Jack Wills, a label synonymous with floppy-haired mummy’s boys and daddy’s girls, is laying aside its polo mallet and Country House in favour of a more innovative approach to British heritage clothing. Known for its tartan-lined plastic gilets and unjustifiably-priced tees, Richard Nicoll’s appointment as Creative Director looks set to revolutionise the self-proclaimed “fabulous” preppy brand. A previous consultant for Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton and guest designer for Fred Perry, Nicoll’s namesake brand is one of the most hotly anticipated shows of the LFW schedule making his new position at the tween haven both shocking and exciting.
Despite Jack Wills’ measly press release, Nicoll’s previous capsule collections for British juggernauts, Fred Perry and Topshop, give us a vague idea of what to expect. Whilst one would rarely describe the Jack Wills of today as ‘cutting-edge’ or ‘innovative’, the sporty Nicoll aesthetic is exactly that. Wave goodbye to the flashy Oxbridge-style stripes, college crests and varsity screen-prints and say hello to minimalist sportswear finishes and sharp yet comfortable designs grounded in traditional craftsmanship. Be it an abstracted classic knit-pattern or deconstructed and reconstructed outerwear, Nicoll’s approach of turning tradition inside-out and flipping it upside-down seems like a winning formula for a heritage brand set on reinventing itself and recapturing that University demographic.
Whether the “university outfitters” ever attracted such an audience is debatable and whether they ever will is uncertain. For many, the label is evocative of those early teenage years when style was defined by conformity as opposed to expression and the handbooks that sadly flop through the letterbox month in, month out serve only as a reminder of this. As kids, adopting the Jack Wills dress code meant aligning yourself with those hot and brainy university students featured in their brochures. As young adults and university students, the adoption of the Jack Wills dress-code places you in a social bracket characterised by close-mindedness and a fear of experimentation; preppy.
Nicoll’s arrival is long over-due. What was once a label committed to championing a British attitude and creating the new classic is now a company neck-deep in misbranding and a mind-numbing conservative attitude. With Chelsea party-boy and reckless heir, Jamie Laing, as their poster boy it would appear that the brand has a long way to go before they reclaim their high street credibility as pioneers of the British lifestyle. Although Nicoll’s arrival at the helm of the brand will undoubtedly cause a shift in attitude, whether the brand will be able to reinvent itself or not will be testament to the current marketing team behind the tween sensation. Until then, we eagerly await.