Time for tiaras and to be guided by your gut. The delightful Nicki Macfarlane shares her journey thus far and her dreams for Macfarlane London…
If there’s one woman who embodies the indefatigable, entrepreneurial, and sheer sparkling creativity of the wedding-industry spirit, it is surely captured in this wonderful woman, Nicki Macfarlane. Her eponymous British childrenswear label dazzled and delighted even royalty itself (Nicki dressed four little girls for the Duchess of Cambridge at that wedding).
And so it was with a deep sense of shock and real loss reverberating across the entire wedding world, that in October 2017, Nicki’s home-grown British company went into liquidation.
But you can’t keep a good woman down for long. And this woman is one of the industry’s best. We spend a delightful afternoon with Nicki, and are now sharing with you her warmth, her wisdom and her wit. Read on and find out what the inimitable Nicki did next…
Nicki, thank you so much for sharing your wonderfully inspiring story with us. What exactly happened to the Nicki Macfarlane brand?
The company was hit by a perfect storm. We had been exporting the vast majority of our dresses abroad – to over 20 countries, in fact – and rising costs and uncertainties in this market eventually meant we just couldn’t keep our heads above water. Any economic or political wobbles in these countries had an effect and made the trading landscape unstable and unknown.
As a ‘high end’ childrenswear brand we also faced commercial competitiveness on an unprecedented scale. Those were the long-term factors but at the time, it really just hit us hard as something of an overnight shock. It was absolutely dreadful for us and everyone who worked for us.
That sounds utterly heartbreaking. What has happened to the Nicki Macfarlane brand?
The brand has been bought by a manufacturer who is based between Italy and India. Initially, I was going to stay with the company but I soon realised that my vision for the future was on a different trajectory and one very much based around my commitment to, and passion for, British design.
I had a revelatory, ‘be true to yourself’ moment in a meeting one day: my quintessentially British roots must have suddenly kicked in – so I wished everyone good luck, picked up my handbag, and left.
Nicki, you’re our hero. We can see that now as a movie scene. What has life been like since you walked away from the business?
Thrilling and daunting! Initially I felt as though my oxygen mask had been removed. I was so used to having a ‘to do’ list that went three times round the block and I remember thinking: “Gosh, what shall I do now?”
But designing for this industry is my lifelong passion and it’s in my DNA: my grandfather started a toy company from scratch and my brother was the CEO of a ski company. I heard them saying to me, “Come on girl! This is in the blood and this is what we do!”
So, tell us about what Nicki decided to do next…
I regrouped and listened to my gut. I always had a vision for designing stonkingly good designer British dresses without compromise, and I started drawing again from scratch and staying true to that guiding philosophy.
My whole experience these past few years has been a journey of introspection and, actually, a rather useful exercise; I realised how much I had lost of the true, authentic ‘me’, and how far I had inadvertently steered away from myself.
I decided to step back from the corporate side of a business and focus instead on delivering a hands-on approach, full of the tailored, personal touch, and with brilliant customer service to boot. So I created Macfarlane London!
How incredibly exciting and we’re thrilled to bits for you! Tell us about Macfarlane London and how stockists can work with you…
We remain committed to the very best of British design. Many brides still crave elements of the uber-traditional, classic, and formal in their bridesmaids’ dresses, but also want a shimmy of glamour, or a cleaner, more modern look to accompany the many weddings that now take place abroad.
We are working with floaty, ethereal fabrics that can accommodate embellishments and adornments, as well as our classic and unique take on the immaculately-dressed bridesmaid. We want to offer stockists a flexible and bespoke service that gives the retailer more scope at the micro level; instead of having to stock specific styles, for example, we’d happily work with requests for different necklines or sleeve styles etc.
For everyone involved, there is so much joyfulness in dressing little girls and I can’t see that ever changing or going away. I very often have girls come for a fitting and confidently declaring, “Nicki, I don’t do dresses”, and I’d think well that’s a good start! And by the time they leave they’re begging for an extra three petticoats and possibly a tiara thrown in for good measure!
Precisely! We are all of us little princesses at heart. We hope Kate’s little bridesmaids didn’t give you a hard time…
Oh no! And Catherine is an absolute sweetheart. It was such a warm and beautiful family wedding – just in rather grand surroundings! We were living in such a bubble; the whole thing had to be kept a giant secret, even from our family, and I don’t think we fully woke up until about three days after the event.
We had to be at Clarence House by six am that day and we really hadn’t seen everything together – the bridesmaids’ dresses next to Kate’s dress etc – and so we were all just thoroughly frightened. It wasn’t until all the girls and Kate walked up the aisle that we knew we’d got it right.
And we gather there was the odd porky pie or two surrounding your involvement with the big day…
Yes! After the wedding, some of the people in our village were reporting that they had seen stretch limo after stretch limo coming to my house to pick up the bridesmaids’ dresses and whisk them away to London. The truth is that I bounced up and down the M4 with the dresses in tow in my beaten-up little Ford Focus!
Nicki, what have the past few years taught you that you can pass on?
I’ve learned that success can be double-edged. We had built ourselves on our intuition and ‘feel’ for the dresses but as the company grew, we either stopped listening to that or were unable to be guided by it. Ultimately, we had less control. I wonder if now is not the time for
Lulu Guinness once advised me never to be swayed by fashion fads or tempted by other designers’ looks. To stick to what I am known for has worked for me, albeit with a nod to current trends. To reinvent with anything other than your personal look, however, is always unsuccessful and I am pretty sure Lulu was right!
The wedding industry is facing a climate of uncertainty, but I’d also like to say how unique this industry is – and how incredibly lucky we are. I know designers who are in direct competition with one another who are also the best of friends! The industry has to be unique in that respect and I have personally felt its effects; I have been overwhelmed by the support I have received. It has been this support that has enabled me to say to myself, “Pick yourself up and get going Nicola!”
Lastly – tell us about the true meaning behind Macfarlane London’s tiara logo?
Sassi Holford and I had a brain-storming, cosy night in over a bottle of wine and I have her to thank for the idea. It looks like a crown but it’s actually a tiara with a secret message: whenever I have any doubts, I say to myself: “it’s time to put on your invisible tiara, Nicki, and go get ‘em”.It’s my confidence tiara!
See the full range of beautiful designs at macfarlanelondon.com