We see lots (and lots) of blogs and features about personal style – what tastemakers like to wear and how they wear it. And I love those, but we don’t see much about the mechanics of design and why some things just work. Why a shirt sits just so, how to achieve a perfectly-fitting sweater. At Studio Nicholson, it’s part of an internal code known as ‘JND’ – just noticeable difference. A phrase used by psychologists and designers, ‘just noticeable difference’ refers to those elements that may not be immediately visible but be assured, they serve a purpose.
Studio Nicholson’s Nick Wakeman is fanatical about design details and so am I, so we decided to indulge our inner geeks and get it out of our systems. Here, she unpicks her own JND obsessions and muses on why those details matter so much…
On the importance of weighty denim
I’m a denim nut and I’ve worn only men’s jeans for 20 years. I have a number of different key qualities that I look out for whether I’m designing a jean or shopping for myself. For example, I love a cropped leg on a pant and the same applies to denim; ankle-flashing seems important to remain feminine. I prefer a long rise on any pant, so I always look for some room in this area. I think it gives a boyish silhouette. Also, my denim has to be Japanese. Rigid, weighty denim is superior and the Japanese have a long tradition in denim and indigo. From a design point of view, it’s sculptural to work with and ultimately you can really own a pair of jeans that you’ve worked hard to wear in.
On why shirts should be noisy
The only rule with shirts is there must be absolute perfection in the finishing. I like clean, flat seams, perfectly even stitching everywhere and meticulous button-holing. We use very high density Italian cloth that comes with a certain ‘noise’ to it. On a Studio Nicholson shirt, the silhouette must be narrow across the shoulder, with room and volume on the body. Plus side seam gussets and neat necks – always. My signature on shirts is extra long sleeves or cuffs that can cover half the hand. The ‘JND’ here is that perfect finish!
On what to borrow from the boys
I don’t own a skirt, I can’t remember ever wearing a skirt – pants are everything to me. Pants are where I start a collection and they’re always our fastest selling product every season. My approach when designing a pant is not to peel back the masculinity but rather to embrace it, but concentrate on fit. My staple design elements include curved in-seams, a slightly low rise and functional utility pocketing. All masculine detailing with a fit to form silhouette.
On how an oversized knit should fit…
The perfect sweater is the one that you wear seasonally but is seasonless. Proportions are key again and I can’t abide shoulders and necklines that aren’t super neat. Your knit can be as oversized as you like on the body or sleeve, but if the shoulders or neck don’t fit then that’s the difference between a considered piece and one that’s not. I’m also fanatical about yarn content; it must contain all natural fibres, so cashmere, wool, silk or yak. Then, is the tension high enough? Because there’s nothing more disappointing than floppy knitwear. And length! Personally I like knitwear to leave a third of my shirt hanging out so again, I look complete.
On what makes a feel-good jacket…
I really do obsess over jackets a lot. They’re so versatile and rapidly make you look ‘dressed’. I’ve recently been making jackets that are a hybrid of top and jacket (such as our Flamino belted jacket), so that the wearer doesn’t feel so formal. I constantly wear belted jackets with nothing on underneath, which makes me feel softer. The sharp, tailored lines of the jacket against skin to me feels like the ultimate empowerment.
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