"I wanted to create something entirely selfish," confesses fashion designer Richard Nicoll, explaining his move into menswear: "It was to create my perfect idea of a male wardrobe." Struck by Tom Ford syndrome, (i.e. unable to find what he wanted to wear in the right colour or shape) Nicoll felt there was "a niche to be explored".
It's a lament more frequently heard from women designers but one which is spreading to their male counterparts. "Menswear has become too over-designed and fashion-y for me," Nicoll says.
The London-based Australian designer has chiselled features and is fit and tanned with a tattoo down one arm. The clothes he likes and those you will find in his debut menswear collection are sporty, super-relaxed, crisp cotton separates with lots of shirting - one of his design signatures. "I grew up in an athletic culture and was good at running and hockey, so the sportswear element comes naturally," he says.
For the past eight years Nicoll has been part of a talented pool of London creatives, building his label alongside other designers such as good friend Jonathan Saunders, Erdem and Christopher Kane. He has proved pragmatic about introducing a menswear line that he unveiled in June.
"I wanted to start this in a modest, humble way." There were 19 looks on the catwalk. It has a symbiotic relationship with his womenswear line (which he designed simultaneously): "It is like a brother to the women's resort collection," he says.
The menswear collection launches with spring-summer 2013 and has been picked up by stores in London, Russia, Japan, Beijing and the online retailer Mr Porter. While it hits the rails a few months after the women's resort collection, there are parallels in the crisp, elegant, geometrically cut cotton silhouettes and somewhat decadent use of a blue silk jacquard for shorts, blouson and trousers. The same fabric appears as sharp dresses and jacket in the women's collection.
"I wanted to create something that is modern, timeless, effortless, and would appeal to people who weren't necessarily into fashion and people who don't want to dress in that way," Nicoll explains.
Developing as a designer and retaining a thread of continuity between collections - evolving, rather than repeating - is where Nicoll excels. There are familiar traits like the shirting and the man's jumpsuit, a concept developed in commissions for friends. Cobalt blue is proving to be one of his trademarks featuring in an easy leather jacket, as is a square motif on cashmere knits and in the jacquard. Maybe the blue tones remind him of the skies over Perth where he grew up. "Perth is an amazing place to grow up or retire, but most people want a change of scenery at least for a little while, because it is so beautiful."
His interest in fashion was sparked by thrift shopping at weekends. He became part of the local Goth scene, although his personal style was more T-shirt, Converse and army pants (it still is), but he admired how they used clothes as a means of personal expression. His thirst for popular culture and desire to live in London was fuelled by Sky TV and The Face magazine, and he left for England when he was 17.
Having studied sculpture at school, he applied to Central Saint Martin's to pursue sculpture or theatre design. However, he switched to a menswear degree and then did an MA in womenswear, graduating in 2002 (along with Saunders) with a degree collection that was bought by Dolce & Gabbana. A subsequent stint at Louis Vuitton helped him fund the launch of his own label. He did a couple of seasons as womenswear designer at Cerruti before the plug was pulled on that division - the brand now focuses exclusively on menswear.
Nicoll feels he has come to a pivotal moment in the development of his eponymous label. He has new investment and his womenswear is thriving. "It's been a rough journey but right now things are good."
Above: looks from Richard Nicoll's debut menswear collection.