It seems a long time ago but the memory certainly hasn’t faded. The night when we hosted John Galliano in London in his first public appearance here as the Chair of Fashion Fringe at Covent Garden. We were all very proud and happy, justifiably too, I think. There has been so much talk about getting John back in order to boost the profile of London Fashion Week internationally but we were pleased that John responded to our simple request: come back to London in order to give hope to our young designers in these difficult times.
It seemed especially poignant to me as, like many of my older colleagues, I remember very clearly the difficult time John had after leaving college with his name on everybody’s lips and his clothes in the windows of Browns in South Molton Street. But apart from the unwavering support of its owner, the legendary Joan Burstein, few fashion professionals in London took the trouble to understand John or his effort to permanently establish himself here.
John has returned to London to be involved with young designers. Simple as that. And he should be applauded for giving his time for something that leads to nothing other than the most important thing: the satisfaction of doing something because he knows it should be done. This, let me add, is the sort of selfless attitude that I have encountered with all our previous Chairs and the many highly professional and dedicated experts who mentor our finalists at no small cost in time and interruption to their usually key ‘day jobs’. None are paid and none ask for pay.
This sort of enthusiasm moves me very much and this is probably the appropriate moment to talk about our growing list of mentors, of whom Fashion Fringe at Covent Garden is so proud (we’ll return to John in a moment or two). To me, they are a toll call of the great and good in that they never let us down and always emerge our finalists by giving them the benefit of years of experience, usually at the sort of level that gives their comments absolute authority and authenticity.
I’m going to mention them all because I want people to know about them and their contribution to Fashion Fringe at Covent Garden. Let’s start with Angela Quaintrell and Roy Peach who spend many hours working with and advising the finalists on the most practical level, in the studios we are kindly given for the students, by the London College of Fashion so that they have their own space to work on their collections with the technical help lead by Georgina Carr, all of which is given free.
Angela and Roy are with the finalists from the moment there are chosen until the show, and the winner is announced. Their dedication means that quite apart from giving technical advice their combined experience is able to answer every question, worry or panic that appears. They are Fashion Fringe at Covent Garden’s Earth Mother and Big Daddy and we love them.
Then came those who came in specifically to tell the finalists what they need to know in their particular fields, from DHL & House of Fraser who talk about logistics and e-commerce, to American Express, RSM Tenon and Davenport Lyons who give them the nitty gritty about the legal side of setting up a business, accounts, cash flow, funding and investments, VAT, IP and employment law. This year we have a welcome recruit, Dids Macdonald, founder of ACID, who knows everything about how about how creativity can be protected from plagiarism and exploitation. Gail Sackloff, one of our most stalwart supporters, well known and respected for her many years based in London for Saks, gives the low-down on selling to the US and the redoubtable Mandi Lennard explains, very clearly and forcibly, how a young designer can PR him or herself.
Add Elizabeth Saltzman from Vanity Fair, the one fashion journalist in London who actually lives the life she writes of (but so modestly). Antoni & Alison whose alternative take on fashion shows gives the finalists a totally new take on how successful presentations can be even if you don’t buy into the system; John Rushworth at Pentagram who gets them thinking about their brand and identity; Ros Barclay at Covent Garden London to discusses marketing; and David Kenningham of CBRE who talks about setting up retail outlets. You can see, I hope, that Fashion Fringe at Covent Garden finalists go out into the world knowing a lot of what they need to know to survive.
So back to the night with John Galliano. We had decided that, in keeping with my absolute belief that education and knowledge are always the best defence, we agreed with John that, before the party to announce the finalists, we would hold a forum to discuss the question of creativity and commercialisation and how to balance them. John chose the other two panellists, Amanda Harlech and Nick Knight. On a very hot evening in the St Martin’s Lane hotel, we had a lively discussion with valuable contributions from Hilary Alexander (one of our most faithful supporters), Daphne Guinness and Gareth Pugh among many others.
The party at The Club at The Ivy, which was just what a party at the Ivy should be and the announcement of the three finalists: Alice Palmer, Corrie Nielsen and Jade Kang.
We wish them luck, not only in competition but also for the future.
We look forward to seeing you all in September, happy holidays!!