From classroom to boardroom

From classroom to boardroom

When he took a break from high fashion for the high street, London-based designer Richard Nicoll made a career move which is rare in the fashion industry.

Last year, he took on the role of creative director at British high-street label Jack Wills, known for its preppy style and collegiate following. This part-time role meant he could continue to work on his eponymous line, which he started in 2006.

However, early this year, Nicoll announced he was putting his womenswear and menswear lines on the back burner to focus on the Jack Wills brand and other personal projects.

He spoke candidly about his career decisions to Urban last week, when he was in town to present the Jack Wills summer 2015 collection to members of the press.

Slouched in an armchair at Raffles Hotel, there was an approachability to the designer, who has worked with Cerruti, Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton.

"I found it stressful to manage two brands. In the years that I'd been doing my own brand, a lot had changed within the fashion industry and I didn't believe in the structure any more - the multiple collections and how retail was dictating what I designed," says Nicoll, whose collections are characterised by modern and clean looks.

However, he admits: "If my business had been going amazingly, I wouldn't have stopped."

Ironically, though, he points out with a wry grin that his final womenswear collection is selling out fast on multi-label e-tailer Net-A-Porter.

Nonetheless, the London-born, Perth-raised designer insists he is in no way treating the Jack Wills position as a back-up plan.

He was approached by a headhunter and, after three interviews and a creative project, he was offered the job.

"I like how it sits outside of fashion, and because it's a lifestyle brand, I can create something more authentic and timeless," says the Central Saint Martins womenswear graduate.


Jack Wills was founded in 1999 in Salcombe, Devon, as a brand devoted to designing British heritage-inspired staples for university students. Nicoll is bent on making the brand more relevant to a wider group of consumers. A bulk of the customers are teenagers and those in their early 20s.

Known for his concise tailoring skills, he has expanded the range of shirt styles and suits which sit alongside the brand's signature items, such as cable knit sweaters, logo T-shirts, gilets and fit-and-flare dresses.

"The brand is about a youthful spirit, as opposed to a specific age bracket. I want to encourage more people to stay with the brand after university and into their first jobs," he says.

He will continue in this vein and ensure there is a better offer of versatile pieces which can be worn for work and during weekends.

Long-time Jack Wills fans will also notice more pops of colour, which stem from the designer's fondness for hues. An upcoming collection will see an injection of neon from the brand, which was more about heritage colours, such as navy and red.

Jack Wills opened its first store in Singapore last November at Raffles City Shopping Centre. It has more than 80 stores worldwide, including those in Hong Kong, Dubai and college towns in the United States.

Prices range from $14.50 for a pair of socks to $649 for a blazer.

Given its preppy aesthetic, comparisons have naturally been made between Jack Wills and American brands, such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Ralph Lauren.

"That's fair enough," remarks Nicoll, who is single.

What is different about Jack Wills is that it celebrates imperfection and British authenticity which is a little off-kilter."

This article was first published on May 15, 2015.
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