In early September, on the second floor of the newly-opened Nicole Farhi flagship in London's Conduit Street, O:Man got to see the first, finished pieces from the label's autumn/winter menswear collection up close for for the first time since. So did the man who designed them, Massimo Nicosia. Thanks to a holiday in Mexico and subsequent trips to Europe and Asia in the line of duty, the cosmopolitan Italian, who came to the Anglo-French label after heading a venerable Scottish brand, hadn't previously had the chance.
In the windows and on the hangers, the refinements that you might have missed from the catwalk, let alone by looking at a photo, came to life. There's a quiet subversiveness in the way the garments' sober shades and sharp tailoring only reveal the secrets of their unusual textures when you get up close. That, as Nicosia explained, was part of the idea.
"I really like working with an idea in my mind so that the energy will be focused. Sometimes I work with a decade or a geographical area or something like that, but this one was very abstract: one of Nicole's favourite things, which is linen. Nicole loves linen, and of course linen is a very spring/summer yarn and fabric, and in this case it was really about reworking linen for this season."
Because he wanted that to work with clothes that were not only warm, but also had much stronger silhouettes than linen allows, the fabric was was mixed with wool, bonded with jersey, and backed by mesh in various pieces from the collection, which also includes some nice chalk-striped flannel and clever takes on modern winter staples like the pea-coat.
"When I joined Nicole Farhi I was asked to reinterpret Nicole Farhi", Nicosia recalled - hence the mix of classic suity structures and "soft and scrunchy textures." It's hard to imagine now he could have embraced the brief more emphatically. No wonder that, when his appointment was announced shortly before the new collection was seen in Milan in January, Farhi said that her new menswear man "has a sensibility very close to mine."
Yet he might never had got his hands on a pair of scissors in earnest had fate not intervened. Though "already obsessed with clothes" in his teens, Nicosia responsibly decided to study architecture in Florence. Soon after completing his six-year degree, he found himself designing stands and installations for special displays by brands like Prada and Zegna at the city's fabled men's fashion trade show centre, Pitti. That led to a job at Alessandro Dell'Acqua, where Nicosia learned quickly about every other aspect of fashion, from cutting to casting. "At an independent label", he says, "you have the struggle, but also the freedom, the creativity. It's not a corporation or a Cathedral of Art." Then he was recruited by Pringle of Scotland to extend its menswear image beyond argyle jumpers and polos, without leaving that past behind.
"As an Italian, I probably knew more about it than most Scottish people, because I was interested in the heritage, but also the environment of a brand like Pringle. Nicole Farhi is not so different in the way; it's a completely different approach to the collection, but in each case there is a lot of identity and in each case there is 'lifestyle', which is so clever for a brand. There are a lot of very directional fashion brands, but Nicole has built style rather than fashion, and that lasts."