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Nicholas Oakwell

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Refreshing British couture tradition

London-based Nicholas Oakwell wants to renew and strengthen couture in the UK. Inspiration and knowledge gathered at Saga Furs Design Centre will help him incorporate more fur into a collection he will show in London this June.

Couture has long been a British tradition, though the much of the talent has been pushed into the shadows in the past couple of decades. Nicholas Oakwell intends to change that, although finding the right talent was not simply a question of finding a number in the phone book.

“I’ve been lucky in putting my team together,” he says, and tells how it was necessary to sort through 30 different craftswomen before finding one who was expert at a the particular craft he needs. “They are out there, but they’re not using their abilities.”

Adding more fur to the mix

At Saga Furs Design Centre, Oakwell did preliminary work on pieces that will feature in his London show this June. His previous outings have demonstrated a flair for materials, so feathers, leather and fur will likely play central roles in a contemporary, edgy and light look.

“You can use fur in such a light way, for instance with chiffon,” he says. “Techniques for making fur trim, embroidery, can be fascinating.”

Nicholas Oakwell worked as a milliner and has done stints with Dior, Katharine Hamnett, Amanda Wakely and others before founding his own label in 2011. As London is a world shopping centre, he has attracted clients from China, Russia, the Middle East and of course well-heeled domestic customers.

Pushing British craftsmanship

One pair of deft hands Oakwell recruited for his team belong to London furrier Rebecca Bradley who worked on fur items for an earlier collection. “I didn’t really get into how it was all done, and then I came here, and Ooooh!” he says, astonished at all that can be done with fur.

“I had some basic ideas for three or four pieces, but being here and seeing the techniques—now I’m thinking more. One idea is a print on shorn mink to achieve a tweed texture, a tweed jacket in fur.”

Oakwell wants all craft processes in the UK where his team is based. “When I design, it’s like being the conductor of an orchestra. I guide them so it fits together, the trombone with the drum with the oboe …”

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