It’s July, the peak of Summer, and in Cleveland, that means it’s time to hit the beach. Culture Jock took William Frederick Clothing designer, William McNicol and photographer Michael Thornburg to chase the sunset at the crunchy, shelled shores of Huntington Beach. There by the same body of water, that would soon be responsible for the city’s dreaded Winter lake-effect, were feelings of renewal and collision of memories that just keep washing up.
It’s late in the evening, before William McNicol, has time for a phone call. He apologizes sincerely for rescheduling after a prior engagement that extended his initial slip proof itinerary. Over the phone, it’s easy to imagine his towering frame seated at a conference table, offering genuine attention to his company and taking a pointed responsibility to his choice of words.
At all times, he keeps his composure of a man who knows his business and how to protect it- at the age of 12, he began working at his Mother and Step-father’s restaurant supply store, filling in responsibilities in between school and basketball practice, in order to hold his end of a deal to go 50/50 with his parents on the latest pairs of sneakers- “ I think that [helped] instill the work ethic in me. Other kids were riding their bikes, playing basketball or baseball all day in the summertime and I was in the warehouse working,” he says. “I [have] never been in a situation where I never had to work. So, I think it helped me quite a bit with ‘How to do a 9 to 5 and get a clothing line off the ground.’ I’ve always woke up to work. It’s instilled in me.”
It is McNicol’s precision and ability to leave no room for misinterpretations that leverages his skills as a fashion designer for his company, William Frederick Clothing. To McNicol, the unisex clothing line namesake of his grandfather is more than just nice clothing, but rather his method of storytelling of a contemporary and forward-thinking America that champions functionality, quality and self-expression.
“I think when you are making art it shouldn’t necessarily be recognizable but it should appeal to the man on the street. It’s a question that I always ask myself when I am making a piece: Does this appeal to the man on the street? If the answer is no, then I can’t put it out.”
What makes William Frederick Clothing exciting is that it encapsulates that profound moment between reaching for the closet and heading out the door. The moment in which a person makes a critical decision of who they are or who they want to be or (truthfully) who they want to impress. WFC is drawn for the individual that dares to be adjacent from the crowd; For example, its Season 4 plaid overcoat feels launched from a James Baldwin novel as a present-day beatnik, bringing novelty and confidence to a world of shapeless cuts and muted tones. William McNicol, is not only poised in his decisions as a designer, but a true ambassador of sustainability and inclusivity- terms greatly used as only pitch decks by self-righteous fashion brands, which is a conversation we’ll save for later. Using lush colors, vintage textiles with modern cuts, his uniquely powerful framing presents a vestige of a culture prior to fast fashion and makes room for where things Made in Cleveland are translatable on a global scale.
When I asked McNicol how he manages to keep up the pace , he says,“I’ve always woke up to work. It’s very normal.”
Culture Jock: I know working corporate isn’t always the ideal, but I think in your case it has helped you with the navigation of WFC.
Williiam McNicol: Yeah, I think it’s one of those, it’s hard to describe. Once I get into fashion full-time I will have a greater appreciation for it. 10 years is a long time. I gave the corporate world a shot and for me it’s not fulfilling. And when you are working for a large business it’s hard to feel that you have a purpose. Part of the transition of corporate and into owning my business is definitely an element where I am finding my purpose.
CJ: What is your first memory of fashion?
WM: The most basic sense, purely aesthetic, was watching my grandfather get dressed everyday. No one saw him get dressed, it was just that when you saw him he was dressed up. Even if he was getting up just to come sit on the couch and watch TV, he would be in slacks, a button up and dress shoes. He always looked presentable. Early on, I grew up in a single parent household. So, my mom was at her 9 to 5 and my grandparents raised me. He was really the first male impression I had and I think most guys, when they are very young, have a tendency to imitate their first male role model. Him having such an impact on me at a young age, I was probably more into formal suiting and tailored pieces compared to the kids I was going to school with. They were really dressing for comfort or whatever they thought was cool. I was big on never being seen without looking presentable, respectful and that was probably my first, kind of impression. Also we used to watch a lot of movies togethers. Ya know, Turner Classic movies, a lot of Black and White films. My next fashion impression would be Carey Grant and Gregory Peck. They both dressed exactly like my grandfather and both kind of looked like him in a way. So, it was like watching my grandfather through the screen. [My grandfather] would also take me shopping at a department store, Kaufman’s , in the area I was growing up at Macy’s hadn’t bought them yet. I would watch him buy dress shirts, shoes and slacks. At the time I didn’t realize it, but looking back I realize that he was a very poor man. So, when he did go out and buy something, he put a lot of time and thought into it, then take great care of it. Nothing was wasted with him.
CJ: I’ve noticed you definitely have a love for shoes.
WM: When I was six or seven, I started getting into sneakers. It bridged the gap between my grandfather wearing tailored clothes and what I saw the kids wearing at school. It was the mid-90s, height of basketball sneakers, pretty much every kid had them. The very first sneakers I was attached to were the Griffy Airmax One’s, Air Jordan 11’s and the Air 22. Those were the three shoes that made me fall in love with sneakers. Then it got to a point where anytime I got a pair of shoes, before I even wore them I would re-sketch, re-sketch, re-sketch and I try to design it into the shoe I wanted it to be. The sneakers were the first thing to pick up a pencil or pen to sketch something from a design perspective. My grandfather gave me in an editorial sense, tailored-ware, but sneakers pulled that passion out of me, where I wanted to create something not just imitate.
CJ: There is something so impressionable about your grandparents.
WM: It’s also that your parents are always the one that discipline you and you go to your grandparents to get spoiled. There is this natural memory of all those good experiences with your grandparents.
CJ: It’s so interesting that sneakers were the catalyst that did it. When you were a kid were you ever thinking, ‘I’m going to start a fashion-line someday?’
WM: Not quite, my very far-fetched dream was to be a sneaker designer if anything. But my mindset was more so on customization. I didn’t actually see myself designing clothes, I was more into the art of collecting and acquiring. I always wanted my own personal style. Everything was driven toward how can I make this unique? In fourth or fifth grade, I’d buy colored sharpies and after my shoes got to a certain point and my parents gave me the okay, I’d write words on my shoes, whatever feeling I had, I would write it on the shoe. I would completely color it in whatever color I wanted to use. There was definitely a subconscious desire to create my own pieces and design.
CJ: I am very big believer that we become several version of ourselves until we settle in a final mold. And I find that we return to become what we wanted most when we were kids. Is there something in your past you are thankful for happening and how has that impacted to who you are today?
WM: Something I am really thankful for is my mom remarried and I switched school districts. I moved from this rural, country school to a far more urban school, where they were up on all the cool fashion and sneakers, to a point if you didn’t have the newest Jordan’s, Barkley’s, whatever was hot at the time, if you came in with anything other than that you were really made fun of. It was kind of like a culture shock at the time. It was also at the start, my parents started a business and it’s actually that I am most thankful for. I don’t know if I would think this is possible, start my own business, if I hadn’t seen them go at it. It was a restaurant supply business, I think they were open from 1994 to 2011, so for a while, most of my childhood. The main thing, in that regard, was them making me work there.
CJ: You think you appreciated that teaching then?
WM: I think there were definitely moments I was like ‘damn, I got to unload this truck and my friends are playing baseball,’l but they also paid me. They were like, ‘we know you are old enough to work and you like clothing and sneakers. If you want to continuously buy these things, then you need to start making some money.’
CJ: In college, what was the draw to what you wanted to do professionally?
WM: When I was working at my parent’s business I assumed I’d go to college, get a management degree, come back and continue the business and take off where my parents left off. It wasn’t a fall back plan, it was like,’ okay, I’m going to do this. I’m going to take up the family business.’ I was in college during the  recession. The recession wiped out a lot of the mom and pop stores that existed. That’s when my parent’s business suffered and forced them to close their business. This is all happening when I am in college, I was a Junior in college. A big part of me took [my job] out of fear. The plans were really interrupted. I was still sketching at this point. Sketching is my peace, but it was never like this is the plan. Where I grew up, no one became a fashion designer or anything creative in any aspect. So, I thought it was something I like doing. The fact that I was able to get a job at the time made me feel very fortunate. Ya know joining the family business got interrupted-
CJ: But William Frederick isn’t being interrupted.
CJ: So, bells are definitely ringing for that.
WM: Slowly, everyday there is something new to figure out with it. We are finally at a point we are making a little bit of progress.
CJ: I want to spin back to the clothing line, what is your approach to building the collections?
WM: One of the main focuses with my brand is to tastefully showing respect to everything that has inspired me without doing in a manner that’s copying. I wouldn’t want it to feel more than a trace. Another big focus is I want my clothing to feel relatable, especially being made in Cleveland. I don’t want anyone to feel intimidated by what I design, I want it to feel approachable and gentle. My grandfather, he was gentle, he was approachable, he was very well put together. I try to take those things, just feeling or emotions into design work. I’ve always been present in all walks of life. My parents always wanted me to be a part of everything whether its volunteering at churches, working in a warehouse, doing anything I can to help the community. I just never been held back or guarded from any of that. I think it’s important that my clothes have that every man mentality.
CJ: What does Made in Cleveland mean to you?
WM: I think too often we have misplaced pride in Cleveland. We look at what’s in front of their face. People may see cut and sew with no words on it and move away from it. But if you take a step back, the pride should be whether the brand is producing in Cleveland, providing jobs in Cleveland, not just words triggering an initial reaction.
I think we carried this ‘Cleveland Against The World’ mentality, although it was made with the right intentions, but it’s limiting. Who in New York or LA, or Chicago is going to identify with my brand If it’s me against the world? I don’t want to go against the world I want to participate in it. I want a brand that reaches New York, LA, Miami. If I am against it no one is going to invite me. If I saw that I would just turn my back against it, too. We took that little brother mentality of ‘Oh, you don’t recognize me fine. I’m against the world.’ Then that mentality limits us to that the biggest conversation we can have is ‘Who can be the best in Cleveland?’ I want my brand to be ‘Who from Cleveland is the best in the country?’ Now we are expanding our mind space and direction.
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