Interview with Creative Director of N Palmer, Designer Nick Palmer
Interview: Andrew Ogun
Creative Direction: Nicholas Palmer
Photography: Balint Barna
Model: Odira Morwabone
MUA: Jenny Green
Throughout lockdown, Nick Palmer found himself yearning for something to do, stuck in a time reminiscent of a school holiday, where you feel that you have all the time in the world, but as an adult who understood all the happenings of the current world. In his free time, Palmer yearned to find a way to channel his emotions and re-engage with optimism through finding colour in what felt like a seemingly bleak time and began creating his namesake brand, N Palmer’s debut collection. It was in this climate that his debut collection was born. We caught up with Nick Palmer just before his show for London Fashion Week.
We had an enlightening conversation about his new collection and his perspective on the rapid changes in the industry currently. Read Now.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
Well you kind of already know a bit about my background. When I think about it, I’ve been doing this for 12 years. I don’t want to use the word ‘journey’ because it’s a cliché in fashion but it has been a journey. I’ve always tried to roll with the punches with everything. I was in New York and got into Parsons but the way other people talked about the fashion programme led to me deferring my offer and doing humanities subjects instead which allowed me to figure out if I really wanted to go into fashion. When I got in though, I realised that it wasn’t that bad and that I was listening to people who didn’t really want to be in the industry. I wanted to be there, I was like ‘oh wait a minute, my assignment is making a pair of trousers and I don’t have to write a paper on the history of something?’ That’s so much more fun.
I graduated and it felt that perhaps New York didn’t want me or maybe it didn’t understand me. I was freelancing for years and I just knew I had to change the conversation. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result right? So I decided to try Europe because I’d been wanting to do the MA [at Central Saint Martins]. I ended up doing a major overhaul of my portfolio, submitting it to CSM and I actually got into every programme I applied for so I must be pretty good at this.
What are the differences in their approach to teaching fashion in Parsons in comparison to CSM?
Parsons's way of teaching is a little bit more practical because it's more about the actual technique and learning how to make garments and I’m grateful for this learning experience because it gave me the skill to make a pattern and finish garments. I can actually work with sewers and explained to them the way to do something, which I believe is important to do. At CSM, their focus is ideas so I almost had to learn a new language whilst being forced to speak it fluently at the same time. CSM are really good at teasing out the essence of what we do and what makes us what we are. They set you up to have your own vocabulary.
In the last few months, sustainability has become a bit of a buzzword since we’ve started to scrutinise and reimagine the world we’re living in. What does sustainability mean to you and how much responsibility does the consumer have compared to the designer?
It’s something that I think about a lot and it’s something that I even think about beyond fashion. You can put the responsibility on the individual but the company is the one selling the things in plastic bottles. The company is the one selling poorly manufactured garments. It’s my responsibility as a designer to offer the best possible things and do things to the best of my ability. It’s upsetting to me though because I do want to be accessible to a larger audience but to make things that have been created without exploiting workers or using exploitive practices, it ends up having a higher price tag. How can we expect a t-shirt that costs less than a meal in McDonalds to be made without someone being exploited?
I try to be conscious of wastage and how much I waste. I believe we’ve become very disposable with how we view things in fashion and that’s something that’s always irked me. Like if I had a drawing class, I would try and make that notepad or paper last as long as it could. I couldn’t imagine just ripping it out and throwing it away. It just felt entitled and wasteful.
I personally end up buying mostly vintage clothes. It makes me really happy that places like Grailed, Depop and eBay exist and I love that people are getting into it. I think it adds to individuality.
What piqued your interest in fashion?
A – I got into fashion in Indiana. Style.com was it. My friend and I would sit in front of her computer after school looking through every single fashion show we could find. I don’t even think we really understood how it worked but we were consistently on it and we’d look at the same shows over and over again. It got to the point when I started asking ‘where’s the stuff for me?’. That was when Hedi Slimane was at Dior and that was the first time that I saw models that were slim and clothing that I wanted to wear. I was like oh, you can do this in menswear? You can make embroidered menswear? It could be kind of sparkly or flashy? They can wear a heel? That was new for me.
Of course, you can’t not talk about Prada and what she’s accomplished. To answer the question, menswear was still very conservative at that point so I was drawn to the designers that were pushing the boundaries further. When your 16 years old, seeing a bunch of men in suits wasn’t something to fantasize about. I liked anything that was artistic and challenging, and anything I could identify with as a young person. Things that weren’t so traditional. I liked brands with a youthful edge.
How has COVID-19 affected you personally and artistically?
Like everyone, I was tested. It was challenging. It was cabin fever. It was emotional. It was positive in one sense because I managed to get rid of a lot of personal issues and bad behaviors, becoming more empathetic and giving the benefit of the doubt. My growth as a human being led me to think that we need to be more caring and not be self-centred, and we need to recognise that we’re all trapped in this together and it can’t be about one person. It’s the little things like wearing a mask because you have a vulnerable neighbour next door. It’s just about thinking outside your personal solar system and thinking beyond the individual.
As an artist, I really suffered. It has been incredibly alienating and lonely. However, I’ve still been able to connect with friends who are far away again through texting and Instagram. I’m really grateful that we’re at a point with technology where we can do that because it wasn’t possible a few years ago. I have a studio space within walking distance of my house which I sort of use as my refuge. I felt so much better being out of the house and doing small projects for myself. I began to take stock of what was important and I knew that if I was going to do something again, I didn’t want it to be invasive or destructive.
I knew I couldn’t count on the normal supply chain so I had to rely mostly on the Internet. Thankfully, I’m good with eBay and I managed to contact wholesalers on there, which allowed me to create my own supply chain and way of working. COVID-19 forced ingenuity. I can’t say that I know how everything is going to turn out but I think we’re on the path to something better. I think that [COVID-19] has been a great shock to the system for the industry.
What was the idea behind your graduate collection?
Both my graduate collection and my upcoming collection are reflections of where we are in the world. during the time. My graduate collection was a reflection sadness and a feeling of us collectively leaning towards our imminent demise in some ways. I felt very concerned about where we were headed. This collection also started my exploration into patchwork. I used my remnant fabrics to make the patchwork pieces that were in the collection so that I didn’t have as much waste, laying groundwork for more things to come in regard to working in a smart way in the industry.
Talk us through your newest collection?
I think that a lot of people can fall into different camps; some people really do not like black clothing and others only wear black. I waver in between both of these. Sometimes I am that gothic crow coming down the street and sometimes I look like I just stepped out of Dazed and Confused. People are multifaceted. Taking this into account, you can still see my design aesthetics in all my clothing and you can find the continuations with all the conversations that I’m having in all my collections. I made sure that there were certain motifs between both collections that are very much part of the brand and the way I want to continue working.
I was able to create something that was contained and offering a new perspective. I felt that it would be nice if people just looked at [the clothing] and smiled. I know that can sort of sound topical, but I felt like everyone is having such a hard time so doing something that is sort of ruminating in that world, I don’t think people want that. I wanted to do something that said, ‘we’re going to get through this guys, we have to be patient and we have to keep going’. I didn’t want to make clothes for partying in. I wanted to make clothes that you can wear and feel-good in.
[The collection] is things that feel familiar but are done in a different way. You can see the way everything is put together on the inside which makes you appreciate the time someone put in the garment. Going back to sustainability, sometimes you need to be obvious [to the consumer] to make them understand that someone actually made this you know. You can see all of the seaming, you can see that someone has taken the time to cut and sew this. My goal is to create something that someone just wears until it can’t be worn anymore and really loves it. I think the garments from the new collection well age really well. Sometimes you need to own something for a while and then it looks even better. You should have pieces that are a part of you and I think that having a history with your clothes is important.
How do you feel about the rapid digitisation of the fashion industry?
I think it’s a dream of every designer to have that big catwalk show with the huge set and the flashing lights, and to do something on such a monumental scale but I think we’ve realised that it’s incredibly expensive and unsustainable. The digitisation of fashion makes a lot of sense. Designers have really been able to come up with cool ways of showing their clothes. To use Prada as an example, they’ve taken this virtual fashion show into a new world. Dior have done some amazing things. It also levels the playing field a little bit for someone like me to get a wider audience.
What are your 3 key takeaways from studying at Central Saint Martins?
I was incredibly appreciative of what I was able to do there and the fact that they put me on that platform was really awesome. My main takeaway is being helped to understand my design language and the way I should be designing. Going to CSM helped me figure out my strengths as a designer and the way that I work. Sometimes you think ‘this is how all fashion designers do it’ and you don’t have to work that way. They didn’t force me to work in a way that wasn’t natural to me which was good. I didn’t get quite as far in understanding their design vocabulary in the same way as they understood mine, but I feel like I was able to grow by seeing how they would do their portfolios in comparison to the way I was taught to do my portfolios. I also think that the research and the process was one of my key takeaways at CSM. I have come to the realization that everything has been done, which is fine don't worry about it because it's my context that makes it unique, my way of doing it. Also, don’t think of each collection as the end-all collection. You’re going to have another one. You don’t have to say everything you can possibly think of with one collection. Just give them something that works well together. Do one thing really, really well then grow from there.