We're bringing back Desk Side, our column in which we visit the workspaces of some of our favorite fashion and beauty creatives to get the scoop on what's inspiring them right now.
Nicola Glass's office faces the back of the midtown building that houses Kate Spade New York's headquarters. She actually likes that, she says, because you can't hear the traffic bustling around-the-clock outside. It's quiet, calming — a feeling that's further enhanced by the dusty-pink color she's painted the walls, the cozy-plus couch and seats that face her desk and a selection of plants scattered throughout.
She's been at the gig for two years now, but Glass has kept the actual décor in her office quite minimal — but, as the unveiling of her Fall 2020 collection for Kate Spade New York looms, a board with the full lookbook has taken over. Though the brand typically does runway shows, it decided to forego the traditional New York Fashion Week format in favor of hosting press, editors and influencers at its office to see the new designs up close and personal, through appointments. It's only a slight change of pace, Glass says.
What was the first thing you did to the office when you moved in?
Well, the first thing I did was probably paint it. It was beautiful, but there was this big wallpaper and white walls. Now, it's this lilac-grey tone. But actually, what was funny was that when I first moved in, people were like, 'So we need to decorate your office.' And I'm like, 'Well, hold on a minute — it's not top priority on my list, I think I need to start product stuff first.'
It's interesting, everyone who walks in this room now says, 'Oh it's so calm in here.' Part of it is the color. It brings a certain warmth. I also think I'm lucky because my office is situated at the back of the buildings, so you don't even really hear traffic. We brought some plants in — there used to be more, but Susie, my assistant, and I, we seem to have a knack at killing them. But I do love having plants and greenery around.
Then, this [credenza, behind the desk] was something that I had in my home. I bought it on a whim at the flea market in Paris about four years ago. It didn't quite fit with for a new apartment, but I could bring it to the office. It's this beautiful kind of art-deco piece, which I do think subconsciously inspired some of the hardware [in my collections]. Some of the pieces I started doing were enamel and a bit a like the handles on this.
This [art piece] was commissioned from an artist who was at the Royal College of Art with me — she was in the textile department, I was in the fashion department. She creates these beautiful pieces in leather.
I keep collecting other pictures and things I want to put in the walls, but I haven't gotten that far yet. I just have a picture of my son — and this crystal, that he gave me after the very first fashion show. It was one that we had internally, for all the employees, before the Spring 2019 show. It was just a great moment for us, since not everyone can go to your actual fashion show. My son was at it, and afterwards we'd gone for drinks on Fifth Avenue. He's obsessed with crystals, and he was like, 'Let's go in [that store],' and so he got me that.
I see the board for Fall 2020, too. Where do you get inspiration from? What has been fueling you creatively?
I approached the collection in different ways. It's a very organic process. I usually start with one little thought — this season, it was this idea of an enchanted forest and a journey through it. You'll see how that really wove its way through the whole collection in a subtle way, whether it's that you need to come up close to discover some of the novelty or it's these mushroom rings or little branch earrings or it's this beautiful almost psychedelic floral [print].
At the same time, I really like to think of the things we know our customer loves, like an animal print or a floral or a tweed or a polka dot — how do we play with that and evolve it? And then styling, really playing with pieces that are casual and easy, as well as with pieces that are dressy. I love the fact that some of the looks are one color, like this marigold yellow with this beautiful butter.
The footwear this season, I guess I was being quite pragmatic. Our girls and women are on the move, so I love these ballet flats that you can just slip on; or, when you do want a bit more height, this loafer with a block heel or a platform.
My current favorite bags — the Margaux in a new color, this new camera bag that has this beautiful infinity interlocking spade... I'm playing with proportion as well, from these micro bags that you could hide a little secret in to this satchel that's going to take your life for you for the day.
I always start with an idea rather than a season. For spring, I'd been thinking of an urban safari and how you can find the green spaces within the city, and it just really evolves from that. Then, I start thinking: What's the color palette? What are some of these fun details that our customers [will love], like the fun mushroom rings or this belt?
Then, one of the other things about fall was that we decided not to do fashion show. It just felt with everything that's going on in the world, we wanted to pause and think about why that's the right format for us but at the same time show editors and our customer the thought and rigor that goes in to pulling the looks together. Whether the show happens or not, we still do all of this work. That's why we came up with this lookbook format, where they're given a glance behind the scenes. We also created a series of videos that are going up on our Instagram and other social media which will bring the collection to life on a diverse cast of women.
It's interesting to see both professional and non-professional models, people from different backgrounds, all wearing the pieces — because they'll also have different approaches to style, but are working within the same collection.
As a brand, we're not dictating a head-to-toe look. The reality is we're not changing our whole closet every season, but you want to update it with special pieces you integrate into your own closet and style them in your own way. We wanted to continue that feeling of individuality, of feeling true to the person wearing the pieces in the lookbook.
Has the appointment approach to fashion week changed your approach to it or the preparation at all?
If we were doing a show, I'd be full-on with the team [the week before], in fittings or other things. What was different was that we did the work earlier. But the clothes and the bags were already here because our market [appointments] happen a bit earlier than the show, anyway. So we really went through exactly the same process. It's a little bit calmer this week, since we shot it all in January.
You're wearing a full look from the Fall 2020 collection. Is that something you normally do, ahead of its debut?
I do like to wear a piece from the collection usually on the day of the show. But also, I'm kind of dying to try them on [by then]. Wearing them yourself, it gives you a feeling for fit.
You talked about how you start a collection with an idea. What's your design process once you have that?
I'll work closely with a smaller group of people where we talk about my idea and I'll start collecting images or we'll shop vintage. We'll then put together a mood board and also a print inspiration board.
Truthfully, our biggest product category is handbags, but we have 30 product categories so I have to kick off the process quite far in advance. Literally for spring — what we would show in September — we kicked it off two weeks ago [in January]. The reason is, with certain products, like swimwear and home and bedding, there's a longer lead time. To make sure it all feels very cohesive, I need to get the color palette and print direction rolling first. So you're juggling multiple collections at once. Then, it's really a process of collaboration between teams. It continues to evolve over the season.
Especially considering Kate Spade New York is releasing collections outside of the spring/fall season.
If you look at the industry, it's becoming a little bit more seasonless. It's less about dropping the collection and having it sit on the floor for three months and then the next season comes in — it flows in. Actually, where you see the animal print in Fall 2020, it's a drop that we'll have in October, when our customers are starting to think about holiday party dressing. The reality is that fall starts to deliver in August, September. By the time you get to October, this little refresh that comes in.
Something that's interesting about your work at the brand how you've made references to brand codes from the archive — even like just hiring Tim Walker, who shot many Kate Spade New York campaigns in the day, to work on your ads. What's the most interesting or surprising thing you've discovered in the archives?
I have to be honest, I'm a little sad that they don't have this big beautifully packaged archive — I feel we keep discovering pieces because the design team will find something on eBay. What you do find, which I think is really fun, is that in the handbag production area, there are all the novelty wicker bags that the brand has done over the years, everything from a camel to a crocodile. Those pieces I love, because there's this element of craftsmanship to them, and you're always like, 'Wow, it's clever how they made that.'
This is a brand that's got such a rich heritage. I'm particularly inspired by like what Kate and Andy Spade did at the beginning. Coming in, I didn't want to turn the brand upside down — it was like, how do you modernize it? There was a pragmatism as well as a playfulness. The very first bag she did, there was this purity to the design approach. It was quite clean, and that's important to me.
Even when we have elements of hardware and locks on a bag, it's still very thoughtful. I don't want it to be over-designed. It's functional. How do you weave in that clever wit that they had? Because I think that was quite magical and makes us different from other brands. It's one of the reasons why I'd wanted to work with Tim Walker. We just keep finding certain things in the archive where I'm like, 'Oh that's how we can do that in a new way.'
Is there piece that you've designed for Kate Spade New York that feels particularly personal to you, that represents what you've been trying to achieve at the brand?
I'm going to I say two pieces. The bag named after me, the Nicola bag. I like that the heart spade hardware is a little unexpected. Then, the spade floral pattern, which I like because it doesn't feel like a typical logo pattern to brand — they'll use letters, but this almost feels inspired by a wallpaper or tapestry.
Do you have any post-fashion week traditions?
Usually, our shows are early in the morning, so I'll go for a drink or lunch with some of the team and then spend time with my family. But the timing with fashion week always lands just as I'm about to go to Europe. I'm seeing press on Friday and Monday, and then Monday afternoon I'm getting on the plane to Paris for the fabric and leather fairs. It always feels like my release is I'm on a plane. I actually don't mind being on planes. It's kind of nice to have alone time to read.
This interview has been edited and condensed.