Copenhagen is a small city in many ways. But living in a small city doesn’t, in any way, rule out dreaming big city dreams. For this week’s Time Well Spent, the interview series exploring how Bulbul friends and partners spend their time well, we’ve caught up with a young, talented and impeccably dressed, Copenhagen-based entrepreneur who dares to dream big and manages to keep his style game unflinchingly tight in the process.
Virgil Nicolas comes from an illustrious, longstanding career in fashion despite his relatively tender age of 25. A career that’s led to high-ranking placements in Euroman’s list of best dressed men, among other fashion-forward achievements. However, having left the fashion game behind a while ago, Virgil now keeps himself busy handling communication and the overall creative side of the operation for the restaurant Sliders. A bold move into virgin territory for the communication connoisseur, and a challenge that sees him carefully considering priorities in the time-spending department.
We met up with Virgil in his favorite Copenhagen haunt for a chat about entrepreneurship, the necessity of challenging yourself and, of course, how he spends his time to the best of his ability.
Could you start out by telling us about your current projects?
Right now, my focus is on food. More specifically, the restaurant, Sliders. It’s a mini burger restaurant started by a really old friend of mine, and I’m currently in charge of the creative part of the operation. My background is in fashion where I’ve worked with clothing for the past 10 years. I started out by establishing a blog where I featured things I was into when I was around 16 or 17, and from then on I developed my skills, which eventually brought about a clothing brand. Subsequently, I honed my skills building products through various forms of communication. I was interested in communicating with people in way that would make them buy into a lifestyle using a product. That’s has been my main focus for quite some time.
Recently, with my venture into the restaurant industry, my focus has changed. The thing about fashion is that you have a hard time measuring the effect of what you’re doing because people take the product home with them. When you’re in the restaurant and you see the customers, you can see first-hand if people are enjoying themselves. I find that very gratifying. You also have the opportunity to affect the surroundings of the overall experience. As in what kind of music is being played, what kind of interior design are people sitting in, what are we up to on our social media, so you know, it’s this wide range of factors. Businesses are increasingly becoming aware that these things are important and have to be on-point, but it’s still virgin territory for a lot of companies, which makes it interesting for me to jump in and shape the identity. To be honest, I’m actually somewhat new to it as well, but I’m a fairly quick learner. I’m currently learning by doing, which is my motto, so I’m in the process of trying out new things.
It sounds like you build a brand by making a lot of different aspects come together to form a whole?
Definitely. That’s always been my philosophy; a brand is made up of a lot of different elements. That’s also why I need to know that I have complete control and room to maneuver when I take on a new assignment. I need to have the final word and a certain level of trust because things may not happen overnight, but I know we’ll get there eventually.
Has the transition from fashion to food been difficult?
It hasn’t been without its major deliberations. I had to jump in at the deep end, and I feel a huge responsibility when I manage a project. In the fashion business, you have a bit of a buffer due to the fact that there’s an in-sale season, giving you an idea of how much has been sold and the overall return on investment. In the restaurant business, it’s pretty much make or break when it comes to budget and how much you spend on getting the restaurant established. It’s a finely tuned balance. So I had a lot of thinking to do before going into it. But I haven’t been too nervous when it came to communicating my vision. If it feels right, I just go with it. Also, you need a bit of butterflies in your stomach when you start a new project. It keeps you on your toes and your focus remains fixed on delivering to the best of your ability. In other words, the transition from fashion to food has been intense, but ultimately very rewarding.
Is there an overlap between the two - have you been able to draw on your established contacts in fashion in your current position?
I think so. In so many ways, food has become a phenomenon, similar to fashion. It’s become popular culture. In that sense, there’s a big overlap with the people and the synergies.
The theme of this interview series is Time Well Spent - tell us how you spend your time well.
I’m wired in a way that makes me constantly think about things. My brain goes into overdrive even when I’ve left the office. I spend my time well in the morning; that’s where I try to cultivate as much calm as I possibly can. I have my moments of zen where I take my time to eat breakfast, take my time to make a cup of coffee, take my time to read an online paper and so on. Sometimes I actually like to grab my headphones and meditate for a little while. That might sound a little holier-than-thou, but the rest of my day is extremely busy, so I like to have my moments before it all goes down. When you work for a restaurant, part of your job is talking to guests and people you know, which is great, but it can also make you ineffective if you’re not disciplined. That’s why one of my most prized possessions is my moleskin calendar, which I can always consult over the course of the day. Sometimes if things get a little hectic, I put on my headphones and take a walk to get some new impressions and impulses.
You mentioned that you’ve left the fashion business, but I’m guessing that quite a few people still regard you as an authority in that area. What’s the difference between fashion and style?
I think the main difference is that fashion is very much about here and now. It’s basically about what’s cool right now, what’s relevant right now, etc. I’d consider myself a person who’s into style rather than fashion. Style is much more timeless. I think it’s actually a combination of being fashionable with an understanding of who you are and what you stand for in relation to that. To be honest, I’ve never been great at immersing myself in trends. For me, it’s always been about understanding who I am, what I look like and where that gets me. I’m reluctant to call myself a style icon - other people have called me that – but I’d much rather be a style icon than a fashion icon. I think what they’ve noticed is that I’m quite versatile and that my style can be quite bold. The thing is that I grew up with classic clothing, which is something I’ve taken that with me. At one point, I was wearing shirt and blazer everyday. It was a lot to take in for some people, I think, but it was still balanced because I wore jeans and sneakers with it. Anyway, I think it’s risky to tap into fashion trends because they tend to be extremely transient. An example of this is the normcore trend from a few years ago. In my view, that was about looking as lame as you possibly could. What’s the point in looking like you don’t care when the fact of the matter is that you care very intensely about it? It just doesn’t make sense. In my view, normcore was a transient moment in fashion. Knowing who you are and having style is the opposite of that. And I think that’s a philosophy that you can apply to most things in life. It’s what I’m doing in my current job. In 10 years, I want to be able to go: ‘Maybe the colors we used aren’t super relevant right now, but the overall aesthetic, the language and what we were trying to do – the core of it – was and still is on-point. So we’ll keep doing that.’
If you had to give one piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
As cliché as it sounds, it all start with believing in yourself and what you do. Other than that, it’s knowing your market. Knowing if there’s space for you in a given market. The thing is that there are so many people who want to establish the next cool clothing brand or the next café, or whatever. You have to be aware of what it is that makes you stand out. If you don’t, you’re part of a bigger problem, which is overconsumption. And if you take a step back and look at the bigger perspective, that’s detrimental to our planet as a whole. So it’s about knowing your market and believing in what you do. Part of the reason I like Bulbul is that I get the sense that you do that. I’m sure a lot of people have found your little blue rubber strap annoying, but you know that’s part of who you are; you think it’s cool, so you keep it and believe in it. That’s what its all about.
I think that’s the perfect note to end this interview on. Thanks for talking to us, Virgil.
Ha, I guess it is. But I really mean that, though. You're welcome.
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