The Force Behind the Industry?s Rising Stars

Posted by harryoneal on September 23rd, 2015

With so many big name brands vying for their moment in the spotlight during London Fashion Week, it is easy to forget that there are even more designers waiting in the wings, desperate for a chance to shine.

Lulu Kennedy is one star maker toiling behind the scenes each season.

In 2000, Ms. Kennedy founded Fashion East, a nonprofit initiative that nurtures young designers through the difficult early stages of their careers. To date, the incubator has helped develop many leaders in the British industry, including Jonathan Anderson, Jonathan Saunders, Henry Holland, Gareth Pugh and Simone Rocha.

“I just realized the bar for survival for so many of these kids is so high, so few of them know how to get themselves on the grid and run sustainable businesses,” she said on Tuesday. “I try and give them what they need, and that’s not always what they want. I hook them up with the right contacts for a presentation: hair and makeup artists, stylists, music mixers and accountants. And often, it is just being a reassuring voice, with faith that they will make it through one of the most stressful times of their lives.”

 Image: bridesmaid dress

This season was the 15th anniversary of Fashion East’s inception, and with it, a spring 2016 showcase held over the weekend by Caitlin Price, Richard Malone and This Is the Uniform, designed by Jenna Young.

“I only met Lulu in May, making this a transformational summer for me in every possible way,” Mr. Malone said. “I made my previous collection on the floor of my childhood bedroom back in Ireland.”

A graduate of Central Saint Martins, Mr. Malone explored traditional types of female dress in working-class Irish culture in his presentation and with it, the confines of patriarchy. Starched shirts drew inspiration from his mother’s checkout-counter uniform, while embroidered minidresses took on the silhouette of a domestic apron.

“I had a clear sense of what I wanted to create in terms of clothes, but where Fashion East came in was everywhere else,” he said. “Especially logistics, sourcing and a show space — the essential nuts and bolts I had no experience with, and that can make or break a young business.”

Ms. Young echoed Mr. Malone’s comments, adding that the program had been on her radar for as long as she could remember. “It’s as much about having moral support as anything else — a steady voice of calm amid the chaos, and knowing who Lulu has done this for in the past,” she said, standing amid a collection that brought a touch of haute glamour to edgy urban sportswear via organza, silk and lace.

Ms. Kennedy says that while competition for recognition is tougher than ever before, young designers are increasingly digital natives, and therefore savvier at marketing and selling directly to fans online.

Still, she worries about bringing talented designers into the limelight before they are creatively or psychologically ready for the pressures of the industry. “I agonize over it constantly, even when the panel decides on a candidate, I ask them over and over if they need more time,” she said. “I have many sleepless nights.”

“I’ve seen so many young brands combust by overstretching themselves too quickly, and I would hate to be responsible for bringing anyone into a situation where they burn out,” she said. “But Fashion East came about to help bolster their creative and commercial confidence. And 15 years on, I think we’re doing a pretty good job.”

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