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Video Essay: Richard Nicoll Brooch

published on 28 April 2010

Alexander Fury on the working girl inspirations behind Richard Nicoll’s A/W 10 bulldog clip brooch.

Alexander Fury on the working girl inspirations behind Richard Nicoll’s A/W 10 bulldog clip brooch.

Essay: Brooch by Richard Nicoll


The aesthetic cliché of the working woman is one designers return to again and again, albeit almost invariably parroting stereotypes of repressed secretarial sexuality circa Kay Francis or the assertive, boulder-shouldered chic of Sigourney Weaver and Melanie Griffiths in Working Girl

Having recently taken the reins at Cerruti - the label that gave Armani his start in the sixties and a corporate eighties staple much beloved by American Psycho's Patrick Bateman, you could be excused for assuming that we'd be retreading familiar ground when Richard Nicoll devoted his own-label Autumn/Winter 2010 collection to city girl suiting.

But despite latching onto the idea of office drones answering interminable telephones, Nicoll gave his collection a decidedly contrary spin. His reference-point was the clean, crisp minimalism of nineties Helmut Lang, but given a contemporary twist. Case in point, this bulldog clip, filched from his imaginary secretary's desk and used to cinch waists, clip shoulders, or in this case adorn a lapel as a postmodern brooch.

It's more Schiaparelli surrealist games - after all, she's the woman who transformed doorhandles into buttons on a chest-of-drawers dinner suit - but this isn't one of Schiap's witty tromp l'oeil experiments. Nicoll's 'brooch' is an actual bulldog clip, glued with strass and then clipped nonchalantly to a garment, just as an absent-minded office worker might. There's also a touch of the Duchamp to Nicoll's adornment - the same way that Duchamp made us reconsider the sculptural form of the urinal, Nicoll elevates the utilitarian by plucking a shop-fresh piece of office stationary from its context and transforming it into adornment, giving it a different aesthetic meaning and value.

Let's not get too bogged-down in art-world rhetoric - Nicoll has always had a sense of humour about his work. Stylists and photographers have been bulldog-clipping samples around skinny models for as long as fashion photography has existed, and Nicoll's brooch is a witty sartorial quotation from that tradition. At the same time, in its purity of form - perfectly adhering to the declaration that form follows function - Nicoll's diamanté-crusted clip is the ideal piece of Modernist jewellery. You can only wonder why no-one thought to do it earlier, so perfectly does his creation do its job.

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