by Ned Beauman. Photographs by Julia Grassi. Dec 2018 / Jan 2019

Sophie Hicks recently built herself a house. That might not sound unusual for an architect, except that the house is located in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, one of the most expensive and densely populated areas in the country—and one of the fustiest. So even after she’d found the site—a row of run-down garages—she had to wage a protracted battle against a planning committee that recoiled at the thought of Hicks’s raw, minimalist style intruding among the neighborhood’s Italianate terraces. But she was prepared to fight. Having made her name designing stores for fashion brands like Chloé, Acne and Yohji Yamamoto, Hicks, 58, was impatient to start a building project from the ground up. “It’s extremely difficult as an architect in the U.K. to build,” she says, “because this country is very conservative. And it’s especially difficult for a woman—I feel there are a lot of jobs that I would have got if I had been a man.” So she had to become a developer in her own right. “The only way to get anything built was to do it all myself.”

Before she became an architect, Hicks, who was born and raised in London, had a high-flying career in fashion. In 1977, at the age of 17, she was a guest fashion editor of Harpers & Queen (now known as Harper’s Bazaar), and then worked as a fashion editor with Grace Coddington at British Vogue and later with the designer Azzedine Alaïa. But at 26, feeling burned out, she decided to switch fields, and by the time she received her diploma from the Architectural Association in 1993, she already had two children and a small practice of her own. Soon old acquaintances from the fashion world were calling on her. “When Paul Smith first walked through my studio door, I knew him anyway from years back,” she says of working with the fashion designer. “I speak the same fashion language, so it helps a lot.” The Paris store she designed for Yohji Yamamoto in 2008 is cloaked in folded shoji paper, while the Seoul flagship she designed for Acne in 2015 has translucent polycarbonate walls. “How do you make a shop that looks different? It’s almost impossible. So that’s what I love.”

However, with the exception of a retail concept for the Australian beauty brand Grown Alchemist, slated to open in Melbourne in 2019, Hicks has tightened her focus to projects that allow her to carve out her ideas from scratch: Her new house will be followed by stables and a house in Northamptonshire for one of her two daughters, the model and amateur equestrian Edie Campbell (“One of the best clients I’ve ever worked for,” Hicks says), and after that, a larger residential project for herself on a second site in west London. The struggle over that one has proven to be even more hard-fought, but Hicks does not intend to back down. “I question everything,” she says. No matter how much resistance she meets, she remains—to adopt the language of the skeptical London planning bureaucracy—“anomalous,” “jarring” and “unashamedly contemporary.”

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