Exclusive: How Nicholas Kirkwood Is Going Guns-Blazing With His Brand & LFW Show

Nicholas Kirkwood has never been one to follow the leader. The British designer, who launched an eponymous collection in 2005, will hold his first runway show this week in London, but this isn’t a typical Fashion Week event.  Kirkwood plans to use the occasion, which will be an immersive experience, to make a statement about his vision for the label, which has been majority owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton since 2013.

“I want to change the perception of what the brand has become in the last few years. It’s not representative of who I am from a creative point of view,” he said during an interview at his central London headquarters, replete with contemporary art by Wolfgang Tillmans, Nina Canell and Cory Arcangel. “Sure, I want to sell more loafers [Kirkwood’s Beya style is his best-seller], but it has to be more than that.”

Kirkwood will showcase some of his most provocative looks and introduce a new category — jewelry — at the event. “It’s always interesting when an accessories designer moves to a show format, as it really pushes their imagination,” said Ida Petersson, womenswear buying director at Browns Fashion. A Kirkwood fan from the outset, she’s enjoyed watching the label evolve. “Nicholas is not afraid to take risks, and he always throws a twist into the mix to shake things up,” she said.

Kirkwood has been doing just that by spending more time in Los Angeles, where he recently bought a new home. “There are fewer distractions there,” he said. “I can be much more creative there, as you can get all the emails from Europe out of the way in the morning.” Back in London, the designer sounded off on his journey so far, stepping onto the runway and the allure of Los Angeles.

Nicholas Kirkwood at his London headquarters.
Nicholas Kirkwood at his London headquarters.
CREDIT: Stefan Sieler

Having a show is a big step. What are you setting out to achieve?

“I want to use the show as a platform for creativity and bring back a certain halo to the brand. And while I’d never expect those things to be the best-sellers, I can’t live with just making the kind of shoes that all the other brands make — because that’s what the buyers want, because they’re terrified [of not meeting sales targets]. The reality is that when you rely on wholesale, people buy your carryovers in black and beige. There was a certain time when buyers said, ‘I love this, I haven’t seen it before, and it represents my kind of customer.’ So maybe some of those buyers will take a chance again on something more interesting.”

With LVMH as the majority owner of the business, is there pressure to be more commercial than before?

“It’s a balance. I’ve been able to grow much stronger roots. When you’re younger, there’s a certain sort of naiveté to it, which is great for growing quickly, but it’s also ultimately quite a fragile structure. Now, I can’t just go and make the shoes I want to make, as it’s a  business. But at the same time, I can’t just be making shoes we think the market needs, because that’s not good for long-term thinking. LVMH has certainly allowed the brand to build a much stronger base, but now it’s time to actually build on that base.”

So what’s the next step?

“I want to go more guns-blazing now. The brand is in a better place. Certain elements of the business are more stable now. But I need more expression and to be known more. People who love the shoes really love the shoes, and we have loyal customers, but we’re still relatively unknown in the big wide world — so more recognition would certainly help us. But it’s not just one thing that can change everything, and you can’t do everything at once. It’s about picking your battles and doing what I feel is the most important at that particular time.”

What can we expect to see at the show?

“There will be three see-now, buy-now pieces, all of which are carryover styles that we’ve done in a special seasonal print called ‘Perfection Print’ and then two other styles from the spring ’19 collection. The rest are more exaggerated versions from our groups — unique couture pieces made especially for the show. I’m also exploring ideas I might use the following season, so it works as a nice bridge.”

It’s been a challenge for some accessories designers to stage shows. How do you plan to make it work?

“It’s not going to be a regular runway show; it can’t be. Shoes are small. They are at the wrong end of the body to where you might naturally look, so it forces you to think outside the box. I took some of my inspiration from Secret Cinema. It’s going to be a 360-degree experience, so even when the show’s finished, it’s not actually finished — there will still be other things going on, and that makes it different, special, memorable.”

A boot from Nicholas Kirkwood's fall 2018 collection.
A boot from Nicholas Kirkwood’s fall ’18 collection.
CREDIT: Stefan Sieler

Why did you decide to have it in London?

“London is my hometown, and it’s such a creative place. The show concept is quite out there. It felt right.”

Will there be a ready-to-wear element?

“The girls will all be wearing stuff; they’re not going to be naked. There’s a fine line with not making it look like a ready-to-wear show but still conveying a mood and attitude. Clothes take up much more of a silhouette than a shoe, so I didn’t want to just stick them in catsuits, as that’s boring. I’m working with somebody on the clothing, but you won’t know who it is, and it won’t be obvious.”

Will a Nicholas Kirkwood runway production become a permanent fixture?

“I’m not going to do it every season by any means. I might do something bigger once a year. Apart from the fact that it’s too expensive, I’d prefer to do one special thing [rather than more just for the sake of it].”

Are you working on any new product categories?

“I’m doing some jewelry for the show. No one has seen it yet, but we plan to sell it, too. I’ve done collaborations with other jewelry designers, but this will be the first sole line of jewelry. It’s something I’m really interested in, and I’ve wanted to do this for a while. I’m also [intrigued] by industrial design. I love to create the shapes of things. Essentially, it’s just like scaling up what I do already. Applying my aesthetic onto a different product could be fun.”

Nicholas Kirkwood in his London headquarters.
Nicholas Kirkwood in his London headquarters.
CREDIT: Stefan Sieler

Is there any geographical expansion in the cards?

“We may be doing [a pop-up] in L.A. If everything lines up, we could do it for fall ’19. I love a pop-up. You can do something quickly, you can try out different concepts. I think it’s a good way to go.”

You bought a house in L.A., and you’re spending a lot more time there. What do you love about it? Does it serve as an inspiration?

“It’s completely the opposite of London weatherwise, and it’s easy to be healthy out there. I love the light and also the space you get. I feel happy there. It’s a city made up of lots of different cities, and they all have their own personalities. It’s become a very serious place for the art market. There are some incredible galleries there now, and more design houses are starting to be based there.

“Obviously, you’ve got Hedi [Slimane] and Céline, and people like Rodarte, of course. Lots of artists are moving from New York, as it’s becoming too expensive, so the creative community is growing. It’s a great place to be.”

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