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Remembering Richard Nicoll, British-Australian fashion designer

British-Australian fashion designer Richard Nicoll died last week in Sydney, reportedly of a heart attack, aged 39. Nicoll’s death was felt by the fashion community worldwide, not only because of his work, which earned him creative and commercial success, but because he was well loved in the industry.

I had the privilege of meeting Nicoll five years ago. He walked into our interview tired from a long flight. Despite his tattoos, steely gaze and intense appearance, he had a quiet and gentle demeanour.

Jack Wills creative director Richard Nicoll gives British brand hip factor

During that interview I asked Nicoll what he would make if he had the chance to create a final piece of work before his death. He paused momentarily, before replying: “A coffin? Maybe a coffin lining, but a really fantastic one.” The answer displayed a dry and dark sense of humour. I suspect he never got around to making one.

Nicoll graduated from London’s Central Saint Martins in 2002, where he earned an MA in womenswear. His aptitude for design was clear from the start, when his entire graduate collection was purchased by Dolce Gabbana. Just four years later, with the birth of his eponymous fashion label, he started showing at London Fashion Week.

Nicoll was recognised by his peers for the quality of his design ideas, which saw him win three Andam prizes. He was also twice a Vogue Fashion Fund finalist. Nicoll also had a roster of celebrity clients including Kylie Minogue, Kate Bosworth and Keira Knightley.

What set Nicoll apart from his contemporaries was his ability to tailor his menswear sensitivity for a female audience. His signatures include the pin-tuck shirt, which he created in 2003 and reinvented season after season, and several collaborations with English artist Linder Sterling.

In 2009, he worked as creative director for Cerruti, a brand traditionally known for its expertise in menswear. The company sought to expand into the womenswear market and brought him on board until 2011, when investors decided to shutter the womenswear division.

Nicoll also designed for other brands, including a collaboration with Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton and a bridal range for Topshop. He also worked as creative director of preppy, high-street British brand Jack Wills in 2014, before amicably splitting from them at the beginning of this year.

In our interview, I asked him what his reactions were when looking at his past collections. “It depends on the collection, but it’s usually horror,” he said with a wry smile. “Sometimes I’m proud of my collections. But more often than not, it’s horror. There are elements of every collection that I am proud of, but overall at the time I feel sick.”

Nicoll’s career had many highlights, but it’s a shame we’ll never see what more he might have achieved, not least at Adidas, where he was to start work as creative director in January.