RICHARD NICOLL on the value of collaboration and the cross-pollination of ideas.
London-based designer Richard Nicoll, synonymous with a resolutely clean, understated aesthetic and conceptually-focused approach, has come on board as Creative Director at French fashion house Cerruti. Inspired by his successful, and ongoing, collaboration with iconic punk artist Linder Sterling, Richard talks to Bon about the positive effects of idea sharing, creating menswear-inspired womenswear, and taking Cerruti back to it’s heyday.
Indigo Clarke: Hey Rich, how are you? Aren’t you meant to be in Paris now, did you miss your train?
Richard Nicoll: Yeah, because of this weather the Eurostar keeps getting cancelled, so I’m still in snowy London… You’re in Sydney in the sun, how is it?
Clarke: It’s beautiful, so tropical and pretty. Coming home from NY this time, I’ve really been struck by what a beautiful city Sydney is. So, you’re far from the sun, working super late at your Shoreditch studio, finishing off your first collection for Cerruti as Creative Director – exciting!
Nicoll: Yeah it really is. It all happened so quickly – I was approached out of the blue early October last year, offered the job over the phone by the president of Cerruti. It has been really surreal actually, to have such a quick turnaround from the initial phonecall to creating my first collection for them.
Clarke: Was it intimidating to start designing so quickly after getting the job – did you feel a lot of pressure to create a knock-out first collection?
Nicoll: I actually felt really free, and wasn't held back by personal pressure, which was good. I knew going in that Cerruti was a menswear-based label that created womenswear, which was something that interested me…
Clarke: I can see that, because your designs have always been very focused on structure and tailoring…
Nicoll: Yes, and Cerruti’s founder Nino Cerruti was renowned for making womenswear that followed the principles of traditional men’s tailoring. I’m comfortable with that approach to womenswear because it’s about creating a realistic, accessible product that is luxury, but real. It’s different to my label because it’s about quite straight-forward and wearable clothing, that doesn’t have an overwhelming personality in terms of style. The process of designing within a team has worked so well for this project because everyone has been able to combine their ideas and experiences to create a democratic product. The whole experience so far at Cerruti has been so positive, meeting and working with such great people.
Clarke: Why was it that cerruti came to you – an independent London-based designer – as their choice for Creative Director?
Nicoll: It was actually through the new menswear creative director, Jesper Börjesson, who is a brilliant designer and very lovely person, he recommended me. The collection director met me and we got along really well and I was offered the job straight after that – it all seemed very informal, instinctive even. I brought over my friend, the stylist Jacob K to style the collection…
Clarke: That partnership has been going strong for years now…
Nicoll: Totally, Jacob always pulls my collections together really well, I find his vision inspiring. Bringing him over to Cerruti after working with him on my own collections for years felt like a nice way to repay his efforts, and it’s great to be able to work with someone I really respect and feel comfortable with.
Clarke: You’re still designing your own line, as well as womenswear and accessories for Cerruti – are you going to be based in London or Paris?
Nicoll: My label is still based in London, but I go to Paris to work for Cerruti about three days a week. I really find the mood inspiring in Paris – it’s been really good to have that change in geography to distinguish the work I do for my label to the designs for Cerruti
Clarke: Where do you stay when you’re in Paris?
Nicoll: I have been staying at this lovely hotel, it’s right by the Louvre – the whole area is beautiful… it’s lovely just to walk around and take it all in. I haven’t had a chance to see much of Paris yet, when I’m here I am working for Cerruti, then I have to leave to work on my own label…
Clarke: Your label has always had a distinct aesthetic and point of view that has really evolved over the years…
Nicoll: Yes I’m always evolving the label and what it stands for. I see it as a celebration of personal style over sexuality or status. The girl I dress is the kind of girl I respect – she is real, independent and interesting. This season the collection is a little kooky… so I’m envisaging it working for a kookier version of my girl. In general, my designs are non-age, non-body type specific, so that they are democratic in their appeal…. Even if not so democratic in their price point!
Clarke: Your designs are clean and bold, quite idiosyncratic – how did this signature style develop?
Nicoll: Well being from Perth, Australia, I’ve come from a place that is not about fashion, and so growing up I didn’t know anything about fashion. I was really, really shy when I was a kid, and so clothing for me represented a form of expression beyond words. I was always interested in youth culture and personal expression through clothing, and then I had studied sculpture at school and was pretty good at it. I actually enrolled at St Martins as a sculpture student, but ended up choosing to study fashion. That’s really where I started and so from the outset my clothes have been based around a look and mood rather than a product – so rather than create a single razzamatazz dress, it’s about an overall aesthetic or vision consistent throughout the entire collection. I always say the collections are a celebration of idiosyncratic style over status or overt sexuality. The cleanliness of my aesthetic comes from being Australian – we have quite a clean style in general I think. Perth is so isolated, and there was no real fashion culture there growing up which helped me to distil my own aesthetic and vision. I wasn’t swayed by what was happening around me, but had the freedom to find my own identity.
Clarke: Has working for Cerruti been a difficult transition, or a relief? Must be nice to have a sense of structure after running your studio independently…
Nicoll: You know, it has been a total relief for me, I was feeling a bit stagnant – it can be quite draining running your own business. So it came as a welcome relief to get a job where there was an established structure, and I’m able to just concentrate on the creative job at hand rather than all the minute details of running a company. It came at the perfect moment too, because you know how I wanted to move to Barcelona…
Clarke: And I was telling you to move to New York!
Nicoll: Yeah, I felt I needed a change from London, but realised Barcelona was not going to work as a location for my business and staff, so this change – working in Paris for Cerruti and in London for my label, has been amazing. It’s been an important change in my life, being out of the mayhem of my studio has given me the space to just create – working in Paris part of the time has been mutually beneficial to both collections.
Clarke: What does your role at Cerruti involve?
Nicoll: Basically, Cerruti is relaunching both the mens and womenswear, which is why Jesper and I came on board. The company wants a total revamp – they are enthused about taking Cerruti back to its heyday when Narcisco Rodriguez was designing for the house in the 90s. Jesper is super talented, and what he is doing with Cerruti is really exciting – I’m really happy to be working alongside him. We are both creating collections that are in the spirit and vein of the label, which is quite straight-forward and accessible, but adding a fresh perspective – hopefully giving the collections greater depth and personality.
Clarke: Do you work together on the collections at all?
Nicoll: Well, the collections should have some synchronicity, so it’s good to share ideas and talk.
Clarke: That’s something you’ve always been inspired by – collaborating with other creatives…
Nicoll: I’m quite a social person, and in the same way a conversation inspires new ways of thinking – creative collaborations open the door to new fresh ideas. It’s an opportunity to be challenged, and to look at things in a less obvious way. It’s easy to get stuck in one mindset, and there is such value in collaboration and the loss of ego in creating with other people. Right now it feels like a time for a real cross-pollination of disciplines, and for the freedom of ideas this allows.
Working with the artist Linder Sterling has been amazing and changed my mindset completely – designing alongside her, it felt like I was channelling her vision. I respect her identity and legacy, and I respect her vision…
Clarke: How did you meet Linder?
Nicoll: It all happened quite organically. She was being shot for Vogue and a stylist asked if she could wear my clothes for it. To thank me, Linder gave me her retrospective book, which is beautiful. I wasn't actually too familiar with her work, beyond her more famous pieces, and after getting to know her work it seemed so perfect as inspiration for womenswear, because she is all about women’s identity and sexuality. She is such a gorgeous person, so inspiring, crazily poetic, so knowledgeable – naturally amazing. After meeting her, I just wanted to spend more time with her, she is seriously one of the most incredible people I’ve had the chance to meet. When we started to work together – Linder creating prints for my collection – it felt like we were surrogate parents sharing this baby, the collection, together.
Clarke: Have you worked with Linder again this season? She is such an iconic and pioneering artist, it must be inspiring to work with her.
Nicoll: It really is. After the initial collaboration with Linder for AW09, I’ve continued to work with her. This season, she is doing a collage print for me, we have an ongoing friendship founded in creating things together. The wonderful thing about collaboration is that it doesn't feel like work, it’s just hanging out and enjoying other people’s company. I recently made a costume for a performance piece she did at the Tate, which was enjoyable. To step outside the realms of fashion is refreshing, working with other creatives keeps my work fresh – you never know what you are going to learn or what you will end up creating – there is such a sense of unpredictability. This season, I’ve taken quite a spontaneous approach to my collection. AW10 is based on my own wardrobe – re-creating it as womenswear.
Clarke: That sounds so interesting – will it be particularly masculine?
Nicoll: Well, I am focusing on tailoring and menswear mainstays, but it won’t be excessively masculine – it’s more of a conceptual play on what I see hanging in my wardrobe every day. What’s exciting to me about this collection is that there is a real element of the unknown. I’m looking forward to Jacob pulling it all together at the end – that’s the great thing about working with Jacob, is sharing inspiration and ideas. We work well together and work quite closely in some ways. At the very beginning of the season we’ll meet and go through concepts, Jacob always enriches my ideas. The longer we’ve been working together the easier it becomes, I totally trust his opinions… I’ve got really strong ideas when it comes to styling, and so does he obviously, and both being quite stubborn we argue over some points, but end up reaching a happy balance.
Clarke: It must be difficult sometimes to hand over your work, and to see your vision re-imagined by someone else…
Nicoll: Yes definitely, but because I design full outfits my vision is quite clear and can’t be changed too much in the styling process. Jacob definitely brings another element to the shows and collections, I really enjoy that relationship.
Clarke: How do you approach creating your collections season to season – do you consciously set out to create something new with each collection?
Nicoll: Spring/Summer collections are where I introduce new concepts and ideas, and then because of the shorter production period for Autumn/Winter, that collection functions as a follow up – so that my collections are like chapters, with each year a new chapter. That’s how I approach each year – so that a collection spans both seasons. It’s a pretty natural progression for me season to season – the last one was quite a jump but the way it came about was still very organic. In a way I feel like my collections are a visual diary representing my state of mind. I can look back and tell why certain collections were the way they were, they can take me back to another time. It’s exciting that the longer I go on, the stronger my ethos and approach becomes – and as I’ve continued it’s been great to be able to work with other people, and brands, that interest me and add new depth to my designs.
Clarke: You’ve been influenced by artists and musicians, have their been any designers that have inspired you over the years?
Nicoll: Vivienne Westwood’s become kind of a new interest of mine – I really like her early stuff. Comme des Garcon I’ve always really liked, and I really liked Jil Sander. Jil’s designs were so pared back, and yet you could tell there was such a rigorous design process behind them, and such attention to detail. I think that’s how you create something effortless that has soul and integrity, it’s about paring complex designs back to reveal simple, confident garments.
Clarke: Do you have any collaborative projects coming up that you’re looking forward to?
Nicoll: At the moment I am working on the costumes for one of Linder’s performances. It’s actually for a 16-hour performance piece she is doing this March in Glasgow. On a more commercial level, I am working with Fred Perry on a women’s collection, which is cool because it’s such a great iconic brand. I’m also doing another collection for Top Shop.
Clarke: How are you going to do all this… you're going to die!
Nicoll: Yes maybe (laughs). It will be absolutely mental, I won’t have time to do anything but be healthy and productive, which I am quite looking forward to. It’s great not to have time to just get drunk and hang out (laughs).
Clarke: Is there anyone you dream of working with?
Nicoll: I’d love to work with the choreographer Michael Clark on costumes because I think his work is amazing – I love it. In the 80s Michael Clark had Leigh Bowery creating costumes for him, and now Stevie Shore of the label Body Map, which is all really fashion club-wear from the 80s and 90s. Linder Sterling is really good friends with Morrissey and wants to introduce us – that would be pretty special, meeting my childhood hero. I’d love to do some stage pieces for him. A little while ago Linder, Jacob K, Tim Walker, and myself did a shoot for ID Magazine, which actually became the cover. It was basically Linder wearing pieces from my collection – that has been one of my greatest achievements. Soon I’m going to work on outfits for an Interview Magazine shoot featuring Linder and Morrissey together. It’s doing these kind of side projects that keeps me inspired, and keeps me loving what I do.
Clarke: Seems like 2010 is going to have a lot going on… What do you hope to get out of the year, and your experience with Cerruti?
Nicoll: Yeah, I think this year is going to be great, a lot of things to look forward to. It's been such a positive experience working with an established French house, and to see the way things are done in a more structured environment. In the cottage industry setup that I have, it is all very experimental and can be quite manic, which I do love, but can get a bit exhausting. More than anything, this year I am looking forward to meeting the challenge of this new project, to enjoy a new experience, and to see Cerrutti’s womenswear become a success again…
Clarke: And to continue getting collaborative!
Nicoll: Yeah, getting totally collaborative (laughs). I’ve enjoyed collaborating on this phone call.