…I’d rather spend the money creating a beautiful collection’. Clever and business-minded, all eyes will be on Richard Nicoll at London’s menswear week.
As I walk into Richard Nicoll’s office, I see a mattress in the corner of the room. Just a single mattress, no bed frame, covered with a crisp white duvet and pillow. It doesn’t look good, I tell him.
“It’s just for napping,” he insists, bashfully brushing away any suggestions of regular late nights spent working in the east London studio.
I’m not sure I believe him, given he has now added menswear to his remit, and will debut the collection this week at London Collections: Men. But I let it go. If he is overworked, he certainly doesn’t need me nagging him.
Nicoll’s foray into menswear is not surprising, given his BA from Central Saint Martins on the subject, before gaining an MA in womenswear. “It’s something we’d been thinking about launching for a long time and given that the [London event] has been promoted so well, if we were to launch menswear, it was now or never. So it was a spur of the moment decision,” he explains, in a soft Australian accent. Born in London, Nicoll grew up in Perth, Australia.
But there’s a commercial reason, too.
It coincides with the selling period of designers’ resort collections. “If I’m clever about it, I can share a lot of the fabrications and ideas across womenswear and menswear. It’s almost just an extension of the women’s line and I think naturally it should be,” he says. “I select a lot of the women’s fabrics based on my personal tastes and it tends to have a masculinity to it, and a lot of it is daywear-oriented so it works for men too. I like the idea of them being like a couple.”
If Nicoll pulls off the “couple” concept, it could work in his favour for retailers that sell both menswear and womenswear. He cites Matches, Harvey Nichols, Liberty and Mr Porter as targeted UK stockists, retailers he already supplies with womenswear (Net-A-Porter, not Mr Porter, in this case). It’s likely that his successful womenswear line (sales are up 30% season on season) will lure buyers, who often approach a new brand with caution. Nicoll believes many UK retailers don’t sell “a lot” of British menswear brands. Why? “I don’t know, maybe they’re not taking the risk.”
Terry Betts, senior buyer at Mr Porter, says the team will “certainly” be attending the show.
“I have always liked Richard’s use of prints and block colour, which would translate well into menswear. Sharp tailoring and strong shirting are categories I expect Richard will execute well. I would expect to see strong T-shirt pieces, interesting shapes; for example, his cut-out dress is one of my favourite womenswear pieces on Net-a-Porter,” says Betts. “Prices in line with our more accessible designer brands are between £300 and £900. This is an exciting development; Richard is a very important designer for the Net-a-Porter business.”
Matches menswear buyer Stacey Smith says she is “particularly” looking forward to his show while Start London co-owner Brix Smith-Start simply says: “I love Richard.”
But Nicoll knows he needs more than a bit of love. “I think menswear is really price dependent – more so than womenswear – so we’re working really hard on making our prices accessible,” he says. “I think women are prepared to spend more money on clothes whereas men are more cautious.” Nicoll is working towards a wholesale price range of £50 for printed jersey pieces to £600 for outerwear and leather pieces.
While pricing might be trickier in menswear, designing the collection itself was more straightforward. “I think menswear is a lot easier to design; it’s about colour, shape and fit. It’s a trouser or a shirt or a jacket or a T-shirt. It’s more pragmatic,” he says. “And it’s quite easy for me to decide whether or not I would wear it, whereas for women, it needs to contain options for different body types, ages and markets. Because it’s my first season for menswear, I don’t know where the strengths will be yet and the markets. It’s a capsule collection, really.”
He will present the “fancy sportswear” collection at the ICA in London, where he unveiled his mainline last season, adopting a much-talked about look book-style photo shoot approach rather than catwalk. “We’re doing an actual catwalk [for menswear] but in a really intimate way. The days of big budget, big-scale shows are over. The stress levels…”
Nicoll trails off, his laid-back Australian accent belying a strong, opinionated voice. “And financially, I’d rather spend the money creating a beautiful collection and presenting it in a lo-fi way. I was speaking to a lot of journalists and half the time you’re in these shows you don’t know who the people are. There’s a million bloggers and they have their place but, you know, it’s almost as if you’re accommodating people that don’t actually need to be there.”
It’s a view not shared – at least not publicly – by his contemporaries, many of whom (including Jonathan Saunders, Henry Holland and Phillip Lim) have told me that catwalk shows are necessary advertising. “I don’t think people are ready to rock the boat, but I think the industry will change slowly,” Nicoll insists. “A lot of my generation take their lead from the big brands that advertise. But now in London we’ve proven that we are successful businesses and not just an ideas factory, so as a city we can take it back and do it in an independent way instead of competing with brands that have multi-million pound budgets.”
A designer that appears equally at ease talking about fabrics as he does finance, Nicoll is in the process of finalising a private investment, which would see an individual (“someone I’ve known personally for a while”, is all he’ll reveal) take a minority stake in the label. “We’ll be using [the investment] for production efficiency to ease our cash flow so we can pay for fabric on time, deliver earlier to stores, increase our sell-through, increase store confidence and therefore increase buying budgets,” he says, all in one breath.
Growth, he adds, will also come from Asian markets. “We have an agent in the Far East consulting on our range plan to build in elements for the Chinese market. But it’s more about deepening our [existing] store orders and relationships. We need to gain buyer confidence with early deliveries.”
Pleasing picky (my word, not his) buyers is key for Nicoll. “More and more [buyers] tend to order off-menu – different lengths and colours that aren’t offered,” he explains. This attitude must be a little bit annoying, surely? “It makes production kind of tricky but it’s where we’re at,” he smiles. “As long as it doesn’t look hideous…”
Like many of his peers, Nicoll does consultancy work. He has been creative director at Cerruti, just finished his last collection for Fred Perry and unveiled a bridal range for Topshop. It sounds hectic but he seems both calm and happy. “Yes, I am. I am very clear as to what I want to do now. It’s such a journey being a designer for your own label and remaining independent. I’d rather have desperate moments and be independent than work for someone else. But I’d love to do more consultancy. I think being creative director for another house would be amazing,” he says, succumbing to my probing and dropping the name “Jil Sander” into the conversation. Now that would be something.