This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.
Niccolò P. is a London-based brand that takes you from relaxed meetings to the rooftop bars of the city and from airport lounges to poolside, all while exuding the right amount of style. Setting a new gold standard in the world of polo shirts, each garment is meticulously crafted entirely in Europe using the finest natural materials available anywhere in the world. The result is a collection that boasts bespoke-level details and contemporary colors tailored to perfection.
Founded by Pascal Keane in 2016, Niccolò P. has an intriguing backstory. With a background in corporate finance, Pascal experienced a pivotal moment that ignited the idea for this exceptional brand. Driven by a commitment to quality, transparency, and timeless luxury, he embarked on a journey to redefine the polo shirt industry.
Hi Pascal, tell us a little about your background.
Before I launched Niccolò P., I worked for 15 years in corporate finance helping small and medium-sized companies raise funds for their growth plans. Most of my clients were companies that were listed on the London Stock Exchange. While I enjoyed working with fast-growing businesses and preparing them for investment, it only further increased my ambition to start my own business.
Can you tell us about the initial spark that led you to start Niccolò P., and how that idea has evolved over time?
I was particularly influenced by a former client who owned two well-known lifestyle brands – listening to him speak about the power of brands was very persuasive and from that moment, I was on the lookout for a niche in the clothing industry. In 2016, I identified polo shirts as an area which was – I suppose – quite unloved, and which would benefit from an entirely fresh approach. My plan centred around creating a great value product which was transparently sourced and made entirely in Europe in a responsible way.
The name derives from Niccolò Polo, an Italian travelling merchant best known as the father of explorer Marco Polo. Travelling has always been a personal passion and our polo shirts are perfect for all your travel needs: expertly threading a line between smart and relaxed, and always distinctive.
I trust our polo shirts will become a much-loved staple in your wardrobe and you will enjoy many good times wearing them. The goal is to create a brand with longevity driven by a guarantee of always making a product that offers great value to the customer. This might not seem a particularly lofty ambition, however, we regularly see heritage retail businesses seriously compromise quality when facing headwinds – this ultimately drains the equity built up in the brand and delivers poor value to the customer.
As an online-only business, we have no head office or retail estate to fund – as such, and with a small headcount, we can always afford to put the product first.
As a brand, what core values and beliefs does Niccolò P. embody, and how do these inform the design and production of your products?
The core value of the brand is to offer a product which uses the finest natural materials in the world made available at a reasonable price. Customers are savvy and generally have a feel for quality and will often ‘jump ship’ if they feel a brand has abandoned their value proposition.
Regarding design and production, we spent 18 months prior to launch identifying the best materials for our polo shirts (by, amongst other things, visiting many textile fairs) and finding factories in Europe that could meet our requirement for low manufacturing tolerances.
Could you walk us through the creative process of designing your Polo Shirts?
Currently, we only have one style of polo shirt which we describe as a ‘structured polo’ as it has a stand collar allowing it to be worn under tailoring. Work is underway on a more relaxed ‘unstructured polo’ with a flatter collar to offer a less formal style. The creative process really revolves around colour selection. We use the Pantone guide (2,625 colour options) where we pore over colour samples for weeks at a time before selecting a relatively small number of colours to lab test (a process whereby a dye factory will make several attempts to recreate a colour of your choice). There is usually several weeks of back and forth before each colour is approved.
What sets your products apart and makes them unique?
We have built a loyal customer following as we have developed a reputation for using interesting luxury materials in our polo shirts. For example, we recently launched a small collection made using Indian Suvin Gold cotton – specially knitted for us by a new textile partner in Japan. This adds to our collection of different cotton varieties which includes West Indian Sea Island, Egyptian Mako, Supima, and more. Very few heritage brands can match our blend of luxury cottons and interesting colours.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in building the brand, and how have you navigated these obstacles?
We are an independent brand solely funded from my own resources. Growing a brand while not breaking the bank on marketing spend has been the biggest challenge to date. Most brands raise money from external sources and spend heavily on marketing until they gain the requisite amount of traction. In most cases, as we know, that approach ultimately fails. For this reason, we have decided to spend very modestly on marketing and let digital ‘word of mouth’ work its magic. Fortunately, five years after we launched, I can say that it really does work!
Looking ahead, what can we expect to see from Niccolò P. in the future?
We toyed with expanding into other areas such as blazers/sport coats but ultimately decided to remain a specialist. Our plans are to expand the colour range, expand the variety of cottons used, the knits we use, and the weights of the cottons used. We expect to reach around 75 colours next year.
Which public figure, either from the past or present, do you believe best embodies the overall style of the brand?
We like the values of 1980s fashion where luxury materials trumped everything else. For that reason, Richard Gere in American Gigolo strikes a chord.
In this regard, we’ve curated a music playlist that will transport you straight to the vibrant and cosmopolitan era of the 80s. Designed to perfectly reflect the mood of the Niccolò P. brand, this playlist offers a modern take on 80’s style with an eclectic mix of covers of the biggest hits from the era.
Whether you’re getting ready for a night out or simply need some music to keep you going throughout the day, our playlist has got you covered.