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Balch Communications

Veteran New York Design Agency
Joins Singapore’s Exploding Creative Scene

by David Balch

As flight 637 makes its final approach to Singapore’s Changi Airport, the sun shines brightly from the west, bringing a squint to the eyes of Davide Nicosia as he peers out the window across Tanah Merah Golf Course just before touchdown.

On time, as usual, the plane reaches the gate at 5:35pm, just as many local businesses are preparing to wrap up their day. And while Nicosia has had a full day himself—one that began with an 8:00am client meeting in Tokyo, and included seven hours of business planning in the air—he’s just gearing up for round two.

And not a moment is wasted. A quick check of his email before deboarding, and we’re on to a 16-minute taxi ride from the airport to his office in the heart of the Emerald Hill conservation area.

NiCE LTD, the boutique design agency also known as Nicosia Creative Expresso, is Davide Nicosia’s baby. Of course, in the world of business, it’s now regarded as a seasoned, mature adult.

Founded in New York City in 1993, NiCE LTD cut its teeth catering to the package design needs of such luxury brands as Tiffany & Co. and Estée Lauder. In the 15 years that followed, the agency enjoyed steady growth, adding clients such as Calvin Klein, Gucci, Hugo Boss, Lacoste, Dolce & Gabbana, Mont Blanc, L’Oréal and LVMH (the international conglomerate whose brands include Moet & Chandon, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior). They’ve also been hired by multinational heavyweights Kraft Foods and Procter & Gamble, expanding their sphere of influence beyond the realm of luxury brands to include mass consumer goods products as well.

Known for producing eye-catching packaging that makes a unique statement on store shelves, NiCE LTD is a global industry leader.

And while his business has interfaced with European and Asian markets since its inception, Nicosia opened the Singapore office in 2008, as part of an effort to further penetrate Asia, and to provide round-the-clock services to all of his clients, regardless of where they are located on the planet.

Drawn by the emergence of Singapore as a global design hub, Nicosia saw an opportunity to court the multinational companies that have a presence in Singapore—approximately 7,000 of them—by offering a different kind of design service … one punctuated with multiculturalism and broad experience in consumer goods and luxury brands.

“Having a physical office in Singapore gives us access to rapidly growing clients —clients we did not have access to before. So one thing NiCE LTD Singapore will do is help create new luxury brands for local Southeast Asian clients—or try to improve existing brands. And we will develop their products at a global level,” Nicosia explains.

“This location will also better help our existing clients’ localized design needs. An example is Procter & Gamble in Singapore, which has been a client for the past four years. And because of the 12-hour time zone difference between our two offices, all of our clients—including those in New York, Singapore, and everywhere in between—will have non-stop access to NiCE LTD talent 24-hours a day.

“But off-hour support is only one of the benefits to our clients,” he continues. “The broadened pool of multicultural talent goes a long way toward creating a distinctive new value perception. And it’s not just a perception. It’s reality.”

Nicosia has made it a point to hire the finest collection of talent possible. Sourcing the globe for the best of the best, he has assembled 22 extraordinary designers in his New York office, representing 14 nationalities. And he hopes to replicate this achievement in Singapore, with a goal of building a comparable staff here—largely comprised of local talent from Singapore’s burgeoning creative scene.

“Our opening here reflects Singapore’s evolving design scene, to which we are very keen to contribute,” he says.

As the taxi pulls up to the historic shophouse that serves as NiCE LTD’s Singapore headquarters, Nicosia pauses to emphasize a point.

“We were attracted to Singapore for a number of reasons beyond the wealth of design talent. First of all, the transparency of the working environment and the lack of corruption helped Singapore to stand out from other cities being considered. Then there was the fact that there’s no language barrier, since English is the administrative language of the country. And it has proven itself to be the perfect location … a cosmopolitan, multicultural, global city that’s a crossroads between the western and eastern world.”

Truly, it is just that. A gateway to the west, Singapore has a rich tradition of providing the best of Asia to those in other parts of the world. For centuries, Singapore has been a key global entrepôt, or trading post, where goods are imported and exported—duty free—at a profit to those who see the value of what is being traded.

And none of this is lost on Nicosia.

Born and raised in Milan, educated in the UK, and a resident of the United States since 1987, the values of multiculturalism and global trade are deep-rooted. Which helps to explain his diverse staff, cumulatively capable of communicating in more than 10 languages. If ever there was a ‘citizen of the world,’ Nicosia is that citizen.

Emerging from the taxi we’re greeted by NiCE LTD Vice President Franzrudolf Lehnert, in from New York to help set up the office. They take a few minutes to tell me about the rich history of the neighborhood and then focus their attention on the day’s events as we enter the impressive, century-old shophouse.

The Chinese Baroque architecture is complemented beautifully by the recently installed furnishings. And, while the interior work is still incomplete at the time of my visit, with a little ‘this will go here, and such-and-such will go there,’ I can begin to imagine the energy this space will take on when a full crew of designers is busy at work.

“Our goal is to mirror the New York office in every sense,” says Lehnert, a German national. “We will establish a solid and sustainable design structure—including a database of trustworthy local suppliers and freelancers—while at the same time taking advantage of the unique differences between the two offices. This will enable us to drive design development in Asia while taking this great opportunity to diversify our portfolio, suppliers and talent pool. We are planning to grow this office to the size of our New York office—with around twenty designers—and to establish a strong marketing structure that will enable us to have steady growth in Singapore.”

Nicosia describes the fertile environment this way: “With an increasing number of local and international designers working together to create unique fusion-projects and newly developed artists’ associations, the art scene is exploding—an art scene that was still embryonic only a few years ago. It’s interesting to see how the rich local heritage has given birth to so many different styles—styles that interact with global influences to create unprecedented synergies and very special projects.”

And with regards to future expansion into other Asian markets, he adds, “We believe that once we have established a strong structure locally in Singapore, we will be able to expand in the region. We hope to celebrate the birth of other NiCE offices in Asia down the road.”

But for now, it’s one step at a time—one project, one relationship, one day at a time. And Singapore is the focus.

On that note, we step out for dinner, starting with a brief stroll through the neighborhood. The Somerset MRT station is located near the shophouse, a great convenience to Nicosia’s local employees. And flanking the cosmopolitan Orchard Road are countless shopping and dining opportunities.

Still, one need not leave Emerald Hill Road to find a great place to eat. Relaxing around a table at Que Pasa, just down the street from the NiCE LTD shophouse, conversation turns to one of Nicosia’s great passions: The environment.

A pioneer in the use of eco-friendly printing techniques, packaging materials and manufacturing processes, Nicosia shares his feelings about a sustainable future and the importance of making sustainability the starting point of every project. He talks about the importance of substrate choice in packaging. He talks about the value of 3D innovations.

“We figured out a way to remove two grams of plastic from a shampoo bottle. This provided huge savings, yes, but even more important was the dramatic reduction in waste. Something like 500 metric tons per year on one project.”

Indeed, the motto of corporate responsibility that has defined NiCE LTD since its inception is this: ‘Save nature and nature will save you.’ Early on, Nicosia’s company convinced Calvin Klein and Benetton to use corrugated cardboard. They introduced the use of Fireslate 2 in the design elements of Tiffany & Co. candles. They developed ‘green’ applications for frosted acetate. They figured out a way to recycle Zamac resin for use in fragrance packaging….

Let’s be clear … to Nicosia, this is personal. He has children and understands the importance of environmental stewardship. But it’s also smart. After all, without recycled and recyclable materials—without improved efficiencies—the future of commerce is not sustainable.

And it’s good business.

“We observe a growing number of ‘eco-conscious’ consumers today who demand ‘green’ products, scrutinizing the environmental and social impact of the materials and the manufacturing process. This is why it’s important to make intelligent moves—to provide ‘trustable’ products, while at the same time making the business of our clients more profitable. Smart, ‘green’ packaging—with enhanced functionality—is the key to success.”

And he should know. Success has accompanied Davide Nicosia throughout his professional career. And in the process of building a successful business, one dedicated to providing cutting-edge innovation and unparalleled quality, he has earned the respect of his clients—and their trust—at every turn.

Nevertheless, nothing is taken for granted.

“With strong competition in the design industry, we have to work even harder to distinguish ourselves as professionals and make our name well-known in Singapore,” says Nicosia. And so they do.

With that, we head back to the NiCE LTD shophouse where Nicosia and Lehnert touch base with the New York office—now just beginning their day—before calling it a night.

The following day is consumed by a series of meetings with clients, government officials and prospective employees—and culminates in another taxi ride, another flight, and another stamp in Davide Nicosia’s passport.

What he leaves behind, he will soon revisit. What lies ahead are dreams to be dreamt. But following a brief trip to Russia he will return to Singapore for several days prior to heading off to New York for a series of presentations.

Still, he doesn’t worry when he’s on the road—or in the air for that matter. He has complete trust in those he’s charged with managing his company while he’s in transit. And trust—a word Nicosia uses often—is clearly a foundational concept to his business model. It’s about honesty, integrity, accountability, dependability and consistency. And it’s something his clients and his employees have come to recognize as a cornerstone of NiCE LTD.

Trust. So far, it has served Davide Nicosia very, very well.

About NiCE LTD
NiCE LTD is a leading international design agency that has engaged in consumer product development, brand strategy and package design for such global icons as Estée Lauder, Calvin Klein, Tiffany & Co., Victoria’s Secret, Valentino, Alfred Dunhill, Benetton, Puma, L’Oreal, CoverGirl, Clairol, Pantene, Bath & Body Works and Kraft Foods. NiCE LTD operates with a goal of pursuing sustainable, environmentally friendly practices, while employing top designers from over 20 countries. www.niceltd.com