Wendy Nichol is known for her standout leather bags and accent jewelry, from tassel-decked satchels and leopard-print pouches to revamped hoops and studs. The eclectic accessory designer originally studied food and nutrition sciences in college; luckily, she recognized the error of her ways early on. “I would walk past the fashion department and be like, I think I’m in the wrong classroom,” she says. “After graduation, I wasn’t that excited about working in a diabetes clinic, as it turns out.” Instead, she snagged a job as a technical assistant at Club Monaco, where she worked her way through the ranks to become the accessories buyer and designer in four years.
She launched her first eponymous jewelry collection in January 2007, starting with a pyramid cuff hand-sewn from glove leather. Her work with leather led her to launch a small line of handbags in January 2009. “Most bags these days turn me off — they look mass produced, like 200 of them were shipped in plastic with salt packets,” she says. “Ours are cut by hand, so they have a handmade quality to them.” The pouches, satchels, and bucket bags are all made in Nichol’s three-month-old boutique on Sullivan Street. The shop doubles as a studio, where she and four others construct one-off pieces and small-batch collections in back. We caught up with the designer to discuss her traffic-stopping coat collection, top thrifting sources, and more.
What kind of a person do you envision wearing your designs?
Someone who wants great utility out of their bag and wants an understated downtown feeling. I like having a bit of fun in my work. Right now I have this black lambskin pouch in the store with fur on the inside, so it’s warm and fuzzy when you reach into it. It’s a little sexy.
What's the inspiration behind your line?
Lately, I've been getting really into American Craft magazine. I have a bunch of vintage copies from the seventies and eighties, and it's just amazing — super avant-garde craft.
Who are your favorite designers?
I love Margiela: His things have a sense of humor but they’re also so clean. I’m a sucker for black leather. I also obsess over Stine Goya and Henrik Vibskov — I just bought his wool cape. And I live in fashion sweatpants from RosenMunns in San Francisco.
What’s the first designer item you ever bought?
I think it was a banker-striped polo by Ralph Lauren. I wore it with a pair of pinned, tapered worker pants, scrunched socks, and Bass Weejuns penny loafers. It was a thing.
Where do you shop in New York?
I love No. 6., and I thrift. Beacon’s Closet in Park Slope is an untapped source. Every time I go, I find one or two things where I’m like, I can’t believe this is here. Narnia also has really good stuff, though it’s a little pricey.
How would you describe your personal style?
Kind of forest-casual. I don’t like things that are sexy; I like when you have to sort of imagine what’s underneath. I tend to wear voluminous coats. I have this crazy camo jacket from RosenMunns made of camel polar fleece. It looks like a bathrobe with Norma Kamali shoulders — it’s my favorite thing to put on. And I’m only interested in walking on wood; I love clogs.
What trends are you appreciating right now?
I really like mixing different graphics and patterns, and I love cocooning in long skirts and long coats.
Any trends you’re ready to see retired?
Generally, I think people should wear what they’re comfortable in, but I’m not a big fan of Uggs. They were really handcrafted when they first started, and I feel like that’s changed. I like to be surprised. Sometimes you see a girl wearing something that makes you go, Wow, that’s thoughtful and exciting. When you put yourself together this morning, you tweaked it a bit. Thank you for that.
What’s one item you’re saving up to buy?
I have my eye on these Margiela boots. They’re a wedge, but he nailed the leather onto the wedge into the shape of a heel. They blow my mind.
What should every woman have in her closet?
An amazing winter coat or trench. The right coat is empowering, somehow. You know how some people have a shoe thing? I have a coat obsession.
What’s something you never leave the house without?
My Billy Kid washed tote. It’s a leather tote that can handle a laptop and anything else — you could have a small apartment in this bag, and it would hold. It’s really beat-up and worn-in looking, which makes me like it even more.