In our address book
In our address book
Trying on Nico’s contemporary classic eyewear
Words by Noah Russell
A visit to eyewear designer Nico Thompson, one of RBKC’s newest creative companies
The Former Factory
Canalot Studios is a short walk from Westbourne Park, on the banks of the Grand Union Canal. This former Victorian factory is now a hub for West London’s creative entrepreneurs, with large windows and bright communal spaces overlooking the water.
One of the studios is occupied by Nico Thompson Eyewear. The room is decorated with tasteful pieces of antique furniture, while the shelves on the walls display a collection of stylish sunglasses. And, on a sunny afternoon in early summer, we visited to learn the story behind the brand.
Nico comes from a family of opticians. His grandfather, Leonard, left Sheffield aged 14 and began working in a London glazing factory. After fighting in the Second World War, he took an evening degree in optometry, before moving to East Sussex and setting up an optician’s practice in Hove. Eventually his son, Alan, joined the business, and a second practice in Sussex was opened.
A Family Affair
In 1992 the family relocated to Cobham, in Surrey. This was where Nico grew up, and he soon started spending weekends in his father’s opticians. The practice contained a laboratory, where he learnt how to glaze during the summer holidays, but he had no plans to join the family firm: ‘My father very much told me not to do it,’ Nico explains. ‘He’s a very generous and loving man, and he was like: go and enjoy yourself. So I went to university, studied History of Art.’
The Cobham practice, Ellis & Thompson, also contained a store room with boxes of ‘dead’ stock: old frames that had never been worn or sold. While at university, Nico began glazing these frames with tinted lenses and selling them to fellow students as funky sunglasses.
At that point Nico takes out a tray of vintage frames from the 70s, showing some of the outlandish styles that were popular at the time. ‘This is the kind of thing I sold at university – just wacky pieces for people of that age. I try to buy new vintage, never been worn, but it’s hard to find something mint. That was part of the reason for creating my own brand, because vintage is obviously a finite resource.’
Vintage & Contemporary
When designing his brand, Nico wanted to borrow from both vintage and contemporary – traditional styles with a bit of an edge. So in 2016 he designed his first pair of sunglasses, with a wide but shallow frame and chunky temples, as well as a thick metal bar connecting the temples to the frame, now known as the Original NICO.
The next year he created NICO II, wayfarer-style sunglasses with thinner frames on the face but thicker temples on the sides. ‘Sunglasses are meant to have a bit of weight; they’re often a statement. And the thicker acetate draws more attention to the colours.’
From then on, he has designed one new pair of eyewear each year, until 2021, when NICO V came out. ‘Each year I’ve done something new, so there’s been an evolution. Each element of the brand has come slowly, so that now I have this finished collection.’
Along with the Originals Collection, formed of five styles, Nico now has a showroom room at Canalot Studios. ‘Kensington and Chelsea always had a creative edge – back in the day, all the musicians used to hang around here – and I’ve always known people who lived in the area. And I just think it’s a lovely neighbourhood, the ultimate London.’
My Bread & Butter
Equally, Nico was drawn to the creative community at Canalot Studios, after a collaborator recommended the address. ‘I love the character of the Victorian brickwork, the high ceilings. This is where people will come for their fittings: it’s a calm, welcoming space to have a personal experience.’
It’s certainly a step up from the private consultations, when Nico arrived at offices and homes with a pair of suitcases filled with frames. That said, people enjoy the personal element of a private consultation, especially in a neighbourhood like this one.
‘Eventually I want to open a boutique shop in the area, but consultations are still my bread and butter. So I’m very chuffed to be here and use it as a springboard to establish myself.’
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