How Kenneth Nicholson Is Rediscovering the Romantic Side of Design

At the beginning of February, Kenneth Nicholson showed his fall collection, titled “From Grandma’s Couch,” in New York. While Nicholson has steadily gained a loyal following since launching his label in 2016, his second showing at NYFW felt like a breakthrough. A rich, romantic ode to the nostalgic comfort of his grandmother’s ’70s-era interior stylings, Nicholson’s thoughtful integration of womenswear details into forward-thinking men’s tailoring—as well as his eclectic body of references, ranging from The Color Purple to Billie Holiday—felt like his most confident offering yet, earning him a nomination for Emerging Designer of the Year at this year’s CFDA Awards. 

Then, of course, lockdown hit. But Nicholson remains cautiously optimistic about his brand’s longevity. “It’s definitely shaken things up for me, but it’s also allowed me to be more improvisational and just take each day one step at a time,” says Nicholson over the phone from his studio in Los Angeles. With a small team of just himself and a chief operations officer, along with a handful of contracted pattern cutters and seamstresses, he’s been able to remain nimble, moving between production for the fall collection and a more considered design process for his collection next February.

As a time to slow down and reflect, the past few months have been invaluable. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a collection that far in advance, just because of the pace of things. For me, it’s really exciting to be able to romanticize the process again in that way.” Having this room to breathe has resulted in a more playful, experimental approach to design that harks back to his early interest in fashion, sketching and painting the visions that he didn’t yet have the resources to translate into actual garments. “When you paint a stroke or something abstract, you can stumble across new forms, and it’s very exciting when you kind of have that epiphanic moment. I’m also really excited about the experimentation with the bias that I’ve been doing,” he continues. “I have this big cheesy grin on my face just talking about it, because it’s a new type of work for me. It’s so exciting.”

While the highlight for Nicholson has been the time afforded to him to experiment technically, the soul of his designs hasn’t wavered. After all, across just six collections, Nicholson has already established a compelling set of design signatures that quietly point to the future of menswear. There’s his ability to seamlessly integrate womenswear shapes and motifs into pragmatic menswear pieces, as well as the subtle military details that speak to his stint in the Navy during his 20s. All of this seemed to reach its most fully-realized form in the collection earlier this year, where his signature long, loose silhouettes were artfully balanced with blazers featuring oversized lapels that were nipped in at the waist, cozy knit dresses, and flared, textured trousers that struck a perfect balance between flamboyance and wearability. 

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