For the Love of Fashion
Punk apparel icon Nancy Hunt eschews the ordinary.
Nancy Hunt has always been something of a rebel. She isn’t the one in front of city hall burning flags or waving signs. But watch out, dull dressers: Hunt has a sewing machine, and she’s not afraid to use it.
In the 1980s and 90s, her fashion sense helped pioneer shoe-and-clothing trends that dominated popular culture surrounding alternative rock music. But Hunt, BA ’74, had been training for that day since her early teens in the buttoned-down St. Louis suburb of Webster Groves.
In those days, Hunt chafed at her school’s dress code confining girls to dresses of knee length or longer, and she looked for ways to skirt the rules. In ninth grade she made a trend-setting tent dress of neon-green fabric with white polka dots and accessorized with white earrings. She wanted to wear the outfit to a school dance, but the dress ended three inches above the knee. “My mom loved all the sewing I did. When I said I thought they wouldn’t let me into the dance, she told me, ‘Wear a coat into the gym, and take it off later. Nobody will notice.’ ” It worked.
In high school, Hunt followed “hippie influences,” making bell-bottoms and embroidering her clothes along the lines of Sonny and Cher and other pop figures.
As a theater major at Mizzou, Hunt looked for leading-edge culture, preferring experimental theater in basement venues to main-stage productions, and opting for art films over popular cinema. Her outfits reflected her outlook and landed her on the cover of this magazine, then known as Missouri Alumnus, in fall 1974.
After graduation, Hunt moved to Los Angeles, where in 1976, she opened a 125-square-foot store called Na Na, her college nick name. She made all the merchandise, catering to various fashion factions, including skateboarders, rockabilly fans and punk rockers. Such trends so new that manufacturers had not yet caught on, Hunt says. “If I wanted it, I made it. I didn’t have business plan. It was from the heart.”
But she could not make shoes. And so in 1979, and soon to be known by her then-married name Nancy Kaufman, she traveled to England and began doing business with the company that made Doc Martins. The former working-class boot became an emblem of punk rock, especially when Na Na added leather with colors and floral prints, and new shoe designs.
The Na Na shoes and boots were featured in numerous motion pictures, music videos and magazine fashion spreads. On Broadway, actors performed in Na Na footwear in plays such as Miss Saigon, and pop singer Madonna wore them in 1990 during her Blond Ambition tour.
Hunt’s clothing did well, too, and she still had her hand on some of it, including Army surplus lines. She remembers in the 1980’s, “I personally cut sleeves off of old Army shirts and put in studs and safety pins. Another time, we found a thousand Israeli Army miniskirts and died them all black. We also had long johns with suspenders for guys and petticoats for girls.”
These days, Hunt continues to watch music and fashion trends spring up around her. She also owns an eclectic clothing boutique in Santa Monica called Brat, which was named one of Santa Monica’s most-loved independent businesses in 2014 and 2015. She has happily returned to working on the shop floor to be with those who inspire her most, her customers.