Jack Wills creative director Richard Nicoll gives British brand hip factor
Fresh look Nicoll has given the chain's clothes has broadened their appeal
Ever since Jack Wills was founded in 1999, the British brand has amassed a following among hip university kids who can't get enough of their casual sweatpants and hoodies inspired by British heritage. It wasn't long before it was being hailed as the next Abercrombie & Fitch, with a succession of stores opening in cities across the world from to Boston and Dubai to Los Angeles and Hong Kong, where it has four outlets.
Last year its hip factor went up a notch when it appointed high-profile British designer Richard Nicoll as creative director. Nicoll has been on the fashion radar since 2006, when he launched his eponymous line, subsequently winning countless awards and celebrity fans including Sienna Miller and Keira Knightley.
Although the designer had previously collaborated with high street labels such as Topshop and Australian brand Sportsgirl, the announcement still came as a surprise to many fashion insiders. It was an unlikely pairing, given that Nicoll is better known for creating luxurious modern classics rather than the preppy style staples of Wills.
"I always wanted to design accessible clothes with a modern lifestyle approach. In fact, my last collection mixed soft tailoring and sportswear, so there is a connection there," says the Central Saint Martins graduate, who was recently in Hong Kong to show Jack Wills' summer collection. "I was really excited to try something new."
While the brand's T-shirts and jersey separates are its bread and butter, Nicoll was brought on board to add some serious fashion cred. As such he decided to draw upon not only the brand's British heritage but its youthful playfulness to appeal to a new audience.
"What I think makes Jack Wills different to other labels is that it celebrates imperfection. In that sense it's very British and charming. The looks are thrown together, which gives it an attitude that you don't find in other high street brands," he says.
Of course, designing for a big brand such as Jack Wills has its perks. Nicoll was able to access the brand's team of more than 20 designers — in contrast, he has two designers working for his own label — while overseeing new categories including accessories, home and gifts.
"When I looked at the collection in store I saw some great categories, but they were more disparate — I wanted to create a holistic approach. Yes, the sweats and knitwear are all successful in their own right, but I wanted to bring them together.
"I looked to the DNA, which is all about capturing the best time of your life during college or your gap year, where you let go of constraints and find a sense of freedom. The clothes needed to have this spirit but I also wanted to make them timeless, not throwaway," he says.
His first collection landed in stores in January, and this month sees the arrival of the summer 2015 line. Based on rites of passage, he has created breezy wardrobe staples, from patchwork shirt dresses (a nod to his signature look) and chambray rompers to a cricket jumper paired with a playful jacquard skirt printed with daisies. For men he has reintroduced preppy classics such as the rugby jumper and other casual must-haves such as seersucker shirts, striped suiting and cargo pants.
The logo, meanwhile, is still loud and proud, although Nicoll has changed the typography to create a more refined look.
"Most of the changes are in the way a look is put together, be it the textures within outfits or styling. This idea of 'athleisure' is so relevant in the fashion world now and is on brand for us. I think we can own that tension between heritage and the casual," he says.
The real difference is in its appeal; you can easily imagine many of the pieces being worn by someone who is over 25 (the brand's demographic is currently 18- to 25-year-olds).
"Jack Wills shouldn't be trend driven, it should be self-referenced. This way we can appeal to everyone and we don't need to follow others," he says.
The upcoming autumn collection continues to drive this point home with more updated collegiate classics, from suits to tailored blazers that come decorated with alphabet brooches spelling out the brand's name.
"I want to change people's perception of Jack Wills as a very young brand. I want to create a strong attitude that is relevant to any age group," he says.
Jack Wills has four stores in Hong Kong, at Leighton Centre, Festival Walk, LCX and in Sha Tin.