Nick Wakeman thrives in the city. She isn’t fazed by traffic jams – in fact, I reckon she enjoys them. They give her an opportunity to scan the pavements and digest the daily workings of the metropolis. When others tire of bustling streets, endless noise and 24/7 living, Nick couldn’t be happier. For her, it’s a source of endless inspiration.
Readers will know that I’ve worked with Nick for years now. Others might realise we knock about together outside the 9-5 every now and then. We go for nice meals. Laze about putting the world to rights. Cry with laughter at stupid shit and sing along to O.M.D. songs in the car. During these moments, I sometimes sneak in the odd brand-related question, because I find she’s more receptive to being quizzed when we’re on the move. As the editor-at-large, I need constant nuggets of info to help drive the Studio Nicholson narrative forward, and her off-guard moments are when the liquid gold really pours out.
Our recent stroll along the South Bank followed a similar formula. Wakeman in the wild, set against the backdrop of some of London’s most iconic concrete. A breezy walk-and-talk beside the Thames, with May sunshine putting a spring in our step. Me in Birkenstocks, Nick striding along in trainers, it made sense for sportswear to be our first topic. Explaining how it informs her aesthetic, she said, “I grew up with sportswear. A lot of my friends were coming out of that west London Buffalo style in the late 1980s and I was hanging out with London’s Stüssy crew, wearing Hysteric Glamour, Bathing Ape and other brands from Japan. They were at the root of it for me, but nowadays it’s less about modern sportswear. I look further back, towards Perry Ellis and WilliWear. If I distil what sportwear means to me, it’s the crispy fabrication, the sizing and the freedom. I’m drawn to the roomier armholes, the zips, poppers, drawcords, elasticated waists and volume. Being able to move comfortably in your clothes is so important.”
Season on season, the modular wardrobe is always infused with streetwear elements. It’s designed to suit an urban lifestyle, with kerbs, buses, busy junctions and sprawling skylines peppered with cranes. Makes sense when you understand Nick’s character. Most people head to the hills to restore their batteries. Nick goes into town. Laughing, she confessed, “The idea of going for a long, bracing walk in the great outdoors is just the pits for me. I find the countryside insanely dull – especially the English countryside. I just can’t bear it. I like looking at stuff, I like looking at people; and there’s not enough of either in the countryside.
Modernity makes my wheels spin. Relics bore me. Anything pre-1969 I’m just not interested in. I couldn’t care less about ancient history. The fascination others feel doesn’t happen for me. It’s the 20th century for me – more than anything. All that innovation, all those incredible mixed materials being developed. I like plastic, it’s more interesting to me than a lovely piece of porcelain. I suppose I like things that are seen as nasty, man-made materials. The only natural material I love really, is cotton.”
We sauntered across Waterloo bridge, scanning the view, taking it all in. Over at the north side, we swing a right and head down to Surrey Street, where we had a reservation at Toklas restaurant for lunch. It’s a pretty smart gaff with floor-to-ceiling bi-fold doors that lead out onto a plant-filled terrace. Wooden flooring that smelled amazing and whizzed the pair of us straight back to memories of 1970s school assembly halls. There’s an open kitchen with stainless steel bookshelves crammed with well-thumbed cookbooks (not something I recall seeing very often in professional settings) and a menu so good, that we said, “fuck it!” and ordered one of every starter.
The plates were compact and loaded with colour. Fresh food that tasted bang-on. Not fussy or overdone. As I signalled for more (warm) bread, Nick highlighted how, “There’s a huge difference between luxury and quality. Quality for me is the simplicity of really good raw materials doing the talking. Why do people feel the need to overcomplicate things? The best food in the world is always made with the best ingredients. Same for clothing or architecture. Luxury is what you choose to make things with. It’s not about the best seat on the plane. I don’t believe in things being elitist. I don’t think anything should be out of anyone’s league really. Obviously, with the brand, the idea is to bring great clothes to the masses. And some might say, ‘Studio Nicholson is hardly cheap as chips’, and I can say, ‘Sure. But it’s moderate. It’s not, you know, silly.’
"I can't sit still. I like being active because I like to feel how my clothes move, and that's really all I'm concerned with"
As we deliberate over the chocolate cake or the almond and loquat tart for pudding, I mention how if I could sum up Nick in one word, it would be: movement. Not one for dwelling, she’s always looking and moving forwards. Always wants to know what’s next. Future-facing. Going places. Up in the crow’s nest, with a bird’s eye view. When we went to Patmos a few years back, she was in her element. Razzing around the dusty island roads on a hired moped in shorts. Shirt flapping open. Hair crazy in the wind. Massive grin. ‘What’s it all about?’ I ask.
“I can't sit still. I like being active because I like to feel how my clothes move, and that's really all I'm concerned with. I think some of the best blink-of-an-eye moments in my life have been when I've seen someone on the street. I'm a terrible voyeur. They’ll be moving in a certain way and then something clicks that means their clothing suddenly really works with the way that they move. Clothes come to life when humans aren’t static. We’ve all seen a supremely well-dressed person walking down the road and you can’t quite figure out why they look better than anyone else. It could be they’ve had everything tailor-made. Or perhaps it's just a great fit with great cloth that hangs perfectly. It’s a trick to make clothes that move with our bodies in a way that flatters. Some of the Studio Nicholson pieces only come to life when they’re on the body. They might look awkward on a hanger but put them on a body and get someone moving – that's when the magic happens.”
With the bill settled, we grab our coats and head out towards the Strand. A cocktail of stone and concrete surrounds us. It’s Friday. Bright blue skies above. We decide against a cab and walk up to Soho, pointing out the odd well-turned-out oldie here and there. Nick described how, “One my favourite things in the world, is looking at old geezers in slacks with a pair of trainers at the end. There’s something about that attitude of slinging a pair or trainers with some tailored trousers – it gives you that youthful bounce. Pull on a pair of trainers with something classic and whatever you’re wearing instantly has that edge. It’s the contrast, the tension between the textures. Polished fabrics, cut with sportswear-sized armholes. Dress patterns cut with a streetwear pitch on the sleeves, so you never feel constrained. Beautiful, voluminous nylons that cinch in all the right places. Studio Nicholson is all very me and when I put it on, I feel younger. It all goes back to the beginning, I guess - to the playful clothes of my youth.