Starting his fashion education with a BTEC National Diploma, Paul McNicoll specialised in pattern cutting, before graduating with a first class degree in Fashion and Textiles with a specialism in Intimate Apparel. He worked for companies including John Lewis, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Clements Ribeiro, The Royal Ballet, Arcadia Group, International Textiles magazine and International Colour Authority, before moving into education firstly as a favour to the Course Leader of his degree course, who was looking for a technical demonstrator. After completing an MA at CSM, he moved into writing, validating and leading a masters programme and gained Principal Lecturer status before the call to LCF arrived. Joining LCF 6 years ago, as Director of Programmes in the School of Design and Technology, Paul became Dean of that School 3 years ago; he describes his current role as “the best job in the world”.
Who or what first inspired you to follow your chosen career?
I’ve always had an interest in design but never knew if I wanted to follow a fashion or graphics direction. When I was 12 I won a national graphic design competition, run in conjunction with the Conran Design Group. After a few visits to their studios and talking with their design teams, I quickly came to realise that it was going to be fashion for me from then on.
What are you working on at the moment?
Of course at this time of year it’s all about exam boards and graduations but there is also one project from this term which I am working on. This is the very exciting and high profile LDNY Festival, celebrating the design, fashion, music and culture of London and New York. Students from our BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Development course have been working on a live project to design a line of affordable luxury clothes which will be retailed in Selfridges as part of the LDNY Festival events. We are so excited to see the festival launch and our students collection come together into a spectacular, simultaneous fashion show in both London and New York on 22 September. Very exciting.
What are your predictions for this year’s UAL summer shows?
Of course the UAL shows are a must see and this year is promising to be as rich and exciting as ever. What will be really interesting is to see the range of materials and technologies utilized throughout the different subject areas and how new technologies are creating new creative opportunities for our students.
Do you think University of the Arts London has an important role to play in Britain’s cultural life?
As the largest art, design, fashion and media education provider in Europe, the role of UAL in Britain’s cultural life cannot be underestimated. We already know from research how the creative arts positively influence well-being in communities where there are creative industries and projects, so a University full of creative talents (both students and staff) working not only in London but with collaborators, industries and projects across the UK, the influence will be felt by many. Of course the outcome of all this busy creativity will embrace and ultimately influence culture, society and commerce, which is when it all gets very exciting.
What are you most passionate about?
Personally I love technique. That may be something linked to technology, craft or skill or even just personal approaches to opportunities. It is through technique that we can not only enjoy the work of masters but we can then be inspired to do something else and innovate ideas for the future.
Which piece of art/design/performance/communication/fashion do you wish you had created?
I would have really liked to have been involved in the development of the iMac G3 series. Those brightly coloured bubbles of Apple technology totally changed how we saw product design for hardware. It was so unexpected, refreshing and went on to influence design in so many other areas. It must have felt amazing to have been involved in that project and watch the effect that it made on the world.
Where is your favourite London haunt?
As boring as it may sound, I guess it could be my office, here at the John Princes Street site of London College of Fashion. Not only am I right at the heart of everything which is happening in the college, I’m also only one minute away from the Fashion Space Gallery, six minutes away from Liberty, eight minutes away from Selfridges and 10 minutes away from Dover Street Market. Design, culture and retail all within reach! Does it get any better than that? Hee hee.
What is your guilty pleasure?
My clothes. I really have some amazing and special things from designers all over the world. I keep everything too. Recently I was able to loan some clothing and accessories for the Red or Dead thirtieth anniversary exhibition and I was able to enjoy all over again, my Jean Paul Gaultier when the Gaultier exhibition opened at the Barbican. I recently even started dipping back into my fifteen years of Vivienne Westwood menswear. That really is a treasure trove.
Name a favourite book, song or film
The Man Who Fell to Earth. Stunning cinematography and really strong use of colour. Of course it also stars the amazing David Bowie during one of his most iconic decades. The story has an interesting reflections on the creative process too; an outside perspective seeing opportunity and introducing innovation to bring about change.
What is your signature dish?
I’m never organised enough with shopping to be a cook, instead relying on flying supermarket visits on the way home. With so many evening events to attend too, I’m becoming quite a connoisseur of hors d’œuvre. My favorites are the miniature burgers. Not the easiest to eat but they always look so cute at that scale. Hee hee.
What advice would you give to aspiring creatives?
Be committed, be brave, experiment, collaborate, innovate and always remember your audience/customer, for they will be the ultimate judge of your success.
How does UAL/LCF interact with the industry and how does this enrich the student experience?
Working with industry is one of our main focuses. Bringing in live projects and having industry experts working directly with our students, offering feedback and inspiration really enhances the curriculum and overall experience. Its not just about all the industry partners who come to work with us though, it’s also the opportunities for our students to go out and work with and for the industry and receive credit for that as part of their undergraduate studies. I always love how different students are after they come back from a sandwich year in industry. They come back with a new hairstyle, new clothes and a whole new dedication and ambition for their studies and their future careers. Its very inspirational to see.
What can companies get from working with creative students?
I have a saying that I want the School of Design and Technology at London College of Fashion to be seen as the R and D (Research and Development) department for the global fashion industry. By that I mean that industry can come to us and our students will be their ‘think tanks’, exploring potential markets and product propositions with truly contemporary and future focused vision. Its all very exciting to see just how our students have worked with industry and the outcomes are always amazing. The companies we work with are so thrilled with what our students can show them and how they inspire them. After all, our students are the future of the fashion industry, so why not start working with them right now, rather than waiting till they graduate and someone else is fighting to employ them too.
What are your top tips for getting the most out of the summer degree shows?
For anyone who is showing their work then realise just how much you have achieved and be proud to show the world what you can do. For anyone visiting the shows; prepare to be amazed and let it inspire you to work towards what you would like to do and achieve. UAL is always here to help and support everyone’s ambitions. When we combine passion with application, the outcome can life changing, for the individual but also for everyone who is touched by what we all do. Most of all enjoy!
See the full summer degree shows schedule
Read previous UAL Edit interviews