By Enya Quin-Jarvis
Photography By Cinnamon Stewart
It was a drizzling Autumn morning in South Wimbledon, and with instructions in one hand and umbrella in the other I was in search of Nichole de Carle’s fashion house. I was about to meet one of Britain’s finest lingerie and bodywear designers.
As the brand Nichole de Carle London exudes luxury and sophistication, I expected their fashion house to reflect this with elaborate exterior and the finest décor, so naturally I was sure I had the wrong place as I found myself in the middle of an industrial park. But, sure enough, standing out among the dark Victorian structures was a dramatic white building, more closely reflecting the brand image. Nicole de Carle realises that the area may come as a surprise to many, but the seclusion of this unlikely location is perfect for the brand’s most prestigious customers; “Many of our celebrity clients prefer coming here as it’s out of the way”.
With height comparable to those gracing the catwalks and wearing a statement Nichole de Carle bodice, at first glance you could easily mistake de Carle for one of the models, but her commanding presence assures me she is more than just a model. As the incarnation of a global megabrand, de Carle shows that she is also more than just a designer; she is a business woman, whose success lies in her selective journey within the industry, previously working for Alexander Macqueen, Donna Karen and Pleasure State – “I chose these businesses as I knew I wanted to start my own journey and my own business but I knew I needed the experience of different sectors beforehand.” Her time with Pleasure State provided her with an understanding of brand development; “I wanted to understand how a luxury business operated at a grass root level, as it was a young business I wanted to know how it was structured and was growing.”
With a showroom displaying some of the label’s finest pieces, de Carle offers clients a bespoke service with the opportunity to have in-house fittings, which has become popular among high-profile clients who focus on the celebrity-driven ONYX collection, “We had Nichole Scherzinger here for her outfit we created for a recent performance.” De Carle shows me around her offices where her designs are developed in-house with measurements and sketches brought to life under a high level of skilled craftsmanship. The intimate space offers the chance for departments to work alongside each other in a communal area which ensures consistent product quality finishing.
Walking around I can’t help feeling a sense of empowerment within the predominantly female office as the women fully embrace the brand which is worn to work and adapted by the staff, showcasing the versatility of the ONYX collection which is ‘worn to be seen’ – a key feature of the line. There are three main lines, ONYX, OPAL and Classics, however, it is within the ONYX range that de Carle identifies the changing attitudes of consumers due to the influential celebrity following; “rather than customers buying and choosing their lingerie purchase according to their mood or as a personal purchase, they are actually being more curious with their choice in lingerie and how to wear it, incorporating it into their wardrobe and looking at how they would dress their outer wear with that body suit”. Nichole de Carle London epitomises the ‘underwear as outerwear’ trend, which has been recurrent in fashion history and has made a recent comeback. De Carle makes this ‘her couture’, exploring a different concept which is changing the perception of lingerie and bodywear as it is integrated into the fashion industry. Alexander Macqueen’s 2014 ‘ready to wear’ Spring collection draws inspiration from the concept that body basques and corsets are designed as outerwear.
With the faint humming of sewing machinery in the background, I am reminded that I am sitting in a hub of creativity, where designs are handcrafted and internationally worn. Sitting in her office I am surrounded by various pieces from her collections which although unique and varying in style, all bear the brand’s signature architectural design. Drawing strong inspirational ties with iconic architecture, art and literature, de Carle approaches the journey of designing from an architectural perspective. “The similarities are that when creating a bra or corset it’s like building a framework of a building – first the foundation has to be created and if that foundation is secure and provides a function, then you can build the design around it.” Drawing architectural inspiration from the New York Chrysler building, de Carle uses key elements of the building’s structure and shape, referencing Art Deco, which is continued throughout ONYX. Taking us through the stages of designing, de Carle emphasises the influence of art, with previous prints drawing inspiration from the ceiling of The Louvre, “after the building has been created, after the body suit has been created as the architectural piece, the art is more about how we experiment with fabrics.”
Nichole is so unpretentious and easygoing, it gets to the point where you almost forget that she’s Nichole de Carle. Asking her what her proudest moments were, it’s clear de Carle is two people within the brand, “With my management head on it is watching and being a part of a growing business, being able to recruit a strong team, and with my creative director head on it’s helping to create a product for Nichole Scherzinger.”
Reflecting on her time as a designer and the journey of the brand, Nichole reveals that her current success lies within her creativity to produce pieces that challenge the concept of lingerie and bodywear; de Carle says, “It’s about breaking the boundaries of the lingerie industry and taking it to the catwalk.”