Nicola Glass is a bit of a fashion chameleon. The 46-year-old British designer's style adapts to the brands she designs for (and those brands adapt to her style, too). A quick peek into her Instagram reveals bright pops of color she attributes to her most recent role: creative director of Kate Spade. She was previously the senior vice president of accessories design at Michael Kors, and before that she was an accessories designer for Gucci. All of which have helped her evolve her style through the years.
Her fresh spin on Kate Spade's vintage codes has already won accolades from the industry, blending modern wearability with the playful joyousness the brand is known for.
How do you define your personal style?
I would define my personal style as feminine with a bit of an edge.
What is your daily uniform and how has it changed over the course of your life and career?
It's changed because over the years, I've often worn the brand that I've been working or designing at, whether it was Gucci or Michael Kors, but I think one thing that's always stayed consistent is I like a bit of a mix of masculine and feminine style. I do like things that are feminine but not too overtly feminine and I'll always add an edge to it, whether it's a studded belt or stocking, lock of jewelry with it, interesting mixes of jewelry. I tend to gravitate toward, too, a silhouette that's more of a '70s silhouette without feeling too vintage-y. Since I started at Kate Spade, I've been definitely wearing a bit more color.
For women in the fashion industry, how you dress definitely strikes a first impression.
As director at Kate Spade, professionally you weave together different designs, perspectives, and references, taking into consideration the heritages of the brand but also modern dressing. How did your personal style help inform how you strike that balance?
Well, I think when I joined the brand I tried to inject a more modern type of femininity that's a little bit more nuanced. So, there's still feminine details but it could be a lightweight dress that's got ruched details or ruffles, but there aren't too many ruffles. Or there's just a twist where you're wearing a boot with that lightweight dress or you're stacking jewelry with it, adding a bit of an edge through the styling.
I've also diversified the silhouette which has been influenced a bit by my personal style, which consists of more pure lines. For example one of the dresses in the spring show was a cleaner, long dress with a ruffle detail on the neck and a little touch at the sleeves.
My background was in jewelry design, which has definitely influenced the new hardware on the handbags.
How has your personal style played a role in your career? Do you think it has opened or closed any doors for you?
No, I was thinking about that and I feel like there's a little bit of double standard. If you're a male creative director you can get away with wearing jeans and a T-shirt as your uniform. For women in the fashion industry, how you dress definitely strikes a first impression. But I think ultimately it's your talent that really opens the door for you.
Well, for me, having my handbag with me makes me more confident. I know I've got all the things I need — I feel a bit lost if I can't find my phone or my keys.
Which item in your closet is your most beloved? What have you owned for the longest?
I have a pair of these stretch velvet, Tom Ford-era, Gucci pants, from when I worked there. They're probably from 15 years ago. I still wear them quite a lot, because they're great on their own as a perfect slim-cut, or I'll wear them under a dress. I do have quite a few belts that I'm attached to because I've been designing belts for a long time. Belts are such an easy way to inject your personality into a look.
What item instantly makes you feel more confident?
Well, for me, having my handbag with me makes me more confident. I know I've got all the things I need — I feel a bit lost if I can't find my phone or my keys. I think from an accessory point of view, having a great handbag is so important. For me, the ultimate handbag silhouette is a clean, slack shoulder shape that is practical and hands-free. The one I'm wearing at the moment is actually our Nicola bag. It's really clean and has thoughtful compartments and where you can keep everything. A functional, simple style is the reason why styles like Chanel's quilted bags have been so popular, they're just so practical and they work with everything from jeans to a dress.
Designers should be striving to make the customers' lives better or easier, rather than just making a fashion statement for the sake of it.
What do you strive to accomplish with your designs? How do you want customers to feel in the clothing and how do you define a successful design?
I really want women to feel comfortable and confident. I want them to feel at ease, not restricted, so I've been working on with the ready-to-wear team to bring a polished ease and fluidity to the collection. I think, for me, what's been so exciting is seeing a range of different types of women gravitating towards the same dress.
What do you feel the fashion industry is lacking?
I think seeing more women designing for women. There are a lot of incredible male designers out there but I think being female helps a designer's instinct of what women really want to wear next. The other thing that I think brands could do more of is putting the customers first. Designers should be striving to make the customers' lives better or easier, rather than just making a fashion statement for the sake of it.
You talk about a vintage aesthetic of Kate Spade and how there's a lot of referencing of vintage styles. What kind of background do you have with vintage clothing that you think you bring to your role now?
The brand has always had a bit of a vintage reference so I've wanted to make it more modern and a little bit less retro. I personally love wearing vintage, and love looking at vintage fabrics and patterns. In the most recent collection, we incorporated a touch of the 1940s, using little touches like ruching and gathering at the shoulder, but nothing too overt. It shouldn't strike you as being too vintage, but we're always inspired by certain details, and evolving them with more modern fabrics.
So, even though I come from a predominantly handbag and accessory design background, I actually own more pairs of shoes than bags.
Can you recall an iconic outfit that you've worn?
My wedding dress because it was actually the first time I really designed a piece of clothing. I was 9 weeks pregnant at the time and when I was designing it I knew I would kind of have a baby because I was doing fertility treatments. It was a bias cut with a low back because I wanted it to feel very fluid and easy. But I did feel very happy and comfortable in it.
What style item do you covet most? What do you typically gravitate towards when you go shopping?
So, even though I come from a predominantly handbag and accessory design background, I actually own more pairs of shoes than bags. I think there's something about shoes, they really do help change an outfit. I own multiples of the same thing, like these tall boots from our spring collection. My favorite color was the lilac but I have them in a roasted fig and white. I also do tend to gravitate toward tailored denim, and not necessarily just a pant — I like denim when it's used in a more unexpected way.
Are there any particular brands that you love for denim?
Chloé always does a good job of denim, or brands like the danish brand Ganni — it has really interesting approach to the fabric. I was wearing a pair of theirs this summer that had a really big, wide flair and they're just amazing.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.