Is Richard Nicoll a frustrated office drone at heart? Does he hanker after the paper-pushing monotony of the proverbial desk job? Certainly, his Autumn/Winter 2010 collection was an ode to secretarial style, albeit interpreted through the punk imagery of artist Linder Sterling, whose sharp collaged imagery - part city girl, part Sade - adorned his invite and a few of print silk-crepe t-shirts. In stripped-back black, white and red, it made previous Nicoll/Sterling collaborations look florid - a reflection of Nicoll's instinct for the season, paring down to sartorial bare bones.
Undoubtedly this is in tune with the times - dressed to excess now seems crass, and Nicoll's collection chimes with a collective glance back to the sharp, harsh minimalism of the late-eighties early-nineties. Nevertheless, while this can sometimes seem severe and even brutal, Nicoll's take was feminine and polished. City suiting was the focus, albeit broken apart from the traditional skirt suit - trenches were hacked in half, forming sharp bomber jackets with upturned collars and fluttering grosgrain ribbon ties, jackets deconstructed into surprisingly viable strapless dresses and jumpsuits, with frayed edges and abstracted pocket-flaps - another trend emerging en masse, Nicoll's propositions rank amongst the best.
There was a hardness - at times a harshness - about Nicoll's woman, which was refreshingly sharp. His perfectly-tailored Working Girl jackets in grey flannel were impeccable, and indeed the daywear throughout looked tremendous in a slick metallic palette of pale grey and steel blue. The decoration was in the detail of cut, rather than any superficial application: origami-detail waistbands on pencil skirt or peg-leg trousers, precise tucks and folds at the yoke of sweaters and jackets, or a mid-calf swathe of checked wool, wrapped and tucked into a patent belt and adding movement to a tight little grey skirt. He hammered home his sexed-up office drone attire with subtle touches of humour. Case in point - the bulldog-clip jewellery could have so easily lapsed into gimmickry, but they looked witty and fresh dangling from an ear, pinching a shoulder or cinching a waist on a tailored suit jacket.
The idea of day into evening has always been something of a fallacy, and Nicoll faltered when it came to night. Velvet in chutney-orange and RAF blue jarred with the stripped-back elegance of his suiting, and details that had looked sharp and crisp in wool gabardine (crisp paper-bag pleating at the waist and pinched shoulder details, for example) looked alternately crumpled and floppy in taffeta and velvet respectively. The vital element in minimalism is to pile it on and then strip away, and Nicoll's most successful evening looks were accordingly when he pared back to the absolute minimum - those Linder Sterling t-shirts were worn with a transparent maxi dress and a trailing grey wool melange skirt, pulled over and tucked under respectively. It sounds simple to the point of banality, but it felt like as bracing as a blast of fresh air in a somewhat stifled season.