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2009 March 26

The Talking Cure

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(LONDON) A group of the most prominent faces in London fashion gathered at the London College of Fashion Wednesday evening to impart their wisdom to budding designers in a talk entitled “London Fashion: Who Needs It?” Chaired by Colin McDowell, founder of Fashion Fringe at Covent Garden, the panel included Claudia Croft from Sunday Times Style; Averyl Oates, buying director at Harvey Nichols; Dolly Jones, editor-in-chief of Vogue.com; Lorraine Candy, editor-in-chief of UK's Elle magazine and Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou, editor-in-chief of Ten and Ten+. “We’re all sitting here knowing full well we need fashion,” laughed McDowell of the title of the event, “but we all know that fashion is facing a difficult future. London is unique because we give talent the opportunity much earlier than New York, Paris, or Milan.” McDowell knows this all too well; as the founder and creative director of Fashion Fringe at Covent Garden, finding and nurturing London’s upcoming talent is one of his chief passions. This season the competition brings with it an exciting new element: Fashion Fringe at Covent Garden Accessories, which will be chaired by Tamara Mellon.

The experts discussed the perils and perks of throwing a new designer into the deep end, the challenges of sustainable clothing, changing attitudes of shoppers in recession times, how supportive stores and the press are to emerging talent and the excitement of the most recent London Fashion Week. “This past LFW was amazing. There was so much creativity and innovation--designers threw caution to wind,” remarked Oates. “It was like a breath of fresh air in the middle of these other fashion weeks.” Jones concurred that the designers had indeed stepped up their game this season: “It was like a firework display and the quality and finish were much better. They were acting more like business people; they knew their collections had to be sold.” Emerging designers face the additional challenge of not having the money to produce pre-collections, which is where stores spend around 70-80% of their buying budgets.

As for some of the problematic issues surrounding London fashion, Candy remarked, “I get dismayed and cross when I see what image of fashion week has been picked out by a photo editor, like a topless model, which is misogynistic and not representative of fashion week. It’s our job to re-educate the public about what it really is about.” Another issue in fashion, the prevalence of celebrities in front rows and on magazines, led to a discussion on whether a celebrity face hinders or helps fashion. “Someone like Victoria Beckham actually drives sales of the brand,” explained Neophitou-Apostolou. “But I think fashion is about fantasy, and fashion magazines should be about fashion.”

In terms of recent shopping trends, investment shopping has taken precedence and frenzied shopping seems to be a thing of the past. As Croft explained, “‘I shop, therefore I am,’ has been the mantra for so long, but frivolity is gone now, and people are looking for reasons to shop whereas before they didn’t have to.” Jones added: “People are shopping online more as well; they feel embarrassed to be seen shopping in stores at this time.” McDowell wanted to know how a high-fashion shoe could count as investment shopping, to which Oates replied: “In this climate, it’s a great way of making an black outfit come to life, so it’s an investment in that respect.”

So, for the moment, it seems London fashion is safe: Oates revealed Harvey Nichols is opening a new floor for emerging talent in April 2010, 80% of which will be home-grown--not to mention that the store often tries to include London designers' wares in their window displays. And look out for a special issue of Elle this fall to commemorate 25 years of British fashion. A few lucky audience members not only walked away more enlightened on the topic of London fashion but in possession of a Thomas Wylde scarf, courtesy of Harvey Nicks.
JENNIFER BARTON




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