4 NECESSARY EVILS – Competitiveness
By Pip Usher
Photographs by Marsý Hild Þórsdóttir
Published December 2016
By leveraging her insider insight and competitive edge, Sophie Hicks has become fashion’s favorite architect. Here, she discusses how she keeps her competitive impulses in balance.
Every morning, Sophie Hicks walks across the roof terrace that connects her home to her architecture firm. “That’s an odd bit of routine,” she confides, dressed in a sharp collared shirt and glasses. Despite living amid the abundance of restaurants and boutiques in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood, Sophie remains steadfastly enclosed within, always eating lunch at her desk and then swimming laps in her pool once the day ends. She is, says a colleague, “working while she’s walking.”
This relentless efficiency has packed a lot into the past four decades. First, there was Sophie’s 10-year career in fashion, which included plum jobs as a fashion editor at Tatler and British Vogue in the ’80s. She also acted in a Fellini film, worked as a stylist for her friend Azzedine Alaïa, earned a degree in architecture, had three children and launched her own business while still in the midst of her studies. “It’s quite a lot,” she says, a model of British understatement.
These days, Sophie has built a reputation as “fashion’s architect,” her industry experience and eye for detail making her a favorite for luxury brands that include Paul Smith, Yohji Yamamoto and Chloé. When you throw in the successful modeling careers of her two daughters, Edie and Olympia, both of whom have graced countless magazine covers and catwalk shows, and the modeling career of her mother, Joan, in the ’50s, it all begins to sound rather glamorous. But, Sophie insists, she did not grow up in that world: “We hardly had a fashion life going on in our house. I was extremely unfashionable as a child, I can tell you,” she says.
A childhood dream of being an architect finally materialized when Sophie quit the fashion industry and returned to her studies, designing homes and offices for friends as she completed her degree. Four years later, she embarked on a series of projects for Paul Smith. Shortly after, the rest of the industry came knocking.
“When fashion companies want their office designed, there’s a huge gulf between the architect and the designer. Architects are usually quite dry, and the fashion world is totally different,” she says. Not only does Sophie successfully bridge this gap, but she taps into her industry knowledge when she creates concepts for her clients.
“When I was asked to pitch for Chloé, while Phoebe [Philo] was there, I could just look at a couple of her collections online and think, ‘Okay, I see what she’s doing,’” she says of her ongoing collaboration with the French luxury brand. “I could look at Phoebe’s clothes and translate it into an environment.” Since 2002, Sophie has designed over 100 stores for Chloé worldwide.
Last November, Sophie unveiled her latest collaboration with Acne Studios—a flagship store in Seoul that she’s dubbed the “concrete monster.” A translucent light box set amid the capital’s meandering side streets, it’s a beautiful showcase of her “bare bones” approach to design. The building’s interior reveals a stark concrete structure and uncompromising lack of decorative finish. Sophie’s work often melds this tough aesthetic to an unexpected sense of calm—including her own home, which she describes as looking “bare and unfinished” yet with a surprisingly homey feel.
Sophie says she pays little attention to the work of her peers, although she believes in the power of friendly competition to spur herself on. “When I swim on my own, I flounder up and down the pool,” she says of her nightly ritual. “I’m quite lazy about it. When I’m swimming and someone else gets into the pool, I have quite a competitive streak. I swim more lengths, I swim faster and I get much better exercise.”
But for all its benefits, she’s careful to keep this quality in check. “I think competitiveness is healthy when it’s controlled and when you’re not doing things purely for emotional reasons,” she says. “It makes people up their game, but you can’t get out of hand. And you have to not mind when you lose, which is very difficult sometimes. If you invest too much into your competitiveness, you lose perspective.”
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