Vanity Fair Interview - Nick Wakeman Shares Her Inspirations
via Vanity Fair - Under The Influence Series
“I’ve had some of my best ideas under blaring strip lights, walking among the tinnitus-inducing chorus of hundreds of sewing machines.”
Traditional Japanese Senior Style & Factory Visits
I have been travelling to Japan for over 15 years now and one of my obsessions with Tokyo is the old men and their unconscious old school style. There is something special in the way these guys put their look together with pieces of clothing that they have had forever. These shirts, pants and jackets are laundered so expertly that they have lasted almost a lifetime, something I strongly believe in and practise myself. There’s a beauty in the colours and fabrications in these garments that cannot be replicated with new clothes; the genius bit, however, lies in the styling—something I come back to again and again when starting a new collection.
The city of Kurume, home to the Moonstar Company since 1873, is an area I've become more familiar with ever since we started our partnership back in 2015. Throughout my career, I’ve been fascinated by production lines, absorbed by the minutiae of every industrial process and inspired by the sight of stacked up raw materials—but most of all, I love the smell. The workforce at Moonstar operate a mixture of traditional machinery and cutting-edge technology under the heady but pleasurable aroma of hot burning rubber. For me, factory visits almost always kickstart the imagination. It’s the so-called “back end” of the industry that interests me, rather than the catwalks of Paris—I’ve had some of my best ideas under blaring strip lights, walking among the tinnitus-inducing chorus of hundreds of sewing machines.
Sometimes I think the nature of how things are made is almost as important as the finished product. On arrival I was handed a washed, worn, navy blue worker’s cap bearing the company logo, which is part of the standard daily uniform for every employee. When it was time to leave I felt like a delinquent teenager when asked to hand back my temporary worker’s cap. I’d surreptitiously stuffed it in my bag, ready to be reimagined for a future season. The dynamism of the factory floor had worked its future-season-moodboard-magic on me once again.
The spirit of awkward proportions runs through every element of the Studio Nicholson modular wardrobe. Items are pristinely cut with expertly placed panelling, engineered for layering and designed to come alive once on the body. The result is an interchangeable system for dressing that allows the wearer total flexibility and room to breathe. Pants with a hobo-like crop to the leg have become the quintessential shape for every Studio Nicholson collection, with the clothing of my childhood as a major influence for the concept of this particular silhouette.
As a self-confessed tomboy I rebuked the populist 1970s prairie flounce dresses worn by most girls, preferring denim dungarees instead, hand-made by my seamstress mother. The raw denim was brought over from Hong Kong by my uncle, and the inevitable shrinkage led to what is now lovingly referred to as “half-masts”. There is something inherently playful and youthful about trousers worn at this length.
The androgyny and freedom of these childhood outfits have been referenced in my collections ever since the brand’s inception. Unconventional trouser lengths incorporate elements of carefree summer nonchalance and satisfying awkwardness. Carefree shapes made to show a subtle slice of ankle when worn with a flat sneaker or sandal—ideal for this awkward time of year when we’re dipping in and out of different atmospheric conditions. For many women, the transition to this shape takes time, and guts—but once you’re on the other side, you rarely look back!
Architecture & Design
Architecture is something that I constantly draw inspiration from. I am a big fan of Neave Brown’s work and brutalist architecture in general. If the sign of a good architect is really caring about the people who will live in the buildings you design, Neave Brown was one of the best. Equal parts empathy, aesthetic balance and technical ingenuity, Brown’s approach to designing public housing was ambitious: the creation of beautiful, practical homes and neighbourhoods for ordinary Londoners. Undoubtedly the finest example of Brown’s vision is his celebrated Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate, which addresses the innate human need for room to breathe. Through my collections I hope to do the same—create beautiful, practical clothing with room to breathe for ordinary people. Our Pre-Fall 20 collection has an emphasis on freedom—layers have been cut for maximum slouch, reinterpreting the language of volume by giving the wearer room to breathe and express themselves.
Dean Edmonds, friend and neighbour of the Studio Nicholson Team, also creates beautiful, elegant yet straightforward work. His designs, from chairs to lighting, focus on lines, function and staying true to the raw materials he uses. Building almost everything himself in his Hackney Studio for a diverse range of clients from private customers to shop installations for Dover street Market in Japan. His products are appreciated for their less-is-more attitude. No fuss, just good clean design, all of which we here at Studio Nicholson can get behind and hope to also achieve through our own designs.
Colour—Yves Klein Blue
Of all the hues in the colour wheel, there’s something eternally enticing about blue. Each shade conveys a slightly different message. Our trusted navy, a staple in everyday wardrobes, is understated and has enduring appeal; a true midnight navy shade is so dark it’s almost black. In contrast, cotton chambray in shades of light blue tend to feel fresh and spring-like. And then there is that brilliant hue of bright blue, the one that French artist Yves Klein fell in love with. That’s something else. Something of a palette cleanser, a shock of unexpected blue that instantly lifts your spirits. Ultramarine has always been great in clothes. Studio Nicholson has dived deep into blue over the seasons, with Klein blue turtleneck tees, lambswool cardigans and cotton T-shirts providing an ideal tonal contrast to deep, dark navy. It’s an easy way to add colour into everyday wardrobes without falling too far from our signature hues. We’re not hugely known for colour at Studio Nicholson but do introduce pops of colour every now and again, such as magenta pink and piccalilli yellow into our Pre-Fall 20 collection, available now, and an inky navy blue pops through into our AW20 collection—coming soon.
A lot of our collections, particularly menswear, are steeped in cultural references. Our first ever menswear collection was heavily inspired by David Byrne of Talking Heads. Drawing from esoteric cultural references, collections gather core recognisable items to indispensable contemporary archetypal garments. When we think about core recognisable garments, of wardrobe classics that never seem to veer off track, then the trench coat is definitely a significant player. Timeless and sophisticated, it suits everyone regardless of shape or size and the Columbo-referenced gabardine always makes an appearance in our collections.
Other previous cultural reference points include a Rainman 1950s blouson; a heavy wool check overcoat developed especially in response to images taken by Japanese photographer Masayoshi Sukita in 1980 of a scarf worn by David Bowie during his time in Kyoto, Japan; and a shirt in Prince of Wales grey check was a direct tribute to Ian Curtis of Joy Division. All the men in my life get dressed in a very specific way as do/did these iconic men, I imagine. They have a narrative, a story, a character in their head when putting things together and that’s how I approached designing the first Studio Nicholson menswear collection.
Street Photography/Habitual Dressing/The Ordinary
Functionality, modernity and playfulness are the inherent elements we believe in as a brand; they are the sacrosanct foundations of each collection. I believe that Studio Nicholson’s magic lies in making the everyday and common place garment exceptionally beautiful and flawlessly modern. I am infatuated with the idea of the ordinary and conventional in place of any kind of fantasy. Street photography provides important narratives to each of our collections.
I’m obsessed with photographers such as Joel Meyerowitz and Bill Ray’s shots in 1960s America, Nigel Shafran’s 1990s teenage precinct shoppers alongside current street photographer and friend of the brand Matteo Bianchessi. Aren’t real people living their life unaware of how they appear just the most wonderful thing?
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