Nicholas Steele

After nearly two decades behind the scenes creating show-stopping men’s and women’s pieces for Valentino, Calvin Klein, Christophe Decarnin’s Balmain, Oscar de la Renta, and both Tom Ford’s Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci lines, designer Nicolas Steele is putting on one of his signature jackets and stepping out on his own. His eponymous collection of leather and suede “gentlemen’s jackets,” now in its second season, is an unsentimental, exquisitely crafted assortment of coats that are defiantly more for motorcycling than limo-ing around (he plans to roll out a few women’s pieces in upcoming seasons). These masterful staples of casual comfort come from the hand of this smart, square-jawed Englishman who has been referred to as the “practical Liberace” of the fashion industry, a designer widely known for handily executing extraordinary feats of embroidery, sequins, prints, and pelts. For example, 41-year-old Steele will admit, when pressed, that he was responsible for the feathered Gucci jeans from 1999 that changed more lives than just Whitney Houston’s. But the new line, produced in Italy and located mostly in cyberspace, is more personal, a far cry from any of high fashion’s gypsies, tramps, and thieves he has been called on to channel. It’s truer to the way he likes to dress. As Steele describes it, the new line lives between fashion fashion, like Roberto Cavalli or Lanvin men’s, and more historic blue-blood brands, like Brioni or Kiton, that make extremely beautiful leather and suede but can result in a little too much stiffness. The result is tempered anarchy with a flair for tailoring—or what happens after you’ve banked a lifetime of stories and success and are ready for a more daring leap. “I was looking for something to wear as I got older,” he says. “I’m not as rock ’n’ roll as I used to be, but once it’s in your blood, you can’t get rid of it.”