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Style Icon: Nina Simone

by Maxwell Tielman

Design*Sponge | Nina Simone

Illustration by Libby VanderPloeg.

Known as the “high priestess of soul,” Nina Simone is an artist who is often copied but absolutely impossible to duplicate. The daughter of a minister and a handyman, Simone (née Eunice Wayman) was raised in the small Southern town of Tryon, North Carolina. Despite her modest upbringing, Simone nurtured an interest in music from a preternaturally early age, learning the piano at the age of three. As a teen, she aspired to be a concert pianist, but these dreams were hampered when she was denied scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music on the basis of her race. It wasn’t until she was discovered by Bethlehem records in 1958, while performing in an Atlantic City night club, that Simone emerged as the artist we know her as today.

The career that followed was as long as it was lively. From the late 50s through her death in 2003, Simone released over forty albums, each with her signature combination of gospel, jazz, and classical music. Known for her strong opinions and fiery personality, she was unafraid to ruffle feathers (or take shots if she didn’t take kindly to you). In the mid 1960s, her music took on a decidedly political tone with songs that dealt with segregation and racial inequality.

Simone is probably most legendary for her extraordinary voice, cool style and idiosyncratic stage presence. Often coupling her performances with drawn-out soliloquies, her languid cadence and poetic non sequiturs endowed her with a hypnotic, regal quality. A performer through and through, Nina Simone is one of those fascinating, rare artists whose craft extends beyond her music and into her persona, painting a beautiful and oftentimes entrancing portrait.


1. Black jumpsuit | 2. Missoni Turban | 3. Gold & Turquoise Bib Necklace | 4. Marcel Wanders Knotted Chair | 5. Eye Do Liquid Eyeliner | 6. Pyramids Ring

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  • I love Nina Simone. I’ve loved her since I was in high school (maybe middle school?) and when I graduated college she was performing in Washington DC. I begged like crazy for tickets and my mom bought us tickets as a graduation present. It was the best performance I’ve ever seen. Nina waved a feather when she wanted us to clap for her, and at all other times we were expected to be quiet while she performed. She made originality look like ice skating, so effortless, but difficult to achieve yourself.

  • LOL @ feather. She was so in control and knew who she was. I would have loved to see her perform. She has an amazing catalog and I never get tired of listening to her music. #icon

  • Nina, Billie, Ella, Sarah, and Dinah….my absolute favorites! I love them all…but I find myself always inspired by Nina’s style….such a raw earthy Goddess with so much elegance and natural glam.

  • Nice to see this Nina salute back on the front page. The illustration is great. Let’s not forget that Nina Simone is also legendary for her civil rights songs, Mississippi Goddamn, To be young gifted and black and The King of love is dead to name a few. Her radical stance pretty much ended her career. Too black. Too strong. Too Nina.

  • D*S, this is such a dope profile. I’m looking at a framed poster of Nina on my living room wall right now; my house isn’t complete without her. Sometimes I look at her and marvel at the fact that no one gave her permission to be who she was. Against all odds, she claimed herself.

    I think I’ll go play “Lonesome Cities.”

  • At first I was like, whaaaat, Nina Simone in DS? But now I’m like, yeah, Nina Simone in DS!! Cool. Two of my favorites in one place. And the illustration is awesome.

  • I understood her so much better after reading a bio a couple of years ago – an amazing woman who left an important legacy, despite her struggles. And such style!

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