Kinfolk Interview

From the latest issue of Kinfolk:

With a successful menswear-inspired line for women out on the racks, this London-based fashion designer welcomes the challenges that come with forging new aesthetic territory while balancing the creative and corporate sides of her business.

Most of us inherit traits and mannerisms from our families such as the colour of our eyes and the ways we order our coffee, but fashion designer Nick Wakeman inherited her parents’ professional skills. Raised by a businessman father and a seamstress mother, she grew up combining their talents, which led to her developing and running her own successful international clothing line. After graduating with her BA in textiles from Chelsea College of Arts, Nick spent the next 20 years honing her craft at Diesel, Marks & Spencer and a throng of other British brands before founding her own label in 2010, Studio Nicholson. She talks about her Japanese design influences and how her uniquely British sense of humour helps her through tough times.

What would we be surprised to learn about your passions?
It’s strange stuff considering that I’m a creative, but I’ve discovered I enjoy business just as much as using the right side of my brain. Business decisions are game-changing, often more so than creative decisions. It’s a tough place, but how you decide to act in business lays the foundation for everything within the brand.

How have you and your personal brand changed over time?
As Joan Didion said, “I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be.” I used to be a terrible perfectionist—I can be a little creatively rigid, and for years I was preoccupied with always getting it right. But getting it wrong sometimes is the best thing that can happen. It’s a state of mind: You have to ask yourself, “Is it going wrong, or are these challenges for me to learn from?” I say the latter—I wouldn’t be who I am today if life was all smooth sailing.

How is British fashion unique?
I’m not sure—I feel the fashion community is wonderfully international these days. I have an East/West split in my business with 30 percent of our business coming from Japan, where we have around 60 stockists. I’ve been traveling to Japan for 15 years now and I’m hugely inspired by Japanese culture, architecture and interiors: There’s a certain symmetry between the Japanese design of life and the products I create. All these inspirations provide structure for me to form the basis of my collections as ultimate modular wardrobes. I don’t think I have a huge amount of “Britishness” built into the brand: Our fabrics are sourced in Italy and Japan, and we produce all over Europe and Japan. Saying that, my sense of humour is resoundingly British: dark, full of irony and, at times, downright evil. I can find the funny side in practically anything. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to get through the day and I wouldn’t be me.

How is the role of gender changing in fashion?
This is really interesting to me, as I’m a former menswear designer and have always worn men’s pieces such as shirts and jackets, and I’ve never bought a pair of women’s jeans in my life. I feel that the ultimate nod to good design is that my garments are coveted by men as well as women.

How has your upbringing affected the way you approach your work?
My mother is a fantastic seamstress and made all my clothes as a child. She says I’ve always known what I wanted—and especially what I don’t want! And in some ways, I also take after my father, who is a businessman—I have his drive. He gave me the most valuable piece of advice I’ve received: “Keep going.” He tells me this every Saturday at exactly 11 a.m.

What do you do to give yourself energy in your spare time?
I’ve been practicing yoga for eight years. It stops my busy mind whirring and puts my body back together. I quite often tip myself upside down at 4p.m. at the studio in a headstand: It reverses my blood flow, sends oxygen to my heart and stimulates my adrenals.

Do you consider yourself an impulsive person, or do you overthink things?
I’m a considered person: I consider, consider, consider… and then impulsively do it at the 11th hour.

How have you learned to cope in moments of self-doubt?
I say to myself that it will pass—it always does.