Mixing Old & New – Interview with Beautiful Soul’s designer, Nicola Woods

Over the busy holidays, Launderette caught up with Nicola Woods, designer of exciting new label – Beautiful Soul, a British, luxury womenswear label based in London’s Notting Hill. Quintessentially English with a slight asian influenced twist.

Beautiful Soul has already been featured in the pages of Vogue, Grazia, Drapers, Tatler, you name it…. it’s sophisticated offerings are sweeping ladies across the globe.

And Nicola is brilliant – one of the most cheery, optimistic and truly driven women we have ever met! Launderette digs into the brand a bit further and finds out what makes Nicola tick…

Beautiful Soul S/S12 (all photos courtesy of Felicities PR)

Beautiful Soul S/S12 (all photos courtesy of Felicities PR)

Launderette: Tell us about how the kimono collection got started.

Nicola Woods: For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a Fashion Designer, I even wrote to ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ back in the day!

After working in a fast paced career in corporate insurance for 11 years, I took a sabbatical to travel globally and on this journey I began to envision my career path from a different point of view – one with endless opportunities.

Whilst in Tokyo, surrounded by boutiques, feeling mesmorised, excited and inspired, I realised that I needed to make radical changes to my lifestyle and revisit my childhood ambition of design.

Returning to London, I trained at the London College of Fashion, earning a BA(Hons) in Fashion, Design and Technology (Creative Pattern Cutter) in 2008. I launched Beautiful Soul in November of that same year.

During my final year at university, I was involved in a project based around ‘saving the earth’. I was hooked.

My graduation collection ‘smallprint’ was dedicated to that life changing moment, sitting under a cherry blossom tree in the heart of Tokyo…and Beautiful Soul’s Kimono Collection was built on this premise.

You do bespoke garments using your vintage kimonos – made to order. Tell us about the process and what’s most exciting about doing bespoke pieces? (Someday, we want one!)

NW: The Kimono Collection is Beautiful Soul’s bespoke collection for men and women, which is available to buy all year round.

The Beautiful Soul studio boasts one of the largest archives of vintage Japanese kimonos dating back to the 1940’s and it is from this archive that Beautiful Soul’s Kimono Collection is brought to life.

Customers are invited to choose their own vintage kimono in the Beautiful Soul studio or online and then be part of the journey of transforming and upcycling it into an expertly tailored, one-of-a-kind garment. Each piece carries a strong emphasis on longevity, multi-function and adjustability.

Your personal design story – i.e. going back to school after working in the corporate world for so long – is really inspiring, especially for our readers who have similar ambitions. What was it like going back to fashion school, where probably everyone was 18 and just discovering themselves? Did you find that being a bit older and more experienced gave you an edge or difficulties?

NW: Thank you so much. Returning to university in my late twenties was the right time for me. I approach life with a very open mind and I do not see age as a barrier. Age is just a number.

I started out in the corporate sector and gained invaluable transferable skills, so this has helped Beautiful Soul to progress. I have experienced life’s luxuries (and a monthly pay cheque) and I am now determined to make a livelihood from my dream.This sparks my determination and keeps me focused.

I started Beautiful Soul after I graduated (2008) with very little experience of the fashion industry and without a plan of action. I confess: I was not prepared.

2011 has been an incredible year of growth from a business perspective and I have learnt tore-evaluate my priorities, balancing the business and creative responsibilities, building a firm foundation and more importantly, a sustainable future for the brand.

This is part of the brand building process. Perseverance is key and I have self-belief. I have found my feet and I have a map to follow.

My objective is for Beautiful Soul to form part of the British Fashion Elite, whilst maintaining my strong commitment to transparency. Taking responsibility for the planet is not a trend, it is the only way forward and I am at my happiest when I am sharing my knowledge and experience with emerging creative talents to garner collective recognition.

We have seen a lot of growth – design-wise, in quality, the silhouettes, even the prints – since Beautiful Soul’s inception. How do you think your design has evolved over the last couple of collections? 

NW: I have spent the best part of 2011 developing Beautiful Soul from a business perspective and understanding the brand.

Kimono Collection

Beautiful Soul started out with a Kimono Collection, which is an extremely complex and restrictive design process. When you dismantle a vintage kimono, you are left with very limited panels of fabric, only 38cm wide. You have to work with these restrictions and nurture an understanding of the fabric availability.

Any leftover fabric was placed aside and then revisited the following season, where I set myself the challenge of designing a new piece based on the leftovers. I am extremely fond of fabric and I hate to see it go to waste!

A woman’s curves change regularly and it’s frustrating when a zip or button will not close. I therefore avoid using conventional fastening in my designs and instead explored alternative methods.

Furthermore, I believe that multi functionality renders a garment timeless, as it can be worn to suit different moods and seasons.

My design ethos was challenging and after 4 seasons, I had a strong collection of timeless designs. I selected my favourite pieces, which are available to buy all year round through Beautiful Soul’s e-commerce offering. We can also accommodate small wholesale orders regardless of the season. One of the world’s most fashion-focused museums, London’s V&A, has stocked Beautiful Soul’s Kimono Collection since the label’s launch.

Beautiful Soul London

We launched Beautiful Soul London, Beautiful Soul’s ready-to-wear collection in February 2011 during Paris Fashion Week (AW:11)

We are currently working on the labels third collection (AW:12), which will incorporate my own prints, British lace and British wool.

I want to build a brand that supports the decline of the apparel industry in the UK. Made in England will play a fundamental part in the growth of Beautiful Soul and will add a heritage value in years to come.

What was the inspiration for the SS12 collection?

NW: ‘Summer Breeze – SS:12 ’ is Beautiful Soul London’s second collection and was my first attempt at designing my own prints. The collection draws inspiration from the scenic English summertime and vintage kimono fabrics from Beautiful Soul’s archive of Japanese kimonos.

The brightly coloured houses, tree blossoms, local parks surrounding Notting Hill and the exuberant energy of summertime, all serve as inspirations for the collection and the unique prints I have designed myself this season.

The delicate, vintage style prints incorporate splashes of the bright, vivid colours that Notting Hill is known for.

Beautiful Soul S/S12 (all photos courtesy of Felicities PR)

Beautiful Soul S/S12 (all photos courtesy of Felicities PR)

Where do you tend to source fabrics, and what does your sourcing process generally entail? What do you look for in your materials choices?

NW: I understand the balance that fashion has to be desirable. Ethics are an added bonus. Hanger appeal is imperative and Beautiful Soul is committed to using luxurious sustainable fabrics, allowing our pieces to compete with mainstream competitors.

You have a zero-waste policy in your studio, how does that push innovative thinking in your design?

NW: A designer has choices and it makes commercial sense to make use of leftover fabrics and re-use existing fabrics, which would otherwise be sent to landfill. It is about nurturing a balance.

What are your favourite brands or designers or fashion websites – ethical or not?

NW: British brands that I am striving to sit alongside are Mulberry and Alice Temperley, and I wear vintage Ossie Clarke with pride! I also love Marni and MiuMiu.

Young designers who’s pieces I own or would love to own: Erdem , Hermione de Paula and Teatum Jones. I love to mix and match old with new.

Beautiful Soul S/S12 (all photos courtesy of Felicities PR)

Beautiful Soul S/S12 (all photos courtesy of Felicities PR)

Thanks Nicola – you’re 美しいです!

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