There's being on a roll, and then there's being Nicholas Kirkwood. We're barely into 2013 and the British footwear designer has already launched his first men's collection, been awarded the prestigious BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund prize, and scored the title of Accessory Designer of the Year at this month's Elle Style Awards. NBD.
Despite all this acclaim, the Central Saint Martins and Cordwainers alumnus was his usual humble self as he welcomed us into his Mount Street boutique, where, one floor below the gleaming shelves stacked with those crazy covetable Kirkwood heels, sits his buzzing workspace. People, this is where the magic happens.
Adding that he'd soon like to extend the shop out the back to cater to more "couture" designs (um, yes, please!), Kirkwood showed off his studio space, where shoe boxes fill every nook and cranny and sketches and fabric swatches for his own collection and numerous collaborations line the walls. Somehow, we managed to stop drooling at the array of heels long enough to quiz the designer about his work M.O., inspirations for fall '13, and why Mount Street is totally blowing up right now.
Photographed by Mark Sanders
Tell us about your fall/winter ‘13 collection.
"There are a few new shapes that I’ve developed. I’ve got some square toes, so I think that could be interesting this season. Obviously, we’ve seen a lot of pointy toes the last few seasons and now’s the time to push the square toe, not on everything, but I’ve done a fashion group with it. There are a lot of textures. This being winter, I haven’t made it super colorful. I’ve got lots of navys, black and white, and beetroot."
Nicholas wears a Margiela jacket, Gap T-shirt, Acne jeans, Balenciaga sneakers, and "some scarf [he] just found."
What’s the average workday for you like?
"It depends. Sometimes I’ll get in super early, around 8:30. Other times it’ll be 11. It really depends either on how late I’ve been working the night before or how much I’ve got to do. I try to get here around 10 most days. On average, [I work until] about 8pm. Some days I’m here until 2 in the morning."
Do have any rituals for getting your work done?
“I tend to do more of the design work on the weekends or after work, when everybody’s left and there are fewer distractions and emails and things. I prefer to just get into my own kind of zone — sometimes that’s with music or sometimes it’s just having peace and quiet because there are a lot of things going on during the week and it’s nice have some downtime and you can focus. I tend to be more productive then.”
Tell us about the collection of art books here. Do you refer to them often for inspiration?
"Quite often when there’s a theme to a collection, I might go out and buy a few books based on that theme. Last winter’s collection was sort of based on 1920s Paris, but originally it started off in a more pre-Raphaelite way, so there are loads of pre-Raphaelite books. I’ve got a lot of Keith Haring books from my collaboration a few seasons back. Otherwise, it’s some different photography books, ones on other designers, lots of shoe books, because I'm always given shoe books [laughs], and architectural ones."
Do you have any other sort of personal mementoes hanging around the studio?
"Not really. As long as I’ve got a nice warm cup of tea nearby."
How do you take it?
"I just like English Breakfast PG Tips. Milk, two sugars."
Do you ever pop up to the shop and have a look around?
"I normally come up about once or twice a day, see what’s going on, or just pop out for lunch. I talk to the staff to see what’s selling, find out what people are into, what people are not into, any comments. And that’s what’s really great about having your own shop instead of just doing it wholesale: You get direct feedback, as opposed to the shopper telling the manager who’s told the buyer."
How often do you get to your New York store?
"I tend to go out every couple of months or so. Normally I go out for Fashion Week, and I do the pre-collections there, as well. There’s definitely a different customer. It’s also partly due to the different types of areas we’re in. Here, it’s not a hugely high-traffic street, but it’s a high-quality customer that comes in, and almost 50% of the people who walk in the door will buy something. Whereas in New York it’s a bit more of a destination, where we get a load of people walking in, but it doesn’t have quite the same turnover rate. A lot of people who walk in are just looking. But we’re really starting to build a customer base out there."
What advice would you give to a budding footwear designer?
"Try to design the way that feels natural. Look at a particular niche rather than trying to do everything all at once. The most important thing about setting up [a label] is finding the right manufacturer, someone who can translate your designs and realise them in the way that you’ve imagined them."
What’s your work mantra?
"Do whatever it takes to get it done. Or at least get a sample done, and then work it out for production."
Who is the woman you design for?
"The woman is someone who is quite independent in the way that she dresses, wants to look sort of special but without being told by a magazine that that’s what she should be wearing. Someone who is quite confident in their style."
And the man?
"The man is definitely the boyfriend of the girl who wears my shoes. I wanted them to be masculine, but still quite cool, not too over-designed in maybe the way that I can do with some of the women’s ones, and still following the classic categories of men’s. I tried to use some of the details I have used in the women’s in the men’s, maybe in different colour ways, the use of printing effects, studs, or something."
Do you have a favourite aspect of the studio?
"No, I’ve got a sort of unfavourite aspect. It’s messy, the Wi-Fi is crap, it’s in the basement...there’s a lot of things that could be better. But it’s nice to be able to close a door and get on with things. As I said, it’s a bit easier after everyone’s gone."
What are your favourite places to grab a bite in the area?
"There’s a lot of nice food around here. There are a few lunch places, but if I’m feeling a bit more extravagant I can go up to Mount Street Deli and spend 12 quid on a bit of couscous and chicken. If you want to go out for lunch and sit down, it’s quite nice to go to Delfino just opposite, which is an Italian place, or if you want an extravagant sit-down you’ve got Scott’s. I tend to eat here and get soup [laughs]."
Obviously Oscar de la Renta just opened up on Mount Street. This area’s profile was already quite high, but now it seems to really be booming.
"It’s certainly gained more at this end of the street. When I moved in there was just Lanvin on this side of the street, and now we’ve got Loewe and Oscar. It’s a really great street."
How would you describe your own personal style?
"Easy. Whatever is close."