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Nico Peyrache, 53: Forging a Life of Happiness

After losing his shoulder to cancer in his teens, Nico Peyrache taught himself “to be disciplined and consistent with what I wanted to do,” leading him to super fitness, a successful career in the denim industry, and a happy life. He discusses working with Khloe Kardashian, his tattoo journey, his fitness and diet regime, and the keys to happiness.

We are not victims — our circumstances are our opportunities.

There are some people we meet for whom we feel an instant affinity — a feeling which says: this person is from my tribe. Meeting Nico was like meeting someone I have known all my life. Searching for why this was, it came to me that we at AGEIST are interested in something that, at least in this moment in our culture, is considered an otherness: age. Much of culture currently treats us as being outside of the mainstream and in need of some sort of special help. It is a message of infantilization, contrary to the self empowerment that we often feel. We feel a pride in who we are, while what is often reflected to us is something between pity and aversion. 

The very remarkable Nico Peyrache never tried to be like the others; it was impossible given his physical circumstances. It is this very “otherness” which gives him his insight and empathy. His life could have gone on a very different path; however, he never embraced victimhood, he knew he had choices, as we all have choices. If one combines an imagination of what could be with effort and energy, the world becomes a very open place, at any age. We are all special, whether we see this as an asset or otherwise is up to us. 

Having done well in the denim industry, as a founding partner at Frame Denim and now with the Kardashian-aligned Good American plus-size brand, he is now looking to fulfill a lifelong passion of working with handicapped people. As someone who does not have a shoulder as the result of adolescent bone cancer, the super-fit now-vegan Nico, with his acute design sense, is uniquely placed to bring something special to a sector that desperately needs it. 

Nico Peyrache, photo David Harry Stewart

How old are you?
I am turning 53 this year. 

When were you diagnosed with bone cancer?
I was 16; 1986. I was turning 17 years old, but funny enough I was diagnosed on April 1st, so it’s easy to remember. When I was in school a friend of mine just caught me by the arm and he hurt me, and I had to go to the doctor. When they did the x-ray, they found out that the humerus, which is the head of the bone, was actually — a piece was missing. Like somebody took a bite out of an apple.

They thought, “Oh, this is not normal.” So, we did a biopsy. I had my first surgery and had the second surgery until we found out that it was bone cancer. After that, I had one year of chemotherapy and I had a total of 14 surgeries on my arm. I was happy because they saved my arm. 

What was removed? The whole shoulder socket?
The whole shoulder socket is gone. There is no more articulation, none. The humerus is completely gone. The deltoid front and back are completely gone, because the muscle was affected too. They did a big cleanup around to make sure that we could remove as much cancer as we could. 

That, of course, completely affected my mobility on my arm because I don’t have any more articulation so I cannot move in a regular way. I had multiple surgeries trying to recreate a little bit of my shoulder.

I was pretty lazy as a kid; I was not going to the gym. My father kept pushing me: “Oh, you should do some sports.” He was a fan of sports. He was playing basketball, gymnastics, and other sports and I was so lazy. And when I got the cancer the doctor said, “Hey, whatever you were doing, it’s over.” I was like, “Well, you guess what? This is where I’m going to start to do something.” 

So, tell me about that. What did you start? What was your journey? You’re super fit now.
Well, I get out of the chemo, the treatments, everything, and a year and a half later and I’m 6’3″ and I’m about 125, 130 pounds. 

I’m originally very skinny but, of course, with the treatment, I had to spend a lot of time rebuilding my body because chemo is so aggressive. I came out of it very light, very, very skinny and my arm was barely the size of my wrist. The muscle was gone. Plus I was lazy. But then I decided to work out. I had some weight and things like this in my house and I started to train and tried to do whatever I could with my arm. 

Nico Peyrache, photo David Harry Stewart

“If I could not do something one way, I could do it another way”

I will say that cancer has been super positive in my life, because it could have killed me, and like people say, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” I learned how to be disciplined and consistent with what I wanted to do. At the time, I thought that my life could have been completely different if I didn’t have cancer. It taught me so many things about relationships, about being human beings, about how you can be treated completely different. I was bald and some people looked at me like I was crazy, or they felt sorry for me. I had to be tougher in my life, and then, the same way with my body. I decided I don’t want to stay skinny anymore. 

Years later, I had an opportunity to come to LA for a job, and I took it, and when I got to LA in 2003, I really started to work out, and had a trainer, and tried to pass this problem with my shoulder, and made sure that I could do almost anything I wanted. If I could not do something one way, I could do it another way, because there was always a way to train the muscle.

How did you start your career in fashion and design?
I had two things I wanted to be when I was young. My big thing was advertising, at the time. I wanted to be in publication or advertising. I went to school for that, I  graduated with a degree in that. I always hated fashion. I was like, “I’m never going to work in fashion. I don’t like this. This is not for me.” One day when I got out of school, I worked for a year in advertising with a bunch of assholes and I was like, “My God, I hate this job. I’m not going to be able to deal with these people.” They are so cocky, so pretentious, it was terrible. I got an opportunity to work for a brand as a graphic artist and I was like, “You know what, I’m going to try this.” That is how I got into fashion. 

“I started as a graphic artist and from there I became interested in fabric, mostly; my specialty is denim”

I started as a graphic artist and from there I became interested in fabric, mostly; my specialty is denim. Jeans, how they fit, the wash, the fabric, and so on. Then I started working for someone who became a mentor. Over 10 years I worked with him. I got an opportunity to come to LA for a job, because at the time in 2003, there was this big explosion of brands and there was a bunch of French people who moved from France to LA to start brands, and one of them called me and said, “Hey, you want to come to work here?” I was like, “Sure, I don’t speak English, but I will figure it out.”

The first thing I did when I moved here was I went to Sears in Santa Monica to buy my first TV and put subtitles on everything. At the time, I had this little dictionary, French-English. Each time I was watching the TV looking the words, and trying to learn English.

You have a couple of companies that you have been part of. Can you tell us about them?
I worked over seven years for Lucky Brand, which was one of my best experiences because I got to work for French people; we speak the same language and we understood each other. But I realized that this was not right for me. I needed to be more implicated in the industry and understand the customer and I felt that I needed to work for an American company. Then I got an opportunity to work for a big brand. Once again, my English was terrible and now I was part of a big corporation in New York and I was like, “Wow, that is a different job.” 

Nico Peyrache, photo David Harry Stewart

Frame Denim and Good American

Now all of a sudden, you have meetings, you have presentations, you have to have a point of view, you have stores, you have to talk to the people at the store, you have to present to over 350 people live. This whole thing was really positive for me because it pushed me to be better with my language, but also with what I was doing. Plus, I got to understand we need the customer. That was an amazing experience for me; I made tons of connections. One day a connection from Lucky connected with me and said, “Hey, I have a bunch of friends and we want to start something, but none of us know how to do the product.” I was like, “Okay, what do we want to do?” Jeans to start, and we want to do denim, we want to do a little bit of everything.” “So, what’s the name?” They said, “The name is Frame.” 

So we started a company. This year is going to be Frame’s 10th anniversary. We started from scratch, we opened one store, then the second one, and now we have almost 20 stores. At the same time, I said to one of my business partners, “I believe that there is a market for plus size.” A lot of the women in this country can’t find anything to wear. We had this idea at the time to work with Khloe Kardashian, because she was doing the show Body Revenge, and the right people aligned in the right moment and we started this brand called Good American. 

Same thing: good success, good launch. I have to say that working with the Kardashians also helps a lot. But at the end of the day, if the product is no good, you get in trouble. You can go up very quickly, but you can go down even faster. You can get buried very quickly. 

That’s amazing.
It’s what we call the American Dream, right? 

What’s your favorite part of your job?
I think it’s two things. It’s working with people, because I have always loved working with a team. I like when we all have to come up with something new; I think that’s the interesting part. When you finally work so hard on a product and a concept and you finally see regular people on the street wearing what you worked so hard on — it’s a good feeling. When I started to see the brand, whether it’s Frame or Good American, I was like, “Wow.” This is where I feel you becoming successful. It’s not so much about the numbers. It is when you start to see people wearing your brand and you say, “I made it.”

“Since the moment I got sick, I wanted to work with handicapped people”

Do you think you’ll stay in the fashion business?
No, no way. Since the moment I got sick, I wanted to work with handicapped people. It’s always been something that has a special place in my heart and I always wanted to find a way to help them. I think that once I can financially stop and I’m able to do something else not specifically for the money or to pay the bills, I really would like to do something with handicapped people, like deaf people. I had some experience like this at the beginning of my career when I was teaching how to use computers and drawing, always on the creative side, and it was so rewarding. It was an incredible feeling to do that. Yeah, that’s what I would like to do… work with people who don’t have the same advantage as everybody else. 

What are your style tips for people over 50?
First of all, I don’t feel like I’m 53 and I’m sure you don’t feel you are over 60, right? I know it sounds ridiculous when we say that, but age is just a number. I don’t try to overthink my style. I say to wear what you feel good in and naturally it will fit you. I think that when guys try too hard to be something else than what they are, you look ridiculous. Don’t wear clothes that are too big because then you will look sloppy. 

Nico Peyrache, photo David Harry Stewart

Tattoo Journey

Take me through the tattoo journey. Did this start around the same time as the bone cancer?
No. The tattoos started when I was 27 years old. I’ve always been a little bit early in things. I used to wear earrings when I was 17/18 years old. At the time, at least in Europe, in France, only gay men were wearing earrings and you had to be careful because one side was gay, the other side was not gay.

At some point, I was like “I want a tattoo. Tattoos are really cool.” So, 27 years old, in France, I went to a tattoo shop, which was like a dark cave. It was not like now when you go and you say, “Hey, dude give me a tattoo.” No, no, it was like a special thing. 

At the time, at least in France, they had no windows, like a porn shop. You couldn’t see what was inside. You go inside and I see this girl all dressed in leather, and things like this, and she’s tough and she’s like, “What the fuck do you want?” I’m like, “Well, I came for a tattoo.” “Oh, okay. You know what you want?” I say, “Well, I think I want a dolphin.” She says, “Dolphin?” and I say, “Yeah.” I had this tattoo with two dolphins jumping out of the water. The most terrible tattoo on the back of my shoulder. It was the mother and the baby dolphin jumping. The most ridiculous tattoo. I got out of there and I was like, “Whoa, now I’m cool. Now, I’m seriously cool.” When I was going to the beach with my friend and everyone was like, “Oh, my God, what is that? You got a tattoo? What did you do to yourself?”

From there, I became crazy about tattoos but I was at this age where I didn’t want to spend too much money on it so I got some shitty, terrible ones… too deep, raised, bad drawing, faded. When I came to the US in 2003 I started going to some pretty good artists to cover up basically everything that I had before. 

What’s your next tattoo?
I have a big piece on my back, which I delayed because it’s really painful. But the next one is to finish my back and I want to do another on the other side of my head. 

That head one must hurt!
No, it’s actually not too bad. It’s funny, because there is this weird relationship with tattoos. This kind of S&M thing, which I am not into at all. But for some reason, you know it hurts, but you’re going to love it. You go through the pain. It’s three or four hours with a needle going at the same place, burning, hurting, and you sweat. I get out there. I’m always exhausted at the end. But you go back each time.

“I think it’s very important that you understand your body in order to adapt your training and your diet to it”

I want to ask you about your training routine. What are you doing now?
One thing that people often do not think about or do not associate with training is diet. They think that they can go train as hard as possible without proper diet. I completely changed my diet. I became a vegan about a year ago because I started to understand that, as I’m getting older, I was getting more inflammation in all the joints, like in my knees, elbows, wrists.

I finally understood that my diet has to change. I used to eat seven times a day and be in this thing that you have to eat, you have to eat, you have to eat. Yes, I had gotten to 200 pounds, but I was not comfortable. I was inflamed everywhere. I think people have to understand what kind of body type they have. People like you, like me, we have same body type. People like us, it’s better to be leaner and athletic instead of trying to add 30 pounds because, for us, if we don’t have that frame it’s not our body type and it’s going to be painful and it’s not sustainable. 

I was eating too much red meat, I was eating too much protein. But I completely changed. I try to fast 16 hours a day. Meaning that my window to eat is eight hours. I usually eat three to four times a day max and I feel much, much, much better; much better. I train more on mobility, in a more athletic way, focusing on speed. The weight is important, but it’s not the most important thing. Meaning, I can squat 380 pounds with my shoulder, which is a big challenge. I prefer to squat 280, do reps of 10, and basically feel great about it, and then at the same time train with my trainer, Susie Lin, focusing on my mobility and being able to jump from one thing to another.

I think it’s very important that you understand your body in order to adapt your training and your diet to it. It took me a while because I had this feeling that I wanted to get bigger, I wanted to get bigger, and I finally understood 185 pounds at 6’3″, it’s great. I don’t need more. I’m a size 32. I say myself, “I want to stay lean, I want to see my abs, and that’s all.”

Nico Peyrache, photo David Harry Stewart

What’s your favorite restaurant in LA? Where do you like to eat?
My favorite restaurant is Plant Food and Wine. It’s plant-based. 

Do you only eat plant-based?
Yeah, only. I don’t eat any more animal protein or animal products. I do not drink any milk, I don’t eat eggs, I don’t eat any fish, or chicken. It’s only plant-based. All my inflammations, all my acid reflux that I used to have, everything is gone. My cholesterol went down to a normal level. But it’s not easy, because I love meat. I love the red meat, I love to eat ribs, I love all of that. The good thing is, once in a while when, for example, my girlfriend and I were going on vacation, this is where I usually for a week can eat whatever I want because the rest of the time, I’m disciplined and I just eat vegan. 

What are the three non-negotiables in your life?
Happiness. I think that we all look for that, but I finally understood that maybe that’s why I got divorced twice. It’s because I was running after something each time and I forgot to be happy. Yes, I was successful in my business, I was able to do things that a lot of people will not be able to do, but I forgot to be happy. So, happiness is one of them. Fitness and gym are directly related to that and loving somebody. If you are happy and you are in love, and you take care of yourself, nothing can stop you. 

I always say to my kids, “Stop thinking you’re a victim. You’re not a victim. You make a choice.” I had a choice. The choice I could have said, “You know what? I don’t want to fight. I’m going to die and my life would have been done at 16 years old and that was it.” But I decided differently and for everything else in my life. 

1 COMMENT

  1. Good story and my best response is I love Frame jeans. Discovered them 2 years ago and now that is what I wear. I agree age should not dictate fashion. Wear what you think you look good in and love and to hell with opinions about what’s age appropriate.

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AUTHOR

David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.

 

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