Howie Nicholsby grew up in the kilt business—he worked at his parents shop, Geoffrey Tailor Kilt Makers, from age six—but the future designer had no interest in following traditions. Instead of the classic tartans, he envisioned camouflage and oriental silks. And his unusual interpretation of the iconic piece of Scottish apparel rocketed him onto celebrity radars.
Here, Nicholsby shares tricks of the (unique) trade.
When did your business really start to take off?
I got the opportunity to launch at London Men’s Fashion Week. It was cool, and it got us a lot of press attention and a lot of attention in Scotland—that’s when things really started to kick off. I mean the shit hit the fan a wee-bit because other kilt makers thought it was a disgrace and some sort of tragedy that I was messing with the kilt. But because of my heritage in the industry, I got a lot of good attention too; [I] was seen as credible.
Have kilts become more popular since you first started?
In the 16 years from London Men’s Fashion Week to now it’s been my mission to convert any man from anywhere into wearing a kilt without having a Scottish heritage. If we look back to all ancient civilizations—Egyptians, Greeks, Romans—my whole theory is that basically skirts were originally for men. This is beyond fashion; it’s beyond being trendy. I’ve got a guy in Germany, he works for Adidas, he’s trying to make Kilted Friday a big thing. A lot of customers do wear their kilts to work. It doesn’t have to be for special occasions and parties—it can just be guys in the office.
What is the kilt designing process like?
There’s a lot of measuring involved. It’s quite funny because you have to go for the hipbone; a lot of guys are quite tickly there. You get a few gigglers. I would say my average appointment time is about two hours. So it’s a case of having a nice drink, getting to know the couple, getting to know their details, when the wedding is and stuff like that, or what the kilt’s going to be for. I always recommend bringing a female, because there are a lot of colors to look at, and women have more color receptors in their eyes. A lot of guys even bring their mothers along.
When did you first start seeing celebrity clientele?
[My mum and dad] made the kilt for Mel Gibson for the premiere of Braveheart. So growing up I’ve always believed if you’re good at something and you’ve got a product that is the best of what you do, then celebrities, like anyone else, will want to experience that. With Vin Diesel, that was really good timing that I was in LA. I ended up driving into Malibu to his house. He loved it.
Are there any secrets to successfully pulling off a kilt?
You’ve got to be straight back, strong shoulders, smiling. You can’t be nervous in it. See for me, now, I’m at 15 years wearing a kilt everyday. It was at 21 that I decided I was going to just start wearing this everyday, which my dad still thinks is crazy, but I love it. Flying in a kilt, driving, it’s just a very practical garment. When I first started wearing it, yeah I was quite self-conscious, but now I’d be self-conscious in trousers. You’ve got to want it.