London Lives Series: The Business Behind Backing Young Designers

Powering the back end of events from London Fashion Week to LONDON  ShowROOMS, the recent 15 designer showcase at New York’s Soho Grand Hotel, the British Fashion Council (BFC) is the architect behind the UK’s thriving fashion scene (just yesterday awarded the first BFC and Vogue Designer Fashion Fund £200,000 prize to Erdem). On assignment for JC Report,  Shwetal Patel sat down with Katie Bain, the BFC’s show manager, to discuss the initiatives in place to promote young talents, secure London Fashion Week’s place on the global calendar and the organization’s strategy to preserve fashion as a cultural commodity and identity in the UK.

JC Report: After last year’s 25th anniversary celebration of London Fashion Week, do you feel that the organisation has changed?

Katie Bain: The organization has changed a lot over the past couple of seasons. The entire team now works in house at the British Fashion Council underneath two newly appointed CEOs, Simon Ward and Caroline Rush. Each department has also been restructured, which, in turn, has dramatically improved the planning and execution of LFW as a whole.

JCR: What is the United Kingdom Trade & Investment(UKTI)’s role with LFW?

KB: UKTI financially supports the promotion of the UK designers to overseas markets within its support of the creative industries. It is also actively involved in various projects with us, such as designer business support seminars as well as bringing in international audiences to LFW through the dedicated guest program, the LONDON ShowROOMS in Paris and the London Showrooms to New York.

JCR: BFC runs a lot of proactive initiatives—what is the purpose of all this activity?

KB: It is absolutely key for us to introduce as many initiatives as possible to support the showcasing and development of growing talents. All of this support aids the growth of designers’ businesses, while also building our relationships with the designers and the growth of London Fashion Week itself. We now have a dedicated designer support mentor in house who has many years of experience in helping advise designers on many issues and we have forged relationships with key manufacturers, banks, accountants and legal advisors to direct the designers to more specialized information when needed.

JCR: Which new names have earned buzz this season?

KB: For womenswear, it would have to be the latest NEWGEN winners—Holly Fulton, Sykes and Louise Gray—all of whom had very successful presentations. Others include Michael van der Ham, who was part of the Fashion East show, David Koma, shoe designer Michael Lewis and Istanbul-born Hakaan, who had Lara Stone, Natalia Vodianova, Natasha Poly and Maria Carla all walking in his show. As far as menswear goes, look out for our NEWGEN Men winners Carolyn Massey and James Long as well as fabulous shoes by Mr Hare.

JCR: What do you see the LFW brand becoming?

KB: A globally recognized fashion week equally as important as the other three in terms of attendance if not higher up the ladder. London is certainly no longer the little sister and is now a serious player on the fashion week circuit.

JCR: How has LFW started embracing the art and media worlds more?

KB: The exhibition moved to Somerset House last September after being housed within a tent at the Natural History Museum. The venue is undoubtedly a much more beautiful backdrop for the designers and we have worked very hard to develop the selection of brands that showcase together and give designers the opportunity to be much more creative with their display. We have moved away from the old style shell system and have brought onboard a fashion production company that also works on the shows and understands the importance of visual impact.

JCR: There has been a noticeable influx of international editors and buyers this season. How can you maintain this presence going forward?

KB: Fashion Week is only as strong as the designers and fashion houses that are part of it. It is really their creative talent that brings the press and buyers in. We have a dedicated press and buyers team that is in touch and building relationships with key press members and editors, which is equally as important together with our guest program supported by UKTI.

JCR: Other than holding the Central Saint Martins show, how is LFW collaborating with the universities to help cultivate the British fashion scene?

KB: We run the Colleges Council, which creates an interface between the universities and designers working in the industry, providing opportunities such as bursaries, placements, events and competitions. 
Annual initiatives include the Graduate Preview Day, the Portfolio Award, the Heads of Course Seminar and the MA scholarship supported by the LDA. Previous competitions include the MaxMara design competition, the Warehouse design competition and more recently a Pringle design competition.

JCR: What have you seen that inspired you during London Fashion Week?

KB: The shows that stick in my mind are Meadham Kirchhoff, Richard Nicoll, Marios Schwab and DAKS, which offered a very classic and chic show defining its heritage for its first show in London and as a British house. Nicholas Kirkwood did a fantastic installation showcasing all his shoe collaborations as they came off the catwalk, Aitor Throup’s installation on the menswear day was fantastic and really bridged the gap between art and fashion and, of course, the Central Saint Martins MA show for the next generation of talent this year.

JCR: London is at the forefront of harnessing digital technology for fashion. How did this come about and where you see it going?

KB: We are the first of the four capitals to fully embrace digital media into our showcasing schedule. To explore the growing digital communication sector and the opportunities within it, the BFC brought together a digital committee as a sounding board for this new initiative and to assist in its development. This season we offered designers showing in the official BFC venue the opportunity to live stream their show via the LFW website so that UK and international audiences could watch online. We have also utilized Blackberry applications, Facebook and Twitter.

JCR: What about the dedicated space in the embankment galleries for fashion film?

KB: Fashion film is becoming more and more prominent as an alternate way for designers to present their collections. Designers can really tell the story of their collection by presenting via film and they can reach a much larger audience via the internet. In the current economic climate it is also a much more cost effective option. To support this way of showcasing, we offered designers the use of a dedicated digital space on site at Somerset House in the embankment galleries to show their films. Designers such as Hussein Chalayan, Boudicca and Cassette Playa presented within the space and it was a great success.

This interview was conducted by Shwetal Patel.

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