-up at Shinola last fall.

“One of the things that really got me inspired was a Barbie doll my sister had called Fashion by Me. And this Barbie doll also was Black. This was in the early 80s, so Black dolls weren’t all that common—my mom had to go on a wild goose chase for them.” The Barbie came with all the fabric, trimmings, glue sticks, and sequins needed to create your own designs. It made such an impression on Tori Nichel that by the time she got to Michigan State, she named her first website Fashion by Me.

From draping on her Barbie to leafing through her mom’s fashion magazines to sketching her own designs over the glossy photos of models, Tori Nichel was laser-focused on honing her passion. At the age of sixteen, Tori Nichel met a woman named Christiane, a former model, designer, and FIT student and retired fashion professor at the Art Institute of Chicago. “She was a little design school in our backyard,” and Tori Nichel made it her mission to apprentice with her.

“She was really resistant in taking me—I was so young. Most of her students were in their early thirties. She was like, you’re in high school, how are you going to do your homework?” But like so many Detroiters, Tori Nichel is nothing if not determined. Christiane relented, and Tori Nichel apprenticed with her from her junior year of high school through college. The experience followed her from Michigan State to the Fashion Institute of Technology to her early days with Dana Buchman and Kenneth Cole.

In addition to skills like pattern making, Christiane endowed Tori Nichel with a strong foundation of the wisdom and wit she would need to be authentically herself in the world of fashion. “She taught me how to show up as a designer, how to present myself as a creative professional, how to foster my relationships—even so far as to how to use my sass with the street vendors! She’s one of the reasons you and I are talking today.”

This mentorship and guidance is a key part of the projects she pursues now.

“If you see that spark in someone young, that determination and wherewithal, that commitment and that drive, I feel that it’s our duty to foster that and pave the way or create space for that to flourish and blossom. To take the chance on them.”

While Tori Nichel still designs and consults, her ever-evolving main project is Maison Black, a curated online retail destination of which she’s the Founder and Chief Creative Officer. Maison Black’s mission is to be a destination for Black creatives to be shopped and recognized for inspiring and leading global style. It’s a platform that provides access, exposure, longevity, and sustainability for Black designers in the fashion industry.

For Tori Nichel, it marries her passion for fashion and her purpose-driven vision to serve the Black designer community.

“I’m hoping to use the platform not just to be an e-tailer that’s as shoppable, powerful, and inspiring as a Saks, Neiman’s, or Bergdorf, but when you think of culture, community, connectivity, how can we set up a space for Black and Brown creatives to thrive as their authentic selves, expand their reach, and have longevity.”

This past October, Tori Nichel arranged a Maison Black pop-up at the Shinola flagship store on Canfield Avenue, in the heart of the city’s midtown shopping center. “I walked into the Shinola Woodward store with my business cards just done,” she laughs. She pitched the idea to the store managers, who passed it on up the chain and got the conversation going. She went out on a limb, but had faith in the brand’s investment in the community. “It really was rooted in our common guiding principles of design excellence, appreciation of craftsmanship, and bringing joy to our everyday lives—that synergy, and that connectivity to the community.”

Recently, Tori Nichel branched out from curation to creation with a content series called Black Behind the Brands, in which she pulls back the curtain and spotlights Black excellence with leaders directing multimillion dollar brands. “I don’t want to say they’re invisible, but you wouldn’t know about them unless someone told you about them. No one has given them their flowers and accolades, all you know is Gap. Target. Loft.” It all harkens back to the mission of reach.

“It only takes that one person to inspire that younger Tori to say, I see myself. If that person can get there, I can get there. And that’s why it’s important to share these stories.”

Catch Tori Nichel’s curated a pop-up boutique at L.A.’s world-renowned Beverly Center this summer. Black Behind the Brands can be found on the Maison Black website at www.maisonblack.shop and YouTube.

Jumpsuit by APOTTS. Energy by Tori Nichel.

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