Sarah Mower: On a mission to support emerging designers
This article originally appeared in 1 Granary Issue 3
Whether she likes it or not, Sarah Mower is someone that has become intertwined in the history of British fashion. As a critic, mentor, fundraiser and advocate of arts and design education, it’s unclear why she hasn’t moved into Downing Street yet. If Sarah believes in something, it soars; when she speaks, people listen; and if she sees a problem, chances are it’s already on its way to being fixed.
Long before fashion blogs and e-commerce became the raison d’etre of online fashion content, there were Sarah’s sagely penned reviews for Style.com, then the digital home of American Vogue. Prior to a plethora of international fashion prizes, there was NewGen and London SHOWrooms, her brainchild that set the bar for other fashion economies to do the same. When London Fashion Week became a sparkling cocktail of international brands, emerging designers and the odd wildcard, Sarah was at the forefront of a silent campaign to bring the spotlight back to Britain’s capital.
Of course, none of this is ever proudly recounted from Sarah’s lips – she is the height of modesty and I sense that she’s more interested in what there is to be done than what has already been achieved. We meet in Mayfair, a stone’s throw from the standalone boutiques of Roksanda Ilincic, Christopher Kane, Erdem and Nicholas Kirkwood: all designers that she has fostered with her tireless support.
Fond of tailoring, Sarah is dressed in a sharp navy Prada blazer, a lightly checked cotton shirt worn unbuttoned underneath, and trousers that make her stand tall and serious in polished leather stilettos. Her tortoiseshell sunglasses stay on to a degree of intimidation, but after a few minutes any sense of tension floats away as she speaks passionately and discursively about the current state of fashion.
The interview that followed, which took place over a couple of hours, has been edited to represent the wide scope of our discussion, from the state of arts education to the format of the fashion calendar and the shifts in the way that fashion is understood and communicated. Who could ask for more?
“IT’S NO GOOD IF COMPANIES AND INDIVIDUALS COME ALONG THINKING THEY’RE BEING AWFULLY GENEROUS JUST BY PAYING FOR FEES. THAT’S ALL VERY WELL, BUT THEN YOU’VE GOT TO LIVE, BUY MATERIALS, AND FIND SOMEWHERE TO LIVE.”
There’ve been a number of discussions about the state of arts education recently and a lot of ideas exist around what it means to be a fashion or art student today….
Since the coalition government got in and the fees went up to £9,000, I realised that for our industry here to keep flourishing, we need to keep the pipeline – the route into excellent education in fashion – open to everybody. When I think about the landscape of British fashion going back to the 80s, it’s very hard to think about public school people as game-changing fashion designers as the culture of British fashion comes from people from all kinds of backgrounds. I became very frightened and I had an ominous feeling that that diversity would kind of stop because it’s so expensive. Also, I’m a parent now with a university-age kid. I know how all parents, as well as their children, have to really think about whether this is going to be a viable career, and because of the image of it in the outside world lots of people think fashion is not worth investing in as an educational pathway. In fact, there are skills shortages in many areas of fashion and many career paths from pattern cutting to merchandising which are wide open.
I know you’ve recently been working on developing the British Fashion Council’s ‘Business and Education Pillars Trust’. What are you doing for students and how do you feel about the state of arts education in 2015?
We realised that we needed to expand the BFC’s function as a supporter of talent from the very, very beginning – even school pupils. When Princess Diana died, there was a foundation set up called something like the Princess Diana Memorial Fund –I can’t remember what the exact name was – but anyway it was in her memory and it was for MA students in particular, and that went on until last year. But then we realised that actually MA is too late if we want to support those people – you need to catch them at BA or even before, on foundation. We need to communicate to school kids that fashion is an industry where there are lots of different kinds of jobs besides fashion design.
What was left of the Princess Diana fund was rolled into the British Fashion Council’s Education Pillars foundation. I’m a trustee and co-president of it with Mary-Beth Parker, who is the publisher-in-chief of Hearst magazines. Between us, and Simon Ward of the BFC, we’ve been raising money from individuals and companies. As soon as you say “Actually you’re not going to have the talent coming through”, they totally see the point. We have had generous donations from Coach, Net-a-Porter, M&S, Charlotte Olympia and others already. So yes, we’ve already gathered a certain amount of money and we’re going on a big drive next year to make it very public.
So is that going into scholarships and bursaries?
And what about the other things like materials and housing and the other costs of being a student? Is that something that’s on the agenda?
Well the scholarships we will give, I mean I can’t promise that there will be an enormous number of them but the principle will be if you’re that deserving a person, we will cover the fee and accommodation – my friend Louise Wilson taught me that it’s no good if companies and individuals come along thinking they’re being awfully generous just by paying for fees. That’s all very well, but then you’ve got to live, buy materials, and find somewhere to live. It’s a great detriment to education. It’s fine to have a little bar job but if you’ve actually got a full-time job, or a night job or a weekend job, and all of those things just to be able to live and pay for yourself, then you’re not able to study. And we’ve seen people in really bad situations. So yes, we will be providing grants for living costs as well.
“I’M ASSUMING THAT YOU CAN FILL A LECTURE HALL FULL OF HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE AND YOU CAN HAVE ONE MAN OR WOMAN STANDING AT THE FRONT WITH THE WHATEVER IT IS AND THEY LEARN. YOU CAN’T DO THIS WITH ARTS.”
Every year there are about 8,000 womenswear BA graduates in the UK and there just aren’t that many jobs. Is art school becoming a luxury product? What do you think about the huge disparity between the number of students and amount of work that’s out there?
First of all, we do have a unique tradition and heritage of the British art school, which is precious and based on amazing principles: post-war principles. There isn’t anything like it in the world. And we should really, at all cost, be preserving what’s left of it, protecting it because this is what our country’s excellence is based on. Creativity is what goes into the reputation of the capital in this country, this incredibly dynamic and forward-thinking country and, basically, creative arts make money for us! But things have started to go awry when the art schools were amalgamated into universities – that’s another thing I’ve learnt from Louise and from observing. When you have universities, you can teach –I don’t know how many people you can teach Maths to because I can’t do Maths, I failed my GCSE Maths [laughs]– but I’m assuming that you can fill a lecture hall full of hundreds and hundreds of people and you can have one man or woman standing at the front with the whatever it is and they learn. You can’t do this with arts. You have to have studios. You have to have people making things. You have to have facilities in order to make these and you have to have technicians and the rest of it. That is not like a university.
So now what we have is all the so-called standards bluntly applied to art colleges. They’re now trying to say that all university teachers should be qualified with PhDs; if that is going to be true, this generation of amazing art, design and fashion teachers either retire or just leave because they’re so disillusioned and there isn’t going to be anybody to replace them. Fashion people, painters and such like, do not have PhDs: that’s fundamentally nonsense.
Then there’s this overcrowding thing that I really don’t approve of – the idea that education is a commercial business and they should just pack as many people in as possible while behaving as if the teaching staff are functionary state employees. Do you know what I mean? Am I making sense?
You are! There are far too many students and the CSM King’s Cross building is great but it’s so big and it’s kind of designed so that all of the departments are very separate. Immediately when you go there, you get this sense that it’s very empty yet there’s thousands of students.
It’s hard to fill the atrium space, any work that’s in there is automatically made to look small – it’s hard to make an impression. It’s not like Charing Cross used to be. Did you ever go there?
I did before it closed, but I was actually in the first year of the Granary building so I missed out on being taught there.
Well, nothing is perfect. It’s always very hard and it’s always highly competitive. Central Saint Martins has always been that way. From the very start, anytime I ever interviewed a Central Saint Martins graduate, ‘What’s the secret of this Holy Grail, this thing that’s imparted in Saint Martins?’ Well they say, they don’t teach you! [Laughs] So I suppose that tradition is carrying on! It’s kind of dog-eat-dog, well it’s not dog-eat-dog but you have to be. You do in order to be able to survive.
In this business, you have to be totally driven and detailed and then you will get through. I’ve always said, ‘Fashion isn’t a job, it’s a life’ – if you’re not prepared to give over your entire life to it then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. But going back to what you said about numbers – there are far too many people studying to be womenswear designers. It would be far better if there were only a few well-funded centres of excellence, all around the country, and the different offers were clear and only a limited number of people would be allowed in, purely on the basis of talent. Creatively, though, it feels like womenswear has run out of steam, especially at Central Saint Martins, I hate to say.
Why do you think that is?
It’s become so commercial, so unappealing, so meaningless, so unpoliticized… I mean I can understand why people are attracted to fashion but I mean you and I are the same: we knew that we couldn’t ever possibly have the patience to cut a pattern or be a designer, but people in general are attracted to fashion, to dressing up, to knowing about it. A lot of them just go into designing because they think they could be designers and they think that’s it. We need to be training people who can do production, sales, marketing. The trouble is that there are lots and lots of courses with those names on them. And it does break my heart because, as a parent, when I plug in fashion into the UCAS site, hundreds and hundreds of those kind of courses come up but how many of them are any good? I don’t know and I don’t know how the kids are supposed to know.
So this is another kind of mission of mine, to find these courses (and a lot of them are probably going to be outside of London), and just find where the centres of excellence are and help support and lead those teachers and units to help direct people into those areas. It’s not a theoretical thing at all – you can of course have a career. We’re sitting here in front of Selfridges. You know there’s LVMH, Kering and all of those abroad, but there’s also the generation of British fashion designers: Christopher Kane, Mary Katrantzou, Peter Pilotto, and J.W. Anderson. All these people said they couldn’t hire people with the right skills in those support and business areas. They’re stuck. They have to find and get people from abroad. People don’t want to move here because it’s so expensive in London. There’s a yawning gap between the output of art colleges and the reality of the marketplace.
“CREATIVELY, THOUGH, IT FEELS LIKE WOMENSWEAR HAS RUN OUT OF STEAM, ESPECIALLY AT CENTRAL SAINT MARTINS, I HATE TO SAY.”
MENSWEAR IS BREAKING MORE BOUNDARIES
Why do you think that menswear is more interesting than womenswear?
Because there’s a market for it. There’s been this dawning and a big generation shift, and again it’s something that London has been really good at articulating because it’s what boys have felt: it’s that new androgyny unisex, whatever you call it, gender-neutral thing going on so menswear now has a lot of the excitement and feels like it’s in a frontier which womenswear doesn’t have. Womenswear has been stuck in cocktail hour for the last 10 years.
Simultaneously with that you have all the emerging markets in Asia where you have rich young men and rich older men who want to dress and show off tailoring with, you know, expensive watches and everything else. So both of those things coming together creates a sort of interesting critical mass of a culture that’s been moving really quickly. And I see it when I go into the RCA; Ike Rust, who’s sort of the Louise Wilson of menswear, he’s amazing and has a studio full of designers and probably half of them now are girls. In the past, girls would have designed for girls, but they’re not interested. Some of the most exciting young women are designing for the guys, and guys are designing for guys. And finally in London, thanks to Dylan Jones, it was possible to bring Jermyn St. together with the young end and, London being very collaborative, they built on the back of what we’d done in womenswear and suddenly the menswear industry worldwide wants to belong to the London club of where that’s happening, so I think that’s why. Obviously it’s to do with money – it’s to do with the shift in generation and the rise of the capital is always behind fashion somehow. I mean, what do you think? It must have changed even when you’ve been growing up.
Absolutely – it’s such a big part of fashion now and appeals to so many different people. What I’ve always found interesting is the difference in men’s and women’s magazines and when I’ve written about menswear it has to be such a different tone. On one you hand, yes there’s this new frontier but if you open GQ or Esquire you just don’t get a sense of it or this new man on the horizon. It still seems so slick and banker-y.
Well it is. I mean there’s the institutional sexism of Fleet St. As soon as you start writing about menswear or someone starts writing about menswear, it’s all a joke. Men in there just think it’s a joke. And probably even men who secretly like it have to adopt a joke-y low-key tone. It’s absurd. I mean that affects womenswear as well. There’s definitely a dumbing down. I mean what can you buy on the high street this week? But yes, it is very interesting that. Going back to that, that’s why it needs to be done in an exhibition or something, so it’s nuanced and layered.
“AND IT DOES BREAK MY HEART BECAUSE, AS A PARENT, WHEN I PLUG IN FASHION INTO THE UCAS SITE, HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS OF THOSE KIND OF COURSES COME UP BUT HOW MANY OF THEM ARE ANY GOOD? I DON’T KNOW AND I DON’T KNOW HOW THE KIDS ARE SUPPOSED TO KNOW.”
I remember a piece you wrote a few years ago for a British newspaper that was about the fashionable careers in different decades. In the 60s, everyone wanted to be an air hostess; in the 80s, everyone wanted to be an executive and in the 90s, everyone wanted to be in PR; now in the 2000s everyone wants to be a stylist or work in fashion. It seems that fashion has definitely become quite an aspirational career in that it’s so much more accessible and, like you said, there’s just a bigger demand to be a part of it and to be in fashion for fashion’s sake. I wonder how much that has to do with what you said before about womenswear design becoming redundant?
Well, fashion seems glamorous now. It’s so cheap at one end and so extremely expensive on the other. When I first started, we couldn’t afford it – we never really expected to as students. When I walk into any college and I see someone dressed in head-to-toe Louis Vuitton, to me that is somebody who has not got any credibility. I know it’s a syndrome: I’ve been seeing that creeping in probably over 10 to 15 years actually. Sorry I’m off on another track–
I think that has a lot to do with it. I think especially from your point of view, what are the big shifts you’ve seen when you go into colleges? I was speaking to a designer the other day and he was saying that he gets applications for internships from 14-year-olds. That made me think well perhaps it has more to do with why people are going into fashion and whether it’s for the wrong reasons…
It’s because of a Kardashian-Kanye West factor, isn’t it? It’s part of pop culture and entertainment now. Kids know who Olivier Rousteing is and they even know how to pronounce his name because it’s on Instagram. That just is what it is – I’m not knocking it. What I’m saying is, does that actually sell any clothes? I don’t know whether it can be quantified and how valuable that kind of fame really is in terms of making people buy clothes. It’s very, very mass, and if the awareness is very mass, it’s the very nature of it. I mean, what can teenagers buy?
But I suppose on one end you could say that actually, considering it in a digital context, it’s purely about the sale of clothes because compared to pre-Instagram and pre-social media you don’t get that daily update of so and so’s wearing this and it’s completely linked so in one easy click, oh look there it is on Net-a-Porter! I think that it has a lot more to do with the sale of clothes rather than someone who is considered stylish but not necessarily wearing something that is hitting stores in the next three months…
Yeah but it goes back to what you say, why do people want to study fashion?
Today, fashion is so similar to the entertainment and music industry. Designers can be treated as pop stars with a lot of buzz and PR – it kind of seems that it’s going more in that direction. How does a modern arts education fit into that? What should an arts education be and what should an arts education not be, I suppose is the question.
It’s definitely should not be about portfolios which are all done on a computer and all look the same. I go to graduate fashion week, I went last time and I came out absolutely disheartened. Well I don’t think that disheartened is the word – I can think of stronger words. I’m so sorry for all the kids who have been told to produce a portfolio in the same format as everybody else. Their line-ups and their references… Oh dear God.
I want to see somebody who’s actually made clothes. If you want to do something original, fashion is very personal. What I really, really look for is designers who live it, who design clothes that have no division between what they design and who they are or how they dress. So if we look at Matty Bovan and James Buck, they don’t need any explaining. Because creatively their brains, their design, their worldview and the way that they see everything is totally who they are. That is what I find the problem is with womenswear – because young people generally have started designing for someone else, this mythical person who is not even themselves. I go into college and I see, funnily enough, there are now very many few men in fashion design, but loads and loads of girls who don’t design for themselves; they design for some, I don’t know, some lady. Who is that lady? I think there’s been a skew in young designers to start designing for people they see in the streets, which is those bloggers, but yeah, it all comes down to that. They do a catwalk collection, which is not about what they wear because they’re wearing black! So I always look for young people to talk about themselves. That’s all I’m interested in. Full stop. And then once you have someone like that, they have their whole worldview, their whole aesthetic, which you know can grow. It’s like you’re in your own world. Provided that person can, if they’re going into their own business, have somebody beside them who can be a partner – typically it’s someone in the family, who’s a family person: boyfriend/girlfriend, wife/husband, sister/brother. This is the way it works.
“WELL, FASHION SEEMS GLAMOROUS NOW. IT’S SO CHEAP AT ONE END AND SO EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE ON THE OTHER.”
THERE ARE NO LONGER MEDIA GATEKEEPERS
Fashion communicators are no longer the only communicators: brands, especially big ones, are now so involved with communicating their ideas directly to an audience. How has this changed fashion journalism?
The gatekeepers are not the same gatekeepers anymore. Now there are no gatekeepers – there are no gates! [Laughs] Long form journalism in fashion, it’s gone. Although perhaps, well there are far more fashion books now than there ever used to be: photography books and the rest of that stuff. I don’t know whether you can actually make any money in that area but I used to be writing 3000 word articles, I still do occasionally, but it’s much more common to be writing a 200 word story for Vogue.com on a constant basis so I don’t know. I just don’t know where all the thoughtfulness, where the fierce critique is coming from. Alex Fury is a shining example of that and he’s working in a combination of very old-fashioned, traditional ways, i.e. being the independent fashion critic – I don’t mean the newspaper Independent – I mean an independent-minded critic, which of course Suzy Menkes used to be and Cathy Horyn, and so on. His combination is that and his Instagram, so he’s straddling it. He’s fearless, his company doesn’t seem to care about what he says about who, whether he’s rude about companies or even a whole country, saying that Italian fashion is dead – that sort of thing. There are very few people who actually criticise anymore other than what a state she looks, how fat she is, a sort of trolling-type commentary. What do you think?
There aren’t as many opportunities to write long form, like you were saying, so everything is a lot quicker and more news-y. I often wonder who the audience for serious fashion criticism is…
Well I‘ll tell you who’s reading it: it’s the company owners, and the buyers. That’s what it always used to be. And you know, if you have a strong enough voice, an authoritative voice, they’ll take notice of you.
But in terms of writing about fashion design in the wider context of design, or fashion photography in the wider context of photography, it seems limited.
Well, you know, there can be an upside to this. We were talking earlier about fashion exhibitions: a well-curated fashion exhibition. It doesn’t have to be on the scale of Savage Beauty but it can be the immersive experience where people can think and contemplate and have their minds blown by fashion and take it in with video and paintings. You know, everything to do with the culture that fashion is embedded in. And then of course there are catalogues and the rest of it. That is what I think, if I was your age, I would be doing now. And then I guess there are movies too, and videos. It’s just moving into a different place.
True, but what about the content of fashion magazines?
But, to be honest, do you buy fashion magazines?
I read them but I don’t often buy them.
Well I’ve got two daughters and they’ve got absolutely no interest in buying a magazine ever, or even looking at one. I don’t think that any of their peers do either.
But there are so many youth-oriented magazines that go beyond the mainstream. When I was 14 or 15, I thought Dazed and i-D were the height of independent magazine publishing. Now there are so many to choose from…
Well there are tons and tons and tons of indie and independent – what do you call them? – style magazines. Yeah, I am actually amazed as I did edit a magazine called The Fashion briefly and it had to close after 9/11 because at that point, it seemed to be the end of everything and advertising dropped off and such. But yeah, when I was doing that, which was 15 years ago, there was already a thriving culture of style magazines and it hasn’t gone away. It’s grown!
“I THINK THERE’S ONE THING THAT ABSOLUTELY SUCKS THE SOUL OUT OF YOU AND JUST KILLS YOUR BRAIN CELLS AND IT’S SEEING A CLOCKWORK CATWALK SHOW NOW.”
A lot of younger designers and recent graduates are really interested in the theatricality of putting on a show…
It’s coming back! I’m very thrilled about that. But it’s different from what it used to be. I think there’s one thing that absolutely sucks the soul out of you and just kills your brain cells and it’s seeing a clockwork catwalk show now. I suppose actually that the digital technology, Instagram, has actually changed it – everyone thought that blogging would change it and livestream would change it but it hasn’t; there are so many different ways of presenting fashion now. It’s really interesting and one thing that we’ve encouraged with NewGen is that when designers come out of college and they come to us and say they want to start a business, it’s not to shove them into doing a catwalk show because it forces people to overdesign and do too many numbers. So we’ve started off with saying have your own installation or exhibition and then go to a presentation and then maybe you can share a catwalk with someone else. And actually that has kind of engendered a lot of creativity. We haven’t forced them to do it, but designers are coming up now who actually think about the presentation in the same moment as they’re thinking about the design. And there’s nothing more incredible and delightful than walking into a space and being totally surprised by what you’re going to see.
Designers like Faustine Steinmetz have unbelievably clever ways of letting your audience see the fabric up close and beautifully lit and all the rest of it. I mean she’s another one – her boyfriend Michael is a set builder as well as a really good handyman. He can build The Louvre – he built their looms! Or Molly Goddard who did that presentation which is about life drawing… See, I’m smiling! [Laughs] And who else? Claire Barrow does really good interesting installations. And the thing about an installation, I mean Erdem did this sort of hybrid thing and his installation was incredible. He got this guy called Robin Brown who made this fake, curated apartment of a 1950s art collector. Did you go? Did you see it?
I wish I did but I wasn’t invited!
You would have absolutely loved it. He got Robin to build a sort of apartment for this girl. Erdem always imagined this girl. So what it did was it actually impelled you, as the audience, not to just sit around and wait for the show, but to actually get up and have a look around, look at her photographs on her dressing room table, look at her magazine room. And people took loads of photographs and everyone wants to take their own different pictures obviously. So yeah, it’s the audience becoming the photographers becoming the communicators and that all feeds into the presentation thing. I’m really excited by that because it can be done at very low cost. And it’s something I’m going to be doing at Port Eliot festival this summer, because I’m involved in that. We’re going to have a sort of theatre in fashion moment, moments with the installations.
“I DO KNOW A COUPLE OF DESIGNERS WHO LIVE OUTSIDE LONDON AND THEY FIND IT VERY, VERY DIFFICULT BECAUSE YOU STILL HAVE TO SELL IN LONDON OR IN PARIS – IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO GET AWAY FROM THAT.”
A lot of designers who show as part of the degree shows get a lot of press very quickly. What is your advice for dealing with this and what are the wise moves to make?
I think a really wise thing to do is, if you want to have your own business, to take your collection, put it in a suitcase or on a rolling rack and go to see buyers – beg to see buyers – and get a few sales in a very humble and basic way. Figure out a few items that you can sell and make sales. Or, I would say don’t do it straight out of college, go and work for somebody. It’s harder now, so get experience on somebody else’s dollar.
In terms of approaching buyers and in terms of people like yourself, what is the approach to take?
Okay, never send an email and CV, especially if you can’t spell or punctuate, and never say you’ve got a passion for fashion. I’m always very interested if somebody writes me a personal letter, which is to me, and that person is saying something that I just have to know about. And I think strangely enough in this world of emails and social media, a beautiful handwritten or bespoke handmade letter hand-delivered to somebody is so rare in this day and age that that gets attention rather than a generic e-mail. It really does intensely annoy me when I hear from graduates or kids in any field, “Oh I sent my notes, they’re terrible. I’ve sent my CV off to 150 companies and I haven’t heard a word back”. We really do have to think of better ways than that.
One thing that never fails to astonish me is when a student or graduate, one of hundreds I meet on a constant basis, introduces themselves with their first name. Not only is that bloody rude – it forces me to ask what your surname is – but it is incredibly arrogant, as if they you think you are as well-known as Kim, Kate, Beyoncé, Rihanna, or something. It means you have already failed in your first opportunity to make you stick in my mind. I will just get the impression you’re a simpering self-important idiot and instantly relegate you to the ‘forgotten’. Or that is the danger. As for me, I always assume no-one knows me and the first time I meet someone I always say, “I’m Sarah Mower and I work for American Vogue in London”. That way, no-one has to go to the trouble of asking twenty questions to find out who ‘Sarah’ is and what I’m supposed to be for.
As for designers, how important is pricing?
Price is really, really important.
Do you have any advice as to how to get your pricing down?
No, that’s not my expertise, but I know people you can ask! [Laughs] As the head of the NewGen committee I have a lot of buyers and a few fashion consultants who will be able to talk to and counsel designers about that. It’s quite interesting actually, there is a price adjustment going on because there was one point, which we remember very distinctly and shockingly, that was a wild pass: when a dress suddenly passed the £1,000 mark. Now, a normal dress over there in Selfridges, not even from the best brands, will be £2,000 and so will the bags! But I’ve noticed that designers such as J.W. Anderson, he’s got a dress for £560 which probably shows for something and –who else is adjusting prices?– there’s definitely an area where, yeah, I mean T-shirts can’t be £500 now. I think there is a culture now that if you are designing and making clothes for people who are bored with the big brands, then there is a future for you. The other thing, I would say, is to make clothes that fit. You know, you’d be astonished; I’m astonished that there are so many designers whose sizing is so off – it can actually ruin a designer.
How so? Too small?
Just wrong – wrong on a body, just absolutely wrong. It’s not to say smallness, proportion, fit, cut, all that, and it’s probably because there’s such a dearth of pattern-cutters and that’s another thing I see as completely tragic: the decline in those classes. What I see it at Central Saint Martins and other places is the huge A-line shapeless or square shapeless outfit for men and womenswear, and it’s not because it’s ‘fashion’, it’s because they can’t tailor! When that’s all over, how they ever go, you know, I know that people can arrive at MA and don’t know how to tailor. So, point being that there is another path; to be an ace pattern cutter is a very, very good career to get into because they’re gold dust to every company. That person can transform your idea into a block, into an item that works in many sizes. It can be adapted, tweaked – that’s the person who’s going to make your money for you; not you necessarily coming up with a fabulous idea if you can’t actually fit it.
“WHEN I FIRST STARTED, WE COULDN’T AFFORD IT – WE NEVER REALLY EXPECTED TO AS STUDENTS. WHEN I WALK INTO ANY COLLEGE AND I SEE SOMEONE DRESSED IN HEAD-TO-TOE LOUIS VUITTON, TO ME THAT IS SOMEBODY WHO HAS NOT GOT ANY CREDIBILITY.”
I know that the British Fashion Council and London Fashion Week, by nature, are very London-centric, which is difficult for young designers who can’t afford rent in the London bubble. In terms of British fashion and younger designers, is that something that you’ve noticed? Less of a focus on London as a capital and centre of everything and more of a focus on new, different areas and other cultural regions?
Well everyone lives in the East End that I know of. I mean, I do know a couple of designers who live outside London and they find it very, very difficult because you still have to sell in London or in Paris – it’s impossible to get away from that. But yeah, I’m completely in agreement with you about London not necessarily being the one and only cultural capital anymore. Maybe we’ll be seeing the growth of communities in other parts of this country. I know that a lot of fashion journalists and fashion people live in Hastings and out there on the east coast, and I don’t know about… Well, Paris – Paris is dead. I haven’t even thought about that. Per force it’s going to have to be the way of the world. I won’t say whom it was that went to live in far south London alone, without other people around, and found it very, very difficult to be in touch and the designs suffered. There’s something about being in a community, which the East End is.
So is London central to what a lot of designers do because it’s where they work, socialise, studied and it’s the financial capital?
If you look at all the names on the London Fashion Week and the London Collections Men schedules, it’s a complete snapshot of multiculturalism, which I absolutely love. I don’t really think of British designers, I don’t think London designers, as in it’s a meritocracy. I don’t even think what people’s backgrounds are, where they came from. It’s just point of view and excellence that matters. Who knows? I mean, what you don’t need though is a Manchester Fashion Week, a Scottish Fashion Week etc. People always say the answer is, ‘Oh, let’s have a fashion week!’, but no it’s not going to be that.
No, definitely not, but I mean studio space, materials and just generally cost of living…
Studio space, yeah! Well I mean yeah, perhaps since communication has changed so much it won’t matter where you live. Still come to shows and present in London, if that saves you money. But I do know from the point of view of London designers deciding that they needed to go and show in another capital – there was a phase for Paris then a phase for New York. That was all very well and British designers could have a fashion show in those places but it would cost them a fortune because they would have to rent hotels and transport and it was very difficult to orientate in another city. What I will say though is that whatever happens with London, we’re very open to suggestions and we’re always looking for who’s new and what the new point of view is and talent, so we need to be very aware of what’s going on in other places so we can see how we can maintain our reputation. The only reason, to be honest, that the young designers, this golden generation that’s now gotten up there in the past 10 years, have got sales and success is because we opened the LONDON show ROOMS in Paris. We knew we couldn’t just sit here and expect people to come, so we went out and we went to them and that works really well for the first few seasons. We’re not high bound to saying here we are; we try to foresee what’s going to come and respond to it before it’s, almost before it’s happened. Is that enough? Or is there more?
Never enough. I could pick your brains all day.