Nic+Zoe turns back the clock for a modern look
Published 12:00 am, Friday, December 22, 2017
The process of creating a fashion collection can begin with something as simple as a fabric swatch or as complex as an entire art movement. It could be the sun peeking out from a high-rise building as it sets on a winter’s day or a wall of cobalt-blue tiles.
The inspirations are varied, says Dorian Lightbown, founder of Boston-based fashion brand Nic+Zoe and a leading knitwear designer of women’s apparel. The company’s collections for this month and next are largely inspired by an art movement that flourished in Germany during the first third of the 20th century.
“We wanted a very clean approach after the fall,” says Lightbown, during a telephone interview, of the collections’ modern, bold colors and clean, geometric lines. “We were inspired by Bauhaus, and it is where we basically began.”
The Bauhaus movement started in 1919 when German architect Walter Gropius founded a school to bring together fine art and industrial design — a novel concept at the time. Students were encouraged to utilize an artistic eye when it came to designing for everyday life.
“Establishing a theme really helps because we do so many novelties and patterns,” says Zoe Chatfield-Taylor, Lightbown’s daughter and one of the company’s namesakes (her brother Nic is the other). She also is director of merchandising. “When you have something the whole team is working from, from an inspiration standpoint, it helps to make it all look cohesive at the end of the day, rather than all these different art directions. ... It really directs the designers’ energy into a certain feeling, so it all works together.”
Over the years, Lightbown has been inspired by moments in her life, her travels and art (a previous collection, for instance, was born out of graffiti art). The themes may change, but her approach is the same — a modern take on knitwear, which incorporates pops of color and consistent neutrals, flattering textures and comfortable design. Her greatest inspiration is the person who wears her clothes.
“I think customers feel it,” Lightbown says of the work that goes into her collections. “I may sound a little silly, but there is a soul that goes into each piece. … These are not just mass produced and rolled out. ... (The customer) is with us the whole time.”
In the past several years, the 11-year-old company has expanded its reach by establishing eight stores, including one that recently opened in Westport. Lightbown was on the vanguard of creating pieces that could transition easily from work to play and day to night. Such a seamless shift requires an artful approach, so that even a casual look has clout.
“There is a whole facet of the design that goes into the knit, which has to be created … the color, the gauge, the tension, the stitch. You are really just focusing on creating the textile and when the textile is created, then you start to think about putting it into a shape,” Lightbown says.
The creative team is nearly always a year out when it comes to designing a collection. Among the first steps is setting up a board with illustrations, photos, fabric swatches and pieces of yarn. “You can see how everything starts to work together,” Lightbown says. “I live by that board for a good couple of months.”
The boards are sent to the mill to inspire the fabric that comes back — a process with a bit of magic since the mill designers are another creative layer interpreting a theme. “It influences them in how they will set up their knitting machines and create patterns ... that try and capture that inspiration,” she says.
While material and color often jump-start the design process, shape sometimes rules. For the latest collections, the team gave its comfy dresses elegant touches to make them work for an office holiday party or a client luncheon. A classy cut to loose pants makes them entirely acceptable for the host of a holiday cocktail party. The pops of color just may make one forget its January.
“The silhouette can be the first driver of style,” Chatfield-Taylor says. “One of our iconic shapes is our twirl dress. It’s so figure flattering. For a piece like that, it’s about what textiles are going to work in that shape, so it falls and drapes (properly).”
The average customer may not be able to eyeball all the little things that go into building iconic shapes and enduring looks, but the designs are in the details, which has made Nic+Zoe a popular brand.
“Dorian can spend a day picking out a button for a blouse,” Chatfield-Taylor says. She laughs, but it is with respect for her mother’s meticulous approach. “At the end of it, it’s a work of art.”
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