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Kenneth NicholsonDesigner

Los Angeles, US. September 15th, 2020

Interviewed by Alexei Key

Photographed by Jack Belli


 

I would describe the Nicholson brand as forward-thinking and liberating with an emphasis on craftsmanship, creativity and innovation. As a brand, we have a deep respect for the history and tradition of garment-making, as well.

One of the ways that the fashion industry can produce change is by taking stock of its current systems, finding the imbalances and implementing actionable initiatives. I’ve read articles quoting high-profile fashion leaders who’ve admitted that their interaction with people of color in the fashion industry was in the single digits at best. With that as a reality in 2020, some shameful practices really need to be addressed. It is not for lack of the black community highlighting this problem for decades. If our voices have failed us before, then I would hope a renewed sense of humanity would encourage fashion leaders to engage now, have honest discourse with true accountability and apply real changes where they are needed.

I’m optimistic when I observe the initiatives taking place as they relate to equality for creatives of color. However, I’ve learned over the course of the last several years that it takes more than just conversations to create sustainable change. So, when those conversations are paired with actionable initiatives, I start to feel hopeful for the future.

I find balance by staying spiritually grounded and prioritizing self-care. Also, I find that design comes fairly naturally to me, so it doesn’t feel like there is a huge gulf between my personal and professional lives.

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Work has forced me out of my shell. As a creative, I’m typically always in my head, but I’ve been encouraged to open up as a designer because people want to know me, my inspirations, my personal ideology. Being in this phase of my career has definitely stretched me into engaging with people more openly and allowing them to see me more clearly.

From a business prospective, work has led me to appreciate the importance of structure and the entire financial cycle, as it relates to a successful enterprise. In earlier stages, I was incredibly art- and creativity-driven, and while I’m still very much that way, I also now understand the necessity of solid business management and a fortified structure.

In having evolved as a designer over the years, I feel that now I have more of a boldness about me, in terms of design and the confidence in which I pursue new techniques and ideas that I include in the work. I think in terms of longevity and on the brand codes that I already have and will introduce into the Kenneth Nicholson world. I have been thinking about how they balance each other and how they shape and inform the way clients interact with the label. I love the idea of thinking about the long-term vision which informs the current decision-making.

I was very sensitive to beauty at an early age. I was hyperaware, probably to a fault, of little details — if the forks on the dinner table were polished, if a garment was properly pressed, if a room or idea was presented well. I felt most comfortable as a kid when I was in the presence of other creatives or watching amazing artists at work, like seeing a Michael Jackson performance on TV or a great film like The Wizard of Oz. I always wanted to engage with fashion in a way where I could fully express my vision. That didn’t necessarily mean wearing the most over-the-top or attention-grabbing item. It meant having an option that felt in step with how I wanted to represent myself on any given day. My team and I design for the “fully expressed man,” because we see clothing not merely as fixed silhouettes but as vacillating with the mood or energy we’re trying to create.

This current period of isolation has been a blessing in disguise. It’s allowed me to reconnect with my practice, engage with my intentions on a deeper level and become thoroughly inspired in new ways. I’ve been emboldened to really go for it and evolve Kenneth Nicholson into the type of fashion house I’d like it to see it grow into.

Being in spiritual alignment brings me peace and makes me happy. Having a clear conscience in knowing that I am living out my calling makes me happy. Waking up in a quiet space to soft sunlight in the morning makes me happy. Uncontrollable laughter — the kind that makes your stomach muscles ache — makes me so happy. Good memories that encourage the slow crawl of a smile to spread across my face brings me joy. Seeing people get excited about the things that genuinely interest them, like basketball, makes me happy. The brief stretch of time at the end of summer and just before autumn begins make me happy. Having revelations about life makes me happy. Witnessing undeniable beauty makes happy.

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Kenneth and his daughter Rosaline.

I’m often inspired by music, because I believe deeply in its emotive power and there are times when I seek out new artists and immerse myself fully in that hunt. Lately, I’ve been listening to Isaac Dunbar.

I think one of the most important things I’ve learned in my career so far is to trust my vision and my creative voice, not only when it comes to design, but even in situations where it can get lost or diluted in a sea of opinions. I’ve learned to employ balance when it comes to decision-making — to remain open enough to listen and take criticism from others when applicable, but also secure enough to be decisive when necessary. I’m a big believer in keeping all of the focus on the work and executing the best idea for the project, not simply having the loudest voice or biggest ego.

The role of gender in the work that I create is typically a technical one. When I’m designing, one of the things I’m thinking about, especially with draping, is how would I want the design to fall on the body. So, regardless of gender, one of my design missions is to highlight and elevate the human body.

A piece that really represents who I am as a designer is the “Kings Armor.” Its silhouette is sleeveless with a contoured torso and a peplum waist. It is constructed out of mid-weight canvas with beaded embellishments that adorn only the lower have of the garment. It swishes and hums with the wearer’s movements. You can hear the beads collide against each other with every stride. It’s a hypnotizing melody. I think this piece represents several tenets of the Nicholson design credo. The raw canvas can be read as clean and full of restraint, while the heavy embellishment on the lower half speaks to bold, forward-thinking elegance and a new way to look at menswear. The garment as a whole comes off as energetic, but with a sense of refinement.

Lockdown has caused me to slow down and reassess my goals and commitment to creating the type of brand that I want. I have also had more time to get reacquainted with draping, which is something that I have always loved to do. I actually started draping as a teenager, alone in my room. I worked at a local retailer and I remember excitedly taking home a dress form that they no longer had use for, and I would drape fabric on it for hours. Being in quarantine has brought me back to that place of stillness, just draping in my studio.

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I would like my legacy as a designer to be a hopeful and inspirational one. I’d like my brand to be thought of us an American fashion house that goes on long after I’m gone.

Our contribution to New York Fashion Week, is a narrative short film, which will go on to be submitted for various film festivals for their consideration. It features looks from the line and will read like the ending of a chapter. This happened completely organically. As we were in the midst of shooting Grasp, which I also wrote, co-directed and produced it became apparent in one of the scenes that I was ending a chapter. That thought was immediately followed by the excitement of what’s to come.

I look forward to continuing to grow what we’re doing with Kenneth Nicholson. I would love to work alongside notable masters like Tom Ford, or design under the house of Alexander McQueen. That would be a dream! I would like to head up the art direction for a cool film production. I really enjoyed working on the film we just wrapped. It was wonderful creating this universe on film, adding color not just with clothing, but on the set with objects and styling. I have always found my art while in orbit around musicians, so it would be wonderful to explore collaborations there as well — such as heading up artistic development, creative direction and costuming for a musician on a specific project. I have always wanted to design costumes for the opera or ballet. I consider myself an artist first and have created hundreds of paintings, so I’d love to explore that artform more, as well. I could go on and on. But simply stated, there’s so much more I’d love to do.

“Kenneth-Nicholson"

KENNETH NICHOLSON