Harvey's Nick is coming up on the rails: At 23, Nicholas Knightly is selling in one of London's smartest stores and putting on his own show in London Fashion Week. Roger Tredre met him

THREE teenage models tumble out of the door, giggling and pushing back their hair. It is the end of a lengthy casting session. Nicholas Knightly, designer, has been looking for girls who have the right kind of image to model his clothes on the catwalk.

He is treating the casting with the utmost seriousness. He carefully examines the last girl's book, murmurs approval, and asks her to try on a pair of five-inch platforms. He watches closely as she tries to walk in them. Is this the acid test? 'Oh no,' he says, flicking a smile. 'This is the Cinderella test.'

Even in hard times, everyone wants to go to the ball in London Fashion Week. It is the highlight of the fashion year, when London overflows with designers, buyers, models, journalists, photographers, and the groupies who manage to find a way into every show and party.

In this hothouse atmosphere, the hunt is on for new talent. London may be a pipsqueak alongside Paris and Milan, but it is still a place where people search out the new.

And now a newcomer, Nicholas Knightly, a 23-year-old from Sussex, moves centre-stage. No more than a year out of college, he has already impressed some very influential people.

Today he is showing his first full collection in a gallery in Covent Garden, making his debut alongside established talents such as Jasper Conran, Betty Jackson and Nicole Farhi.

He is a slight figure with a short haircut and a boyish charm. At the same time, his manner can be reserved, a touch camp, even arrogant. Clearly he is a born fashion designer.

At the Independent shoot, he insisted on using his own model. He was right, of course, although his manner was less than diplomatic. Kathleen Hall, his assistant, says: 'Nicholas knows exactly what he wants. And he usually gets it.'

Knightly left Ravensbourne College last year with first class honours and a commendation. Angela Woods, head of the school of fashion, remembers him as 'one of the most hard-working students we've had in a long time, an astound-

ing character, full of commitment and dedication'.

His final-year student show was impressive: some immaculate tailoring; tangerine long riding skirts; sharp white shirts teamed with cummerbunds of oriental print satin.

He gained useful work experience with Vivienne Westwood, who scribbled an enthusiastic note to her friend Christian Lacroix recommending the young designer: 'You really really really must give him a job.'

Lacroix didn't, but Knightly found opportunities elsewhere, catching the eye of Amanda Verdan, fashion director at Harvey Nichols. 'He came in to see me to ask me for advice, and I thought he was definitely someone special. His cut is amazing, and I've been very impressed by his attention to detail and quality.'

Verdan has become the inspirational force behind Knightly's solo career. This summer the Knightsbridge store stocked a resort-wear collection by Knightly of swimsuits and beach separates. The autumn collection, now in stock, includes a jeans range.

Can Knightly really make an impact? Angela Woods has no doubt: 'I would put money on it.'

Adrian Clark, fashion editor of the trade newspaper Fashion Weekly and a friend of Knightly's from their days as Saturday shop assistants at Harrods, thinks he has the right attitude. 'He has two minds - one that thinks commercially, and another that is pure fashion, like an old-school couturier.'

Knightly believes his three years at college helped hugely: 'It was like three years in the territorial army. The course was very demanding.' At Ravensbourne he honed his cutting skills. 'I have never been much interested in drawing. I don't see how things can develop in that way. I like to work in 3D.'

For a newcomer, he has an impressive knowledge of fashion history. In an hour, he quotes Chanel and Diana Vreeland, and tosses in Charles James, Balenciaga and Claire McCardell.

Of the bunch, he clearly reveres James, a brilliant Anglo-American couturier who, in the Forties and Fifties, brought sculptural tailoring to a rare peak of perfection (he also died penniless and a drug addict; one of many fashion designers who have found the pressures too great).

Knightly has spent hours in the vaults of the Victoria & Albert Museum searching out the best of James: from the fitted coats with spiral-seamed sleeves of the early Thirties through to the celebrated 'four-leaf- clover' dress of 1953 (the V&A has the patterns).

Like James, Knightly's interest is in form. He abhors superfluous detail. 'So many designers are obsessed with details simply for the sake of doing them.'

The collection that is unveiled today is broad, perhaps too broad for a first catwalk show: tailoring, jersey separates, denim, swim wear, even evening wear. His influences are diverse, but no one period or style dominates: 'I want the collection to look modern, timeless, rather than refer to any particular period.'

The outfit pictured here signals an impeccable taste: a soft wool crepe verdigris jacket with full raglan-cut sleeves and a drawstring waist; and a cream wool crepe full skirt, worn with a Stephen Jones hat and those precarious platforms.

Knightly is self-financed. He works from home in Battersea, uses British manufacturers, and wants to carry on doing so. 'I'm determined to stay in London. It's an amazing place, not just for fashion, but for its buildings, its people, its idiosyncracies. It's a shame that good designers like Ozbek weren't looked after and have had to turn abroad, earning money for other countries.'

So who will look after Knightly? After a few hours in the company of this confident young designer, you get the impression he will have no trouble at all looking after himself.

Nicholas Knightly's autumn collection is at Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, London.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

    £20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

    Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

    £24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

    Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

    Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there