Nicholas Deakins: Ghost of past, present and future
Its early evening in mid-December 2015 and the city’s ambitions are near and low. Through the darkening drizzle, dreams for most extend no further than that night’s warmth or this month’s Christmas. Yet, as I arrive at an industrial Armley office, I am reminded that those are not the mind-sets of a forward-thinking success story.
At Nicholas Deakins HQ, it is already December 2016. Founder Craig Nicholas Tate is enthusiastically talking me through ideas for their 25th anniversary with an infectious passion, undiminished by time. As prototypes of vinyl invitations, storytelling photoshoots, exciting collaborations and typically skilled design spew forth, it is evident why Nicholas Deakins has survived and thrived throughout its existence as an independent Leeds business in a giant corporate world.
This is a brand that has made an immediate and lasting impact, built a strong heritage, gained loyal support, delivered consistent quality, and remained true to its origins without standing still. Whilst it now has diverse and far-reaching strands across nations and customers, the original retail core that drives Nicholas Deakins remains as crucial as ever.
“We sold concessions in Accent Menswear,” says Craig of their retail beginnings. “We stocked out the back wall with our shoes, displayed for some reason on denim shelves!” From there, Nicholas Deakins opened their own first store in the Corn Exchange. “It was a tiny space, all shoes and single branded, which is a rare thing,” he explains. Their fashion-conscious, made-in-England footwear cornered the market, and the store quickly expanded, first within the same building to two knocked-through units, then to a space at the bottom of the Victoria Quarter.
After close to a decade in each location, 18 months ago Nicholas Deakins moved once more to their new Boar Lane home. “We move organically, but each shift is towards footfall,” says Craig. “Even in a different part of the same town there is new business, now on the commuter run and the prime area of Trinity.” The shop itself is their first new opening since growing the product range into clothing, as Craig explains; “Our previous stores were designed for footwear and, as the clothing developed, it had to fit around that. Now shoes are all on one wall and the new store is the first to reflect us as a lifestyle brand.”
Alongside their own changes over the years, Nicholas Deakins have had to successfully adapt to industry shifts, in particular increasing online consumption. “Personally I still find it odd, as buying clothes is a very tactile experience, but stores are now more of a showroom and a presence on the high street,” says Craig, who cites Black Friday as a reflection of how and where shopping is altering; “Takings were up but in one year it has switched from 60/40 store to 60/40 online.” Rather than seeing this as a reason to remove their physical presence, Nicholas Deakins intend to increase it, both through concessions in retailers across the market, and by possible expansion to more of their own stores in carefully selected cities.
Regardless of buying methods, it is product that remains the key attraction, and Nicholas Deakins are experts at balancing the consistency of their original designs with the innovation of improvement, to keep customers new and old enticed. This year’s favourites include: Redo, a classic suede shoe; Trigger, a new standout winter boot design; Ewood, a jacket in traditional navy, black or khaki colours; Marsoc, a metallic red water resistant coat; Bragg, a stylishly subtle shirt; and Miles, a youthful brand-carrying t-shirt.
These highlight the wide appeal of modern-day Nicholas Deakins, where their distinctive designs and silhouettes are both preserved and updated. “If something sells well and is relevant then we’ll expand on a look that works,” explains Craig. “With colours, materials, stitching, detail… it creates a resurgence in our classic range and a new, more experimental fashion.”
It is for this reason that a brand steeped in tradition with a loyal local following have continued to deliver through new eras. “A lot of people that grew up with us are now dads, who pass it on to their sons,” says Craig, something which would only happen if they cared. “We were a part of their lives, creating memories, which they’re passionate about. That nostalgia makes people happy.” And what better reason to celebrate Nicholas Deakins than as an ongoing Leeds success spreading happiness across generations.