INTERVIEW: Lindsay Nicholas Is Making Her Dreams Come True

Lindsay Nicholas, the woman behind the hot fashion brand, Lindsay Nicholas New York, wasn’t always in the fashion industry. But a lifechanging event changed her perspective and she realised that...

Lindsay Nicholas, the woman behind the hot fashion brand, Lindsay Nicholas New York, wasn’t always in the fashion industry. But a lifechanging event changed her perspective and she realised that she would follow her dream. Now, she has made that dream a reality.

Edited by Michael Lozina for the sake of brevity and readability.

You started in New York, but you didn’t start in fashion. How was the career switch from advertising to fashion?

In New York, I hired somebody who had been doing this for her whole life to really guide me through the process. It was a little bit because, you know, I did it as a side hustle, it was gradual. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so in some ways that was a blessing.

You’ve gained so much knowledge and work experience over the years and so as a result, did that push you to develop your brand and your label in the way that you wanted, when you wanted to?

Absolutely, having the business experience and really understanding, you know what a P & L looks like. I can find my way through a P & L pretty well. Understanding that and understanding marketing and target audiences obviously gave me a big leg up when I started. I’m very glad in hindsight. My boss basically told me to “shut up and go back to my desk” in no uncertain terms when I told him I was going to leave to be a fashion designer. I’m actually glad it didn’t happen then. I think I needed more experience, you know, actually being the global business traveller, being my customer. At a certain age, I think I’m better having done it when I did it than if I did it back then in my mid-thirties.

Do you target a certain type of woman besides the corporate? Is it a specific age, demographic, or specific female or is it inclusive for anyone and everyone?

It’s inclusive of everyone but there’s definitely that sweet spot with what we call the “cool 50”. It’s a woman who’s got mature taste versus her age. So she could be 20 and have mature taste. I think of those young girls that wore a lot of Celine sweaters when Phoebe Philo was there. It was older for them, but they had mature taste. It’s more around that than age.

I heard you were in New York during 9/11, what was that like for you?

Yes, I was in New York. I was working in advertising. I was in the office and my then-husband was driving to a meeting in Connecticut, and he called me and said that a plane had hit one of the towers. So I went out, working in an advertising agency, there’s televisions everywhere. I started that watching that on the television and we were obviously shocked, and then we all just got together in rooms.

Somebody that I had worked with years before, a producer, was on one of the planes that went into the towers, which I didn’t know. I didn’t know for another day that he was on the plane. My team, at the time, was actually on a plane on their way to D.C. So we were obviously worried about them. Everybody made it fine. They didn’t even know what happened until they got to the client’s office.

After everything had happened, people couldn’t get home and I lived very close to the office. A lot of people came back to my house and stayed for 12 hours. We just all sort of huddled together and watched television.

I can understand why people began to re-evaluate their lives and start thinking a little differently, you know, a life changing moment. Is that what 9/11 was for you?

It absolutely was. When I was younger and thinking about being a fashion designer, I didn’t even think it was a real job. It was something that Oscar de la Renta did or something. It was just so grand and so big; I didn’t think it was a possibility. 9/11 was sort of a moment where I’m like, “I know this is what I want to do and let’s go for it. Let’s re-evaluate and this is something I have a passion for so let’s give it a go.” It definitely was life changing for me, but also everyone around me.

The people around you, did they change their lives as well? Did many others go and attempt a career in what they originally wanted to do?

Without a question. Definitely. People the next day quit their job. There were several people at the agency at the time, probably seven or eight hundred that I worked for. A number of those people you never saw again. The was a woman that worked for me and she literally became a tennis pro on the side because she always loved playing tennis.

Something people don’t realise is how close everybody in New York got. It was such a different feeling to find out that your whole block in New York became your life. It became your community and people were so supportive of one another. When tourists came back and you’d see them walking around, you’d thank them. If you saw someone looking at a map wanting directions, you’d stop and help them. It just became very warm.

People say, “How do you live there?” And it’s the places you go. Your dry cleaner knows your name and the coffee place knows how you take your coffee. I have found when I go to other places that people say are warm places and no one knows my name.

And now you’re in Australia. Is this your first store on Collins Street?

I had a store in south Melbourne, in a south Melbourne market. So not my first but that opened and closed and opened and closed over the last two years. It wasn’t the best time open a store, I literally opened right before the pandemic, I think February 2020. So not good.

I knew I’m definitely much more of an urban brand, so I knew I wanted to get into the city. So I just took an opportunity. I was actually looking at real estate in the city and one day called a realtor about a place on Flinders Lane. They said that it wasn’t available, but they did have something on Little Collins Street. I came in and saw it and I said, “This is my place.” I walked in and I knew the second I saw it that it was the home for me.

Do you find that Melbourne has a better style over Sydney?

I think it’s different actually. It’s interesting because they’re very similar in many ways, but I find in Sydney that people wear a bit more colour. A lot of people make the analogy that Melbourne’s more like New York and Sydney’s more like L.A. and I see a bit of that. Obviously the weather is conducive to things like shorter skirts, a lot of sleeveless, things of that nature. Where in Melbourne the weather is much cooler.

Maybe that’s why Sydney went through a weird activewear phase, especially in Bondi?

Oh yeah. What’s that Carl Lagerfeld quote? Wearing sweatpants is giving up or something like that. I believe activewear should be saved for when you’re working out. I tell my clients about my own pieces that, you know, if you wear my plate pants, they have an elastic waist. They’re just as comfortable, or I would argue more comfortable, than activewear or at least just as comfortable. But you pass a mirror and you look at yourself and you’re like, “Oh, that’s good.” I haven’t given up just because we’re working at home. I find if I’m in activewear, I feel more casual than I do if I’m dressed in a blazer or dress. When I was working from home all through lockdown, I got up and got dressed every single day because I had to work. I knew if I wasn’t in clothes that made me feel professional, I wouldn’t act as professionally. That being said, I must admit that I probably would wear the same outfit maybe three, four days a week. But for me, personally, was a way to have respect for myself, to put myself together in the morning.

A lot of your pieces are multi-functional, you can wear them with different outfits. They’re very versatile. Did you find it really hard to make those pieces and to find those pieces that would go with everything?

No, since I think it’s how I’ve always dressed. In my prior life I probably invested quite a bit in clothing but wouldn’t because of the price point and because I won’t buy something knowing that I was going to wear it once or twice. I would always buy something knowing I could wear it.

Look at my shirt dress. You can wear it as a shirt dress, you can wear it as a tunic over pants. I like things that are multifunctional, and you can wear it all of the time because I never change my clothes when I get home. Whatever I wear during the day I wear it out. If I’m sitting on the couch, having a glass of wine, watching television, I’m still in what I wore during the day because it’s comfortable enough to do that.

The other day I found something. I was changing a mannequin in the store, and I have this great bias-cut midi skirt. So, I was putting it on the mannequin, and I was being really lazy and didn’t want to take the legs off. I put it over the top and all of a sudden I’m like, “Oh my God, this makes a great strapless dress!” I’ve always vibed on strapless dresses. I actually have some coming out next season. First piece that I ever sold out of was a strapless dress that I used to make! So I put it on and I was like, “Oh my gosh,” you can wear this and you can wear the same size. I measured it, the upper part of your chest was actually pretty similar to your waist and it’s elastic waist. So I was like, “That’s more versatile than I even thought it was!”

Do you think that versatility is something that a lot of people are looking for nowadays?

I’ve actually had this conversation with somebody recently. When I was in New York in the 90s and 2000s, I wanted Carrie’s [Sex and the City] closet. I wanted that huge closet with a couch in it and have back lit, that whole thing. And now, it’s too much choice. You know, I want to go in and I want to have a beautiful rack of clothes with every single thing on it, I wear and love. There’s a little trick you can do where you take all your hangers and you put them backwards. Then every time you wear something and put it back, put it back the right way. After a couple of months, you’ll see what you’re actually wearing. You’re like, “Okay, do I still need that piece in my wardrobe? Or is it just cluttering my life?”

I’m very much about less is more because you just get so much more wear out of the pieces if you have fewer things in your wardrobe.

Have you found quite difficult to source the materials you want to use?

It’s definitely more difficult in Australia. When I became part of the Australian Fashion Council, I was part of their curated program. I was going for my interview for the program and one of the mentors that was interviewing me said, “Your biggest problem here is going to be finding fabric.” I was sort of like, “I’ll be fine.” But it has definitely been my biggest issue. It’s getting better now because I’ve found a number of suppliers.

In New York, you go on 39th street and you walk into this huge warehouse that’s just full of fabric and you can decide which plaid you want, you can’t decide which men’s suiting wolves you want. It’s more of a culling, where here, finding is more of a challenge. It was very, very hard at the beginning. I’m getting better because I have found good suppliers here, but there’s not a lot that’s being made here. Most everything is being imported.

Which I find really surprising because we do have a very good wool industry, like Merino wool. But to have to source from Italy or Japan, it seems a bit ridiculous.

Yeah, it is. It is a bit ridiculous. I’m hoping to have found a supplier at least in New Zealand, but we’re still on the journey there. It’s surprising. My understanding, and I obviously haven’t been in the industry here in Australia for that long, but what I’m hearing is that it really has shrunk over the last decade or so.

Are you trying to work towards a very Australian Made and Australian Owned brand? Or do you want to keep the New York aspect?

I’m really Melbourne now because partially, I’m a bit of a control freak, and I like to know the people in my factories. I like to go in, say “hi” to each other. It’s like a family environment. The only reason that I still do some stuff in New York is because I have fabric left there and I don’t want to waste it. It gives me a step into New York as well but it’s more because I don’t want to be wasteful. I will do one production run in 2022 with that fabric. There’s some beautiful, beautiful fabrics there. If I can’t find that fabric here, in this particular case, a lot of what I’m doing is menswear suiting fabrics, and there’s just a plethora of them in New York. But my goal is always to have as much going on here as possible. That’s definitely where I want to be.

Do you have any plans for New York Fashion Week this year or have you looked into Australian Fashion Week?

I did New York Fashion Week. I actually showed at New York Fashion Week in 2008, and I, oddly enough, showed in the men’s area. I was just asked to come in and, at that point, I had made some clothes for my husband, so I just took the patterns and I made more. So I showed men’s and women’s, but I showed during men’s fashion week.

Interestingly enough, what I’m finding here now that the store has been open is that I have a lot of male customers. Male and non-binary customers coming in. It’s been really fantastic because it’s wonderful for me to have them put their clothes on and of course every time they put their clothes on they have to come out of the dressing room because I have to see this! It’s just amazing. My silk pants have been amazing. I had a non-binary person come in and buy the shirt dress and has been wearing it like crazy on Instagram, which makes me really, really happy. It’s a whole new audience that didn’t know was shopping me. That’s the great thing about having physical retailers, you really get to know your customers.

Have you started to take that into consideration now that you’re aware of this new audience?

Absolutely. I’m actually going to do for my next collections some men’s pieces, but also, it’s hard to even name them now because I’m saying men’s pieces but there’s something there that women might want to wear. I’m definitely getting a bit more into that gender fluidity.

I did some beautiful scarves with a photographer from Sydney. Her actual photographs of flowers are what I turned into beautiful silk scarves with hand-rolled edges, all the details that you’d find from silk scarf from Hermés or one of the big luxury houses. I’m really crazy about details, but men have been buying them and they look amazing. I see them with it, and it makes my heart sing.

One of the gentlemen that came in, Jesse, very young probably in his early twenties, he said that he’s just starting to explore his feminine wardrobe. It was more in a Jared Leto way, or Harry Styles. I think that’s where menswear is going to headed. Progressive people.

Do you have any other plans to open up another store in Melbourne or are looking to move further up to Sydney?

I would love to. I would love to be in Albert Park or South Yarra. I’m awful, I do look at real estate almost every day but I’m definitely about getting this established, getting a nice client base here and then looking maybe back in South Melbourne. Then I would love to do Sydney. We have a little apartment in Sydney that every now and again we rent out and every so often I would ask, “Should we sell it?” My husband keeps saying, “No, because you’re going to have a store in Sydney.” So we’ll need that apartment.

Check out the collection at Lindsay Nicholas’ website!


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