NICHOLAS OAKWELL BY DAVID DE LA MARCA
Sitting across from British Couturier Nicolas Oakwell at the roof top lounge of the London West Hollywood, I knew immediately that a glamour had been cast and I, like many of his international clients and followers, had fallen victim to his elegant incantation of immaculate design and a reserved, but fiery passion for British craftsmanship. Eloquent and soft spoken, this dapper druid of design lured me in to a world where luxury remains pure, unscathed by the ravages of modern democratization. For you see, a Nicholas Oakwell creation is only available from his ateliers- no high street stores, no on-line retailers. Couture in the grand tradition, where the client is the epicentre of the experience, swathed in the perfection of an expertly mitered tweed, the brilliant glimmer of a bead's faceted edge, and by the architectural purity of a plume's wispy curve. Reminiscent of the great French Couturiers of the 60's and 70's, Nicholas Oakwell draws inspiration from contemporary art and cultural references whilst revives lost crafts and skills to create a collection which is both modern and loyal to the overarching principles of his vocation as a couturier.
DAVID DE LA MARCA: Watching your shows I am immediately transported back in time to the über-chc era of such legends as Valentino, Balenciaga, and Balmain. Would you say that 60's and 70's have an influence on your work as a designer?
NICHOLAS OAKWELL: I guess I would class my influences as spanning many decades, not just the 60's and 70's. I think a lot of people look negatively at the 70s, but I think it was a super chic decade. I get inspired by the fabrication, the cut, the actual techniques of construction. I find great inspiration from the early periods of Valentino and YSL, both from that era.
D.D. I have heard your collections described as a "perfect blend of glamour and modernity". Is this is an accurate description and if so, how do you personally define "modern glamour"?
N.O. Thank you, I'm glad that is how it is perceived. I start my design journey with the modern lifestyle of my clients in mind. Show specials, whilst a wonderful thing to make, can become self-indulgent for a designer. It is something I am always conscious of. Modern Glamour to me is about someone who wears clothes as an extension of their personality. Clothes should be worn by someone, not the other way around. The greatest compliment, one I strive for, is when a client states they "feel beautiful". That is how the client should feel, there has to be that magic moment when putting on a piece of clothing, and how it slips over the body and sits in position. A moment of pure luxury, when the garment fits and touches your body perfectly, it is a priceless feeling. That is when the client will radiate beauty, and that is true glamour. Not jewels, not shoes or hair, it's about the feeling inside.
D.D. I am fascinated by your use of feathers, glass, beads and metal. Do you feel your experience as a former milliner plays in your use of such unexpected materials?
N.O.I do love feathers, they are such a fun material and make me smile. I've used them in every collection as for years I have worked with them, especially during my millinery days. They have become second nature to me. As a designer, I am always wanting to experiment with new materials.
D.D. Are you a perfectionist?
N.O. Yes, it pains me to say, but I think you have to be, in order to produce the best work you possibly can. It causes my workroom team a bit of pain from time to time! I spend so much time in the workroom with my team, as I love being in there. Over the last 2 years, they really have understood how I like to have things made and my attention to detail. There is a lot less remaking now compared to earlier on. I am lucky to have such a diverse team from all around the world and all ages. It gives a wonderful mix of older and modern techniques which brings something really special to the pieces.
D.D. Designers always seem to bond with a muse that embodies their vision and philosophy. Describe the perfect Nicholas Oakwell muse... who is she?
N.O. My muse has to be a woman that has her own style, identity and confidence. I find someone who has an inner strength a truly beautiful and special creature.
D.D. Is there a particular style of music or film that embodies your approach?
N.O. I love diversity, and musically I am likely to be listening to Rachmaninov back to back with 80s dance music. My assistant has such a passion for music as well and plays his compilations in the studios, which is an eclectic mix. I love that. I tend to watch a mixture of films including nostalgic Hollywood classics from the old studio greats, to more art house or creative movies that are less well known such â€˜The Fall' for its visual along with the Curse of the Golden Flower. I also like popular films as "The Iron Lady" and "The King's Speech".
D.D. As you are based in London, but have elected to show in both London and in Paris do you consider yourself more an international couturier?
N.O. Our clients are international, so we present where our clients are based. We will soon be showing in Russia, Middle East and China for the coming season, along with our heritage of London and Paris. Personally it has been my life's ambition to show at Paris Couture week, so I am so blessed that I have been able to and continue to do so.
D.D. In terms of craftsmanship, does designing from London rather than Paris present certain challenges for the technical aspects of producing a couture collection?
N.O. I was worried when I first opened the house, that I wouldn't find the skillset in London, but we are now getting approached by so many different and talented artisans. We have the most amazing silversmith, a saddle maker who works at the Royal Mews and so many others. I am so proud and amazed with the skills that can be found in the UK and will always champion these talented and skilled people.
NICHOLAS OAKWELL FALL-WINTER 2013
Entering the Claridges Ballroom last evening for Nicholas Oakwell's Autumn/Winter 2013 Couture presentation, I was immediately transported to the dewy cobblestoned streets of a mythical early morning Paris.. Perched high above the city's classic Mansard roofs and brick stacked chimneys- ambiance provided by stage settings worthy of the Royal Opera- the models sauntered elegantly through the dimly lit and subtly Roja Dove perfumed room with pure patrician form. Elegant phantoms from a Charles Trenet serenaded era, immaculately groomed, perfectly polished, and expertly painted. Yet the true star of the evening was the fastidious attention to detail, the long, elegant proportions, and craftsmanship that would rival any continental atelier. The collection was decidedly formal. This was serious couture like only Nicholas Oakwell can execute.
Starting with a collection of intricately sculptured and be-feathered walking suits, Mr Oakwell highlighted his expert eye for proportion and detail through a modern interpretation of 1930's glamour. Nostalgic yet thoroughly modern and relevant, pencil skirts and corseted silhouettes artfully mixed textures and materials, combining plumes, crocodile millinery, python, and the sultry sophistication of grey astrakhan. As each model made her way down the catwalk, the audience became more and more enchanted by Mr. Oakwell's jaw dropping vision of glamour- courtesy of two spiral cut satin and crepe tasselled even gowns. Fluid, replete with long trains and hematite encrusted tassels.