Karen Nicol

Chloe Evans || October 24th

Karen Nicol is an embroidery and mixed media artist that has excelled in her career and over the years built an extensive and impressive CV, ranging from teaching, to work in fashion houses, exhibitions, fairs, commission work and even publishing her own book – ‘Embellished – New Vintage’.

With such an extensive coverage of the art world I was keen to know what she felt was the most enjoyable and the most memorable aspect of her career so far. Nicol explains that the most enjoyable aspects of her work are the ‘constantly changing challenges, trying to reinvent the subject to meet the needs of the current project. It’s an amazing way of working; mixed media/embroidery has such vast breadth’, and how she has been ‘at it for years and there is still always something new to discover’. When I asked what had been the most memorable moment she responded by saying that ‘there have been many memorable times and jobs’, and how it is ‘impossible to choose one. Each new thing I take on is really exciting at the time but I always feel that the next thing is going to be even better’.

“Showing in galleries has been an interesting chapter in my career as it has given me a chance, not usual for a textile designer, to take ownership of the work”

Nicol has been massively influential in the fashion world, creating work for fashion houses such as Anthropologie, Chloe, Marc Jacobs, Givenchy and Gucci Couture, working for such companies is the dream of so many young artists specialising in textiles and fashion and Nicol told me how ‘doing designs for Alexander McQueen was a real high’ as she is ‘such a fan’. Nicol also told me how working for Clements Ribeiro was fantastic as ‘they were the first ones to really understand the excitement of embroidery’. I asked Nicol what it’s really like working for such famous and iconic fashion companies and if it ever feels surreal, or if it’s something that you just learn to become accustomed to; having to embroider cushions for the Pope’s London apartment, napkins with small birds and flowers for the King of Qatar’s daughter’s wedding and monograms for a party that Tamara Eccleston was holding, there must have been times that were extremely overwhelming but Nicol humbly replied that for example, the interiors projects that she has worked on are ‘always through interior designers so I never actually get to meet the clients so I’m not really aware of the grandeur of the scheme, I’m in the studio with the machine but it is a great feeling to think that the work is being in these amazing settings’.

Nicol was one of few artists commissioned by Liberty to embroider quilts to celebrate their 140th anniversary, I asked about her involvement and what it was like being one of the artists involved and she elucidated that she was ‘incredibly pleased to be asked to take part in the lovely project to celebrate the 140th anniversary of Liberty. The wood from two sailing ships - the HMS Hindustan and the HMS Impregnable was originally used to build Liberty so they asked us to create patchwork quilts on the theme of sailor’s tattoos… It couldn’t have been a better brief. I decided to make mine 2 metres square and the patchwork all from different beautiful white damask taken from vintage tablecloths and add my own little personal touch by having two tattooed monkeys holding the rope from the ship’.

Nicol has created a collection of ‘creatures’ all beautifully embroidered and embellished. The time that has been put into the animals is incredible and I couldn’t wait to hear more about them - “The animals gave me a fantastic excuse to do fashion inspired embellishment which didn’t have to pass any wash and wear tests on one off couture creatures. Even on the largest polar bear there was still a relatively small area to embroider so the embellishment could be as creative and experimental and time consuming as I liked. They actually take me about a week each although the faces often go in the bin a couple of times before I complete them”. I asked Nicol what has inspired her to create such highly embellished work, she explained that she has no idea why she is so drawn to embellishment but added that ‘working with mixed media is like painting with a thousand textures, patterns and colours and the possibilities are endless with continual opportunities to come up with something new. I have a way of working where I am obsessed with the literal, I can’t look at a flower or a bit of wood or cobweb without thinking how I could translate that into embroidery/mixed media, the real qualities of the thing, whether it is matt or shiny, soft, hard, rough or smooth and then make up the way of converting it onto the cloth. I have gathered materials from car boots for decades and can usually find some old thread or haberdashery in my stocks which has the required characteristics’.

On Nicol’s personal website you can view an ‘accessory’ collection full of quirky handbags, I asked Nicol if they were commissioned pieces, or pieces for fashion companies and asked her to describe the processes that she goes through when creating them. She told me that all of the bags were for a solo show in the Rebecca Hossack gallery in London called ‘Conversation Pieces’ where she found vintage bags that she could ‘update with different straps and quotes’ that made her laugh and that she ‘let the two inspire each other’. Page 2 of the accessories is more about pieces for fashion companies and for herself. She explained that the pearl ‘hat’ was for Clements Ribeiro and their brief was ‘maharajah’. “I pleated magazine pages to make the flowers and juxtaposed plastic game counters with diamante. The ‘Mohican’ was for me and inspired by some beautiful black waxy garden twine which I could just hold together with chiffon strips, the black necklace was made with hand cut melted sequin ribbon and the ‘crown’ was made with Indian hair dye papers”. It is evident that Nicol’s work knows no bounds and materials are less than limited.

I asked Nicol if she even saw herself becoming so successful, and if it had always been her dream to be an embroidery artist and also if she had ever had times of real struggle through her career and she told me that she had never thought about being successful, and that she just wanted to make a business out of embroidery. She explained to me that when she left Art College most graduates who studied stitch went on to teach or use their skills as a hobby, but Nicol was determined to keep herself with her work. She then added that ‘there have of course been some tough times as in most small businesses, but by keeping my work as diverse as possible I’ve managed to ride most waves. One has to keep an eye on the market, for instance when fashion began to be more streamlined and less embellished I moved to interiors and then to get my name more recognised I moved to gallery and now I’m back doing fashion again’. Through her determination Nicol has obtained many awards over the years including the Beryl Dean Award for Teaching Excellence in 2014 and was also awarded the Royal Designer for Industry award. She told me that being awarded The Beryl Dean award for teaching was such a lovely surprise as there are such wonderful, dedicated teachers in the field. She explained that she feels that she has been ‘extremely lucky setting up the mixed media course at the RCA and having worked there for years, visiting colleges to give talks and having been involved with some really amazingly talented and interesting students’. She also explained that ‘being made an RDI last year absolutely knocked me sideways, probably the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me. Embroidery has a lot of baggage and preconceptions which I have battled against my entire career so to be chosen to be one of the 200 Royal Designers for Industry amongst architects, industrial designers, fashion designers was quite overwhelming’.

To conclude I asked Nicol if there is anything that she is currently working on or if there are any future projects in the pipeline, and lucky for us she told me that she is extremely busy at the moment – “I am just doing two large maps for Black Rock Investments. In the past I have done large art pieces of bears and bulls (bear markets and bull markets) for their headquarters in the city of London and Copenhagen. Now for their offices in Hong Kong and Paris they want illustrated embroidered maps of the world and Europe, about 2 metres x 1 metre. I have just finished embroideries for dresses for Jasper Conran SS17 collection and they have gone well so I’m just starting designing for their winter collection. I am also designing embellishments for Preston Knight sheepskin and leather coats and a range of interior pieces for Katharine Pooley… So quite lively! For myself I really want to create a new portfolio of designs of totally over the top bespoke wedding embellishments but that may have to wait until 2017!”

The Coolest Brands In The UK This Year

Fashion Isn't Just About Clothes...

REBEL Editorial || September 11th

1000's of UK consumers and industry experts have been voting on what are the Coolest Brands out their in 2016. From fashion to festivals, technology to cars, a full range of categories were put to the vote. By the numbers, here's the UK's Top Brands.

20 LIBERTY

Since it first opened its doors in 1875, Liberty has been renowned for its celebration of innovative and eclectic design. Situated in London’s Regent Street shopping district, it remains the destination of choice for the sophisticated shopper. At Liberty, a rich heritage combines with the cutting-edge and avant-garde, making each visit a voyage of discovery. Six floors of carefully curated products ranging from fashion, beauty, home and a selection of Liberty’s renowned fabrics can be explored.

19 VIRGIN ATLANTIC

Innovation is at the heart of Virgin Atlantic, and Ida is its latest breakthrough. An ‘Immersive Digital Adventure’, Ida combines a narrative with advanced technology and sensory effects to allow guests to experience Upper Class from the ground. On board its incredible 787-9 Dreamliners, more customers than ever are experiencing the airline’s dedication to unique design and friendly service. They are even fulfilling their own long-held ambitions, spurred on by the ‘Let it fly’ campaign.

18 ADIDAS

adidas continues to create the new through translating its world class performance technology, Boost, into the greatest running franchise ever, the Ultra Boost. As a creator, adidas dares to change the beautiful game, reinventing its football franchises – Ace & X – to the best in class. Also dominating in the spheres of streetwear and fashion, Adidas Originals writes the modern design aesthetic, inspired by its vast back catalogue and iconic footwear franchises Superstar and Stan Smith.

17 URBANEARS

Urbanears makes headphones for extraordinary people like you. Superb on sound, playful and minimal in design, each model is well thought out in both form and function. And you can usually expect the unexpected in terms of extra features, which up your listening experience and just make life easier. Urbanears is all about self-expression and being exactly who you are, while also celebrating music’s ability to bring people together in a unifying sound experience.

16 PICTUREHOUSE CINEMAS

Formed in 1989 to challenge the multiplex model, Picturehouse Cinemas are the largest independent cinema group in the UK, owning and operating 23 cinemas, including the flagship West End cinema Picturehouse Central. Picturehouse Cinemas aims to create a haven for film and culture lovers. Focusing exclusively on the experience, Picturehouse Cinemas take their events as seriously as their bespoke food and drink offerings.

15 ZEO

To create their soft drinks, Zeo handcraft every flavour combination by distilling a unique mix of 32 fruits and botanicals. Blended with spring water and sweetened using stevia leaf, Zeo is natural, low sugar and low calorie. Release your brighter side.

14 SONY MUSIC

Sony Music UK’s London offices are home to renowned labels including RCA, Epic, Syco Music and the legendary Columbia Records – the record industry’s oldest existing label. Recently the company has steered international campaigns for domestic artists including George Ezra, Calvin Harris, Paloma Faith and Mark Ronson, who achieved the biggest-selling single of 2015 with Uptown Funk. In May 2016, Sony Music UK Chairman and CEO, Jason Iley also completed a partnership with 17-time BRIT award winner Robbie Williams.

13 THE BARBICAN

A world-class arts and learning organisation, the Barbican pushes the boundaries of all major art forms including dance, film, music, theatre, visual arts and cinema. Almost two million people pass through its doors every year, while its creative learning programme invests in the artists of tomorrow and underpins everything it does. Audiences experience this world-class programme within an iconic, Brutalist urban landscape acknowledged as one of the most significant architectural achievements of the 20th century.

12 HIVE

Award-winning Hive Active Heating™ launched in September 2013 and today, more than 200,000 people use Hive to control their heating and hot water from their mobile, tablet or laptop. In July 2015, the next generation Hive Active Heating™ was launched and will be joined by a family of connected products as Hive continues its journey to make the connected home a reality for everyone, creating a little magic in the everyday along the way.

11 EQUINOX

“It’s not fitness. It’s life.” That mantra has powered Equinox's commitment to turning gyms into buzzworthy destinations and member visits into unforgettable experiences. With unmatched expertise and a provocative attitude, Equinox inspires its members to lead high-performance lives. As its portfolio grows to over 80 locations across the US, UK and Canada, Equinox continues to redefine the industry with breath taking clubs, electrifying new classes, and the most advanced personal training you’ve ever encountered.

10 MERCEDES-BENZ

Mercedes-Benz is synonymous with style and glamour, yet the guiding principles in the creation of every car remain the same. Combining tradition with cutting-edge innovation and technology, the iconic car brand brings modern luxury to life, attracting new audiences and making Mercedes-Benz more relevant to more people. Whether it’s building supercars, family cars or autonomous cars, taking the chequered flag in Formula 1®, or supporting fashion events, Mercedes-Benz does everything with energy, integrity, effortless style and passion.

9 ITSU

The early pioneers of Pret are the creative force behind itsu. After years of listening to customers they created itsu – a place dedicated to lower fat, lower calorie, delicious food. Its ‘eat beautiful’ menu celebrates the flavours of the Far East; high in nutrients yet refreshingly low in calories and saturated fat. Sixty-four delicious dishes are freshly prepared in each itsu everyday to be enjoyed hot or cold, in or out, home or away, early or late.

8 DERMALOGICA

The Dermalogica® story began in 1986, pioneering postgraduate education for skin therapists. The brand then shocked the market by formulating the Dermalogica® range free from commonly used synthetic and artificial ingredients. Today, Dermalogica® is the number one professional skin care brand across 80 countries, training over 100,000 therapists annually. With education and empowerment at its core, Dermalogica® launched FITE (Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship) in 2011, helping women around the world invest in their potential. To learn about FITE visit joinFITE.org.

7 NOW TV

NOW TV exploded onto the scene 4 years ago and offer a range of fun, simple and contract-free ways to watch the best entertainment. Now with the launch of the NOW TV Combo – the UK’s first no contract TV, broadband and box package - they’ve transformed the grey world of communications with their colourful, vibrant and insuppressible brand spirit.

6 ALEXANDER McQUEEN

A mix of razor sharp tailoring, the fine workmanship of the haute couture atelier and impeccable manufacturing creates the signature Alexander McQueen look.

Innovative, emotional, uncompromising – all describe the romantic and provocative fashion of Alexander McQueen, a brand now synonymous with modern British couture. Integral to the McQueen culture is the juxtaposition between contrasting elements: fragility and strength, fluidity and severity. Sarah Burton, Creative Director, continues the Alexander McQueen legacy with a flagship store in Paris which opened in 2015. Her critically acclaimed collections fuse the McQueen aesthetic with her signature handcraft and technical expertise.

5 TRIUMPH

Triumph is the largest British motorcycle manufacturer, renowned worldwide for creating truly iconic motorcycles such as the classic Bonneville, TT-winning Daytona 675R and head-turning 2.3 litre Rocket III. Currently making approximately 54,000 bikes a year, Triumph holds a unique place in motorcycle history as a multiple land speed record holder. It is the brand of choice for 20th century icons, such as Steve McQueen, and today’s famous motorcyclists including Tom Cruise, Ryan Reynolds and Bradley Cooper.

4 HAVAIANAS

The first pair of Havaianas was produced in 1962 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Since then, Havaianas have been bringing Brazilian spirit to the world through their legendary rubber soles and bright designs. Havaianas represent comfort, happiness and freedom in the most simple and stylish form for everyone’s feet – from travellers to celebrities. You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy Havaianas... and that’s kind of the same thing!

3 ISLE OF WIGHT FESTIVAL

The Festival's first incarnations in 1968, ‘69, ‘70 were landmarks in British music culture, with crowds of 600,000 gathering to watch Jimi Hendrix, The Who and The Doors in 1970. In 2002, the event was resurrected, growing from a one-day event to a four-day camping festival. The world's biggest names in rock, indie and electro music have graced the main stage including The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, Foo Fighters and REM.

2 ASPALL CYDER

Barry and Henry Chevallier are proud custodians of the legacy of Clement, a Huguenot refugee who chose a very special corner of England for his ancestral home, Aspall Hall. The Chevallier family still lives there, among Clement’s Suffolk orchards, which blossom in spring and reap their annual autumnal rewards. Apples pressed on site produce the very finest, world-class cyders and cyder vinegars – emblems of the modern artisans, enjoying increasingly global acclaim for quality and excellence.

1 APPLE (= 1st with REBEL...)

Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Continuing to lead the industry, Apple has spearheaded the digital media revolution. Apple reinvented the mobile phone with its iPhone and App Store, and remains at the cutting-edge of technology, recently launching the all-new MacBook – a thinner and lighter line available in gold, silver, and space grey aluminium finishes – and the revolutionary Apple Watch.

Songbyrd Clothing

Soozi Bloor Eyes Up Pretty Green's Throne

Leah Hamer || July 23rd

Fashion. Music. The two are intrinsically linked in British society. After all, you would never have gone to see The Sex Pistols whilst wearing a sensible trouser suit, nor would you go to the opera in ripped fish nets and leather. From Northern Soul flares and Freds, to 90s grunge jeans and crops, to noughties indie kid drainpipes and Chelsea Boots, my wardrobe and my IPod are interdependent on each other, and I am not alone. One creative mind, with a sewing machine and untameable passion for music and fashion, has taken this dedication one step further. Meet Soozi Bloor- the proud owner of Songbyrd Clothing, who is making a wave in Stoke with her musically-inspired online clothing range.

Within about five minutes, I realise that Soozi is bubbling full of opinions on fashion and music- two subjects that I could talk about for hours on end. We sit on the sticky seats of Capello Lounge, on the hottest day of the year, discussing Soozi’s envious life. From attending the first ever V Festival, living in America and watching every indie rock god that has ever lived perform, music has been integral to Soozi’s life. And so has fashion.

‘When I was eight years old I decided I was going to be a fashion designer. So I asked for a full on adult-sized sewing machine. And for some reason I was into hacienda, acid-house style- at eight years old. I was making acid-colour lycra dresses that I thought was cool at the time.’ This fashion phase fortunately faded out and led her to her love of the indie rock and roll trends, which went hand in hand with her musical loves- Happy Mondays, The Charlatans, James (who she followed around the country), and her icon- Richard Ashcroft, ‘He set the bar for all musicians.’

So with a good taste in music, and a better sense of fashion- or style we should say, ‘I think fashion is a bit of a dirty word. I prefer style’, it was inevitable that her career path would combine the two.

It all began with Benicassim back in 2013, when Soozi decided she would have a different outfit for every night- all of which were specially designed for the headlining acts. Bored of the standard merchandise, Soozi realised that there were other ways to show admiration to your favourite artists whilst still standing out from the crowd, ‘You buy band t-shirts, and the girl has disappeared in the t-shirt. There’s no shape or form there, there’s no style there. So I just decided to my own thing and people liked it.’

Inspired by the cookie styles of Karen O and nineties Gwen Steffani, the first night of the festival saw her wear a red feather cape and red dress for The Courteeners, followed by a black dress with a rib-cage design for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club led to a strong reaction from the crowd, ‘People were literally chasing me around and I thought I’d done something wrong. Then this girl came up to me like where’d you get your dress?

Once she returned home her far-out designs continued to grow, yet it was when she donned a Kasabian-esque dress for their Leicester show that she realised this was more than a hobby. ‘Everyone was coming up to me, even men saying that they wanted one for their girlfriends. And I thought there’s a business here.

Eighteen months ago, Songbyrd hatched online. Initially based on the styles and lyrics of the likes of Kasabian and Miles Kane, with every concert that Soozi attends, more pieces have been added to her collection. ‘I went to the Etihad for The Stone Roses and I wore a splatter dress with adored going across it. Everyone went wild from that and I got orders straight away.’

Growing up in the nineties, which Soozi is ever-grateful for, has meant that she has lived through the golden era of Britpop. ‘‘You never experienced waking up and going to buy the album you had been waiting to hear for weeks and weeks, and rushing home to play it. Now it’s just download…The 90s was the last proper sub-culture. It was about being the common-people and being different. Now it’s all about showing off your bling, your contouring, your perfect eyebrows, or you have your ironic hipsters which spend money and work hard to look like a tramp.’

After living in America a few years ago, she returned and noticed the drift of fashion on Topshop mannequins from Kate Moss cool to Americanised hip-hop and the revival of those hacienda neon numbers that Soozi created as a child, and this has now transposed onto our venues and music scene. ‘I think fashion and music have been Americanised, which isn’t always a bad thing because I love Kings of Leon and Johnny Cash, but it shouldn’t be like that because people I know in Italy and Spain are huge anglophiles, they love Britpop and British fashion.’

Stoke throughout the years has been iconic for its sub-cultures and Soozi is sad to see it go unrecognised, ‘We’ve got the Mods and Northern Souls here still, there’s a heritage in Stoke, but it doesn’t get celebrated enough. Like The Soul Boy film that was shot here, and people don’t realise it.’ Manchester has taken over Soozi’s scene, as with a lot of Stokies, ‘The indie crowd are at a bit of loss here now…I used to literally live in The Full Moon and go out in Newcastle but now half the bars are empty…people just sit at home and message their friends instead.’

I’m not going to lie, we talk for a long while about our society of plastics, buying the generic off the hanger look, living through Instagram filters and buying tickets for the Etihad just to show off, rather than due to a genuine love of The Stone Roses. Although Soozi frequently emigrates to Manchester for nights out, as the local venues she once loved have taken a different musical turn, she maintains proud of her home and of her scene. She holds a strong opinion that although we live in this digitally world run by Beyoncé and The Kardashians, indie rock and roll will never be amiss. ‘It never really dies, it goes underground, but it comes back. That’s the beauty of it. It was always meant to be alternative, it’s meant to be against the grain of society.’

Indie rock and roll is a way of life that Soozi will champion until her last breath. With dreams of becoming the female version of Pretty Green, starting with her next step- mod scarves, Songbyrd will remain as an alternative, independent choice for true-hearted indie kids. It will never be controlled, it will never be commercialised, it will never be on the mannequins of Topshop, ‘You know somethings gone wrong if you see Beyoncé wearing my clothes.’  

Holly Crow Sets The Trend

Leek perhaps isn't exactly Milan, or Paris, but who needs such places when you have fashion designers right here in Staffordshire? Based in Leek, Handmade By Holly Crow is a clothes shop in its fifth year, and going from strength to strength. REBEL Fashion reporter found out more about Holly's journey.

 

When did you first start designing?

I've always been creative, from a very young age. My dads always been into drawing and my mum into fashion, so I picked it up from there. I would say I seriously started designing things and making them up when I was in my mid teens.

How many people are currently working at the store?

There's me, Rachael who has just graduated from a fashion degree at university, and my dad is a huge help… the customers love him!

When did your shop open?

I first started my business in November 2011, working from home and attending craft and vintage fairs. In 2012 I took the plunge and opened a small shop in Getliffes Yard Leek. My current bigger premises on the Sheep Market in Leek will of been open for one year at the end of june.

What is your favourite thing about the store?

It's perhaps an over used word but it's quirky. The building is very old, no straight lines, wonky windows, different ceiling heights and cute nooks and crannies. My designs often one of a kind, I love unique things, and my shop, from the building, displays to the product represents this.

What inspires you the most when designing and creating your clothes?

People, colour and pattern. No woman is the same shape or a standard size. I love looking at what people are wearing and then building on it. Colour and pattern play a huge part in my work, you won't find many little black dresses in my shop.

What is your favourite thing about being a designer?

Expression. I love being able to be creative almost everyday. Don't get me, wrong when you run your own small business you play every role from the cleaner to the CEO, but I love those days when I might not have orders to fulfil or paper work to do and I can just pick up some fabric I love and think top? Dress? Coat?… And off I go, that's when I'm at my happiest.

How do you select the materials and prints you use?

When I'm completing a bespoke order I search based on what the customer has advised they like. When I'm searching for my own stock, It's very much just what takes my eye. Two things I always look for though is quality and value. Some very expensive fabrics aren't always the best and as a small company I like to pass this onto our lovely customers.

Do you have any future plans for the store?

We have plans to introduce clothing for girls. We make a lot of bespoke orders for children but in July we will be launching our own mini collection in the shop. It's really exciting for us, it's a chance to expand our customer base and you can let your imagination run wild with children's wear, so watch this space.