In memory of a brilliant designer

I had the great privilege of meeting Suzanne and Peter Abbott, the parents of Nicole Abbott who died from breast cancer in 2013 at the age of 34. A former student at Colchester Institute, where she got a first in Fashion and Textiles, and a former BBC Young Designer of the Year, she was a fabulous example to many young people. This year, in her honour, Colchester Institute and Paul Smith, where Nicole worked for 11 years, have created the Nicole Abbott Award. I’d like to share this story about a very special lady with you.

Last week Beth Caney, Ellie Proctor and Ellie Dolan-Roberts, all third year Fashion and Textiles degree students at Colchester Institute, presented their portfolios to Sir Paul Smith, iconic designer, renowned for his take on classic British fashion, in the final stage of a very special competition. All three were shortlisted for the newly created Nicole Abbott award in February from 23 entrants at the College. The judges comprised the design team from Paul Smith and Suzanne Abbott (Nicole’s mother). The ultimate winner, who will be selected by Sir Paul Smith himself, will enjoy a prestigious week’s placement during April at his London design studio.

This Award has been organised by Colchester Institute’s Colchester School of Art and Paul Smith in memory of former graduate, Nicole Abbott, who passed away in 2013 aged just 34, after a long battle with cancer. Speaking about this award, Sir Paul Smith said: “I was lucky enough to work with Nicole for many years. She was an incredibly creative person who always created a happy environment. It is an honour to have this Award in her memory and I hope it will continue to encourage creativity among the students of Colchester Institute.”

Blessed with talent
Suzanne and Peter, from Great Bromley in Essex, remember the joy their daughter found in creating things. “I can’t remember a time when Nicole wasn’t immersing herself in crafts like painting, pottery, knitting and cooking or baking,” said Suzanne. “At primary school she was always drawing and would take great pride in leaving little designs and messages around the house for me to find. They were usually telling me how much she loved me. As she grew older her favourite form of relaxation was physical activity; she’d go to the gym, swim and take long, long walks wherever she was in the world. She was also passionate about Italy and Italian cuisine and Slovakia, where I was born, drawing inspiration from folk traditions for her final year project at the college.”

It was clear that Nicole was an exceptional student, winning many national awards and competitions while on the degree programme. At 20 she was thrust into the limelight when she became the BBC Young Designer of the Year. Her prize, apart from earning recognition from the fashion industry, was to travel to San Diego, California to work with legendary fashion luminary Zandra Rhodes. This experience only fired Nicole’s passion for fashion design and her final womenswear collection was outstanding, resulting in a first class honours degree.

Nicole was blessed with a talent some of us can only dream about, so it only seemed natural that this success should be followed by 11 glorious years working for Sir Paul Smith as his assistant in London. But for Nicole family and friends always came first, and she was very close to her parents, Suzanne and Peter, and her older brother Jamie. Hers was a life filled with vibrancy, colour and laughter then, in December 2010, Nicole felt a lump in her breast. She was diagnosed with breast cancer, a grade three, the fastest growing form of breast cancer. Chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy led to an improvement but the cancer came back and she was told it was terminal and that she had four to six months to live. Rather than suffer the debilitating side effects of chemo for a second time, Nicole tried complementary therapies to combat the disease and have a better quality of life but the cancer had spread and, in March 2013, Nicole died.

Design legacy with a future
In May 2014 Val Jacobs, Nicole’s lecturer and course leader at Colchester Institute’s Colchester School of Art, asked Nicole’s parents if she could create a design award, in partnership with Paul Smith, to celebrate Nicole’s life and her love of design. Suzanne contacted Sir Paul Smith to ask for his company’s help and so the Nicole Abbott Award was born. This is the only collaboration of its kind to be supported by Paul Smith, which makes the award unique.
Speaking about the collaboration, Jacobs said, “I’m surrounded by amazingly creative people every day, but they’re in a college setting, which is protected, safe. An award like this will give one student the opportunity to be involved first hand in how the design process works, not just at the sharp end but at one of the most prestigious and influential design companies in the world.”

Jacobs also wants this award to pay tribute to Nicole’s work ethic, passion and genius. “Nicole was such an amazing designer; she had this incredible mix of creativity, focus and personality. I’m thrilled that we have been able to recognise her achievements with this award.” She believes this is a legacy that must be passed from one year to the next.

A life-changing event
There can be nothing worse than losing a child, but Suzanne and Peter want this award to commemorate Nicole’s life in more ways than one. Suzanne explains, “I am delighted that this award rewards creative brilliance, because that epitomises my daughter’s approach to design perfectly. But the lecturers played an important part in helping to stretch and channel her talents and their inspirational guidance must be recognised too. Most of all though, I want to make sure that as many young people as possible become more breast aware. It’s not just about checking yourself, it’s about making sure you look after your body properly; that you exercise and eat the right kind of food.” And Suzanne has taken this last role so seriously, that last year she organised a fund raiser for Cancer Active, a charity that helps people make informed choices, based on a holistic approach to cancer, using complementary as well as alternative therapies. Suzanne has also retrained to become a nutritionist and advises on health and wellbeing. She says that simple changes to your daily routine can help reduce your chances of developing cancer. “Just by eating organic food, filtering your water, drinking alcohol in moderation, taking some gentle exercise, but mainly avoiding refined and processed foods, will make a difference.”

For more advice on diet and nutrition, visit Suzanne’s website:

What this would mean to me?
Beth, 21, from Tiptree, “It would be brilliant to be able to work for such a prestigious brand and an honour to have won such a personal award.”

Ellie Dolan-Roberts, 21, from Sudbury, “This is an amazing opportunity and a lovely way to remember Nicole.”

Ellie Proctor, 21, from Harwich, “This is a wonderful tribute to Nicole and I feel quite overwhelmed to have been selected.”

Want to know more?
If you’re interested in a career in fashion and textiles, call 01206 712000 or visit .
The Nicole Abbott Award is open to final year students studying for the BA Hons Fashion and Textiles degree at Colchester Institute.

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