Jaclyn Bethany: Hi, Nicola! Thanks for chatting with me. Where did you grow up, and where are you currently based?
Nicola Woods: My family are from East London originally and I was born there. But my parents are very gentle, peaceful people, and when my sister and I were very young, they gave up the big smoke in favor of trees and open green space. We grew up surrounded by Epping Forest, waking up to fresh air, birds singing, and watching shooting stars in a clear sky. I love being outside and find endless inspiration when I can breathe in fresh air and surround myself with nature and flowers! That said, I also love the hustle and bustle and diversity that London has to offer. It’s about finding a balance, I guess.
JB: Where are you based now?
NW: Having traveled the world, worked, and studied in London for all of my adult life, I moved to West London with my husband and set up my studio a stone’s throw from the Portobello Road. One of the key requirements of living in London was to find a home surrounded by trees and outdoor space, and I live a short stroll from my studio, which makes life easier considering the hours I work.
JB: Who is the Beautiful Soul woman that you design for?
NW: The label has a timeless appeal. A Beautiful Soul woman ranges from 26 to 60 years old and appreciates intelligent and classic design. She pays attention to fine details, and although she likes to dress for the moment, she equally appreciates wearing classic pieces that cannot be identified as a passing trend, but instead can be worn season after season—and also lend themselves to being passed from mother to daughter. She has a desire to be different, while not shouting for attention. Her quirkiness is intriguing. She has a strong sense of direction and, while she enjoys the brand’s unique signature prints, she also cares about where her clothes are made and wants to ensure that the fabrics have been sourced with a kind consciousness.
JB: What was your path into the fashion industry?
NW: I took an unconventional route…. After working in a fast-paced career in corporate insurance for 11 years, I took a sabbatical to travel the world with my best friend: a whistle stop tour, Thelma and Louise style, taking in 16 countries in six months! During this adventure of a lifetime, I found my calling while sitting under a cherry blossom tree in the heart of Tokyo and began to envision my career path from a different point of view—one with endless opportunities. In that moment, I realized that I needed to make radical changes to my lifestyle and revisit my childhood ambition of design, and I haven’t looked back since.
Upon returning to London, I underwent training at the London College of Fashion, earning a BA (Hons) in Fashion, Design, and Technology (Creative Pattern Cutter) and launched Beautiful Soul London in 2011.
JB: I love that your designs are all made ethically—it’s still such a rarity in the fashion industry. Have you always been a champion of the green movement?
NW: During my degree, I was set the challenge of designing a collection made out of old junk! While many students didn’t seem enthusiastic, for me, my creativity came to life while searching through skips and recycling plants. It taught me to delve beneath the surface and think outside the box.
The penny dropped: I designed a range of dresses made out of the most paint-splattered dust sheets I could find, which I embellished with components from broken washing machines and microwave ovens! I loved everything about this project and it opened my mind completely, but most of all, I loved meeting a wonderful woman, Orsola de Castro, who has since become a good friend. Orsola was a guest speaker and shared her passion about up-cycling to a packed lecture hall of students, one of which was me! From that very moment, a seed was planted….
My final collection was inspired by Wabi-Sabi, the quintessential Japanese aesthetic focused on finding beauty in all things imperfect, modest, and humble. Each piece in the collection was one-of-a-kind and expertly tailored (by me!) from up-cycled vintage Japanese Kimono’s dating back to the 1940s—the love and craftsmanship that went into making every single garment gave me a true understanding of the production line.
After graduating, Orsola and my friends at the Ethical Fashion Forum and the Centre for Sustainable Fashion encouraged me to show my Kimono Collection at Estethica, which was founded by the British Fashion Council with Orsola de Castro and Filippo Ricci to promote sustainable fashion at the heart of London Fashion Week, and the V&A museum stocked the Kimono collection for several seasons.
If you get a moment, please watch the documentary The True Cost, which explains my vision and passion for creating pieces that are beautiful, inside and out.
JB: You have had some high-profile and inspiring women wear your clothes thus far. Which of these women in particular stand out to you?
NW: I love to create pieces for truly inspiring, influential, and elegant women—those who strive to make positive change and whose beauty radiates from deep within. I have been incredibly lucky and have built a following of loyal supporters and friends including Pippa Middleton, Kristin Davis, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Livia Firth, Amber Valletta, Amanda Hearst, Pixie Geldof and Erin O’Connor, to name a few.
JB: Are there any British designers whose work you particularly enjoy?
NW: I admire the work ethic and ethos of fellow British designers Ada Zanditon, Tracey Ellis from Shanti Sundays, Charlie Cohen and Imogen Beldfield, who have also built their labels from scratch with an awful lot of passion and sweat equity. I am also a huge fan of Kirsty Ward, who has just launched a new label with her husband David Longshaw, called Longshaw Ward.
JB: What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?
NW: My studio is based in Portobello (in the heart of Notting Hill.) I love the infusion of thhe colors, the smells, the locals, the visitors, the diversity, the culture, the architecture, the fashion—the energy.
In terms of a typical day, it’s a juggling act of craziness! Building a fashion label from scratch means that at times, the volume of duties is daunting: From designing prints and new collections to securing investment and developing the business structure and supply-chain (to name just a few aspects on my mind). I also focus on nurturing long-term relationships with our supporters and core consumers, which in turn has helped me to build a loyal following of women who respect the brand’s ethos, direction, and DNA.
JB: Tell me about your SS17 collection. What was the inspiration behind it? How was it made?NW: I am passionate about challenging the fast fashion system and I set myself the challenge of reworking my favorite Signature Hydrangea and Blossom prints from Beautiful Soul’s archive. I’m embracing the movement toward ‘slow fashion.’ I have named the collection “Patti Wilson” after my mum, and what is most precious about our pieces is that they transcend age and generations, lending themselves to the passing from mother to daughter, aunt to niece, or sister to sister.
I designed the Signature Hydrangea print by taking inspiration from my childhood memories of collecting pet ladybirds with my sister and keeping them safe on our grandmother’s blooming hydrangeas. ★
Beautiful Soul’s timeless, seasonless collections are available online via their own e-commerce website (and lucky for Constellation readers worldwide, they ship internationally!): www.beautiful-soul.co.uk. For private sales appointments at the Beautiful Soul London Studio, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.