Advice from London Fashion Week: How to break into the industry according to people who’ve made it

From 12-16 of September, Somerset House in London becomes a new home to the fashpack, an array of glittering celebs, hopeful designers, models, outlandishly dressed bloggers, photographers, and hordes of fashion students and hard-working interns.

First published by The Independent, 23rd September 2014

From 12-16 of September, Somerset House in London becomes a new home to the fashpack, an array of glittering celebs, hopeful designers, models, outlandishly dressed bloggers, photographers, and hordes of fashion students and hard-working interns.

Those permitted through press credentials or other connections are able to stroll through the collections of a variety of different designers, many hopeful that their products will be accepted by the store buyers who frequent London Fashion Week. The clothes, shoes, lingerie, jewellery, handbags and other accessories range from wearable luxe to more experimental designs.However, this world of fashion can often feel like an impenetrable fortress to those hoping to break into the industry. I caught up with designers, interns and bloggers and asked their advice for newcomers and fashion students.Byron, 17, a freelance fashion photographer and blogger at The Wolf Walk says that making contacts and getting in touch with brand owners has been most beneficial for him. He advises students interested in fashion writing and reporting to “look for small brands that are growing fast if you want to make your mark as a blogger”. The importance of making contacts was stressed by many young interns, including Alice, 19, who worked at London Fashion Week last year. By chatting to designers and networking, she was able to secure a spot on the stand of Finlay & Co, makers of iconic gold and hardwood sunglasses.

Lauren, designer of The Unseen, has a background in chemistry. This proves that you don’t need to have a fashion degree to get involved and become a major Fashion Week attraction. She says “don’t be swayed by the opinions of others. Find fresh ideas and stay true to yourself”.
The velvet and silk twill scarves of Rosemary Goodenough are printed with her paintings. She advises students to be persistent and believe in themselves: “You need to ask the right people for advice and take their words on board”.

Lily Kamper’s carved and hand-dyed Perspex and Corian pendants were definitely my personal pick of Fashion Week. Her advice to those hoping to break into fashion is to “ask a lot of questions, of everyone you can, and be generous with the wisdom you receive – share it around with others”.

British designer Zoe Jordan, whose pieces have been worn by Cara and Poppy Delevingne, the singer Foxes, Sienna Miller, Laura Bailey and Charlie XCX, was willing to share some words of wisdom with students. She says that interning for smaller companies can be much more rewarding: “You’ll be given more responsibility, have a more intimate experience of the workings of the brand, and you can become an invaluable part of the company”.

India Mimi, established by Charlotte in 2012, is a luxury handbag brand that boasts beautiful, highly wearable accessories crafted from Italian leather. The focus is on classic, timeless colours and soft edges. Unlike some brands in the Designer’s Showroom, you can imagine yourself wearing her designs immediately. Charlotte says: “the only reason I’ve managed to make it this far is by not thinking about it too much. I just jumped into it, and although there’s always going to be pros and cons to getting into fashion, you just have to follow your instincts”.

AEVHA London, a luxe womenswear accessory brand, was also launched recently, in September 2013. The brand’s Creative Director Alice thinks that “the most important thing is to learn all the skills you can”. She adds that “budget is the biggest restraint for the majority of people looking to make it in the fashion industry, but by doing your own styling, photography, editing, graphic design, pattern cutting etc. you are able to build a brand whilst retaining 100 per cent of your creative vision”. It must be working for Alice Horlick, because she has already been featured by Olivia Palermo as a designer to watch.

The unfriendly fashpack stereotype was certainly not a reality at this year’s London Fashion Week. Everyone I spoke to was eager to be helpful and give advice to those looking to begin their careers in fashion. The creative industries, including art, writing, music and fashion, are notoriously difficult to gain a foothold in. Nevertheless, LFW designers were consistent in their positivity about the influx of new talent represented by current students and new fashion graduates.

Although it might be tough to make those initial steps into the world of high fashion, the designers, interns and bloggers at London Fashion Week prove that not only can it be done, but that it’s definitely worth it.

Vogue’s Fashion’s Night Out in Manchester: plenty of bling – but where was the fun?

For a week, Manchester’s Deansgate has been decked with banners advertising Fashion’s Night Out, presaging the descent of Vogue’s fash-pack in the frozen wastes of the North on Wednesday night.

First published in The Guardian 11th October 2013

For a week, Manchester‘s Deansgate has been decked with banners advertising Fashion‘s Night Out, presaging the descent of Vogue’s fash-pack in the frozen wastes of the North on Wednesday night.
As a Vogue devotee and fashion lover, I decided to drop by and see what all the fuss was about. The event was billed as a ‘fashion extravaganza’ that would involve the city’s chicest shops staying open til 10pm, hosting designers including Matthew Williamson, Sarah Burton and Jonathan Saunders, and featuring celebrity DJ sets from Pixie Geldoff, Jameela Jamil and the Maccabees.

I got to Hugo Boss early, where Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman was tipped to begin her evening, and proceeded to be glared at by a bunch of unfriendly bouncers. I didn’t blame them too much, the southern softies were clearly feeling the cold. As a freelancer, I didn’t have any card or tag that identified me as representing the Guardian’s Northerner blog and for a while, it didn’t look like I was getting anywhere near the door of what seemed to be a private party.

However, I was finally taken pity on by a kind Vogue-related woman and allowed into the hallowed (and very warm) interior of the Hugo Boss. There were lots of cocktails and stretched, lipsticky smiles and people who generally seemed very ill-at-ease, drinking champers in a brightly-lit shop while a crowd of people gathered in the cold outside, trying to see in.

Shulman was soberly dressed and didn’t look as aggressively ‘fashion’ as most of the women present (ie 6ft with eye-wateringly small waistlines). I asked her about whether she thought style was different in the north of England. “I don’t think it’s as simple as a north/south divide,” she said.
“All big cities have their own style. Manchester seems to have a two-pronged approach: one is very glamourous, feminine, out there, partying style. Then you’ve got a very gritty, urban, club music style … In fact, it’s not that different to London in that way.” Shulman added that “Northern designers have a kind of conviction about them, but I suppose all designers have to have that anyway”.

I headed over to Flannels where Matthew Williamson was expected to make a guest appearance. He was fashionably late and told the Guardian: “I think Northern style is very cool, although I don’t like using that word”. Come now, Matthew. You’re a Manchester boy, surely you have more than ‘cool’ in your descriptive arsenal? Before I could press the matter, his bother stepped in to warn me off with a snarl: that’s your one question.

Undeterred, I wandered among the girls having free manicures and picking at canapés and toting hideously expensive handbags. What struck me was that no one really seemed to be having much fun. The whole ‘joy of shopping’ thing that the event was supposed to inspire wasn’t happening. Bored-looking people with deep pockets and seriously uncomfortable shoes browsed rails and when a few of them got to talk to Williamson, they became instantly animated and laughed like wind-up toys.

The proceeds from the Fashion’s Night Out T-shirts, created by GAP, went to Save the Children and the charity chosen by Shulman. Claire Filler, regional fundraising manager for Save the Children said the event was “fantastic for the north-west, fantastic for us, and fantastic for students from the University of Manchester, who have started a Save the Children society and are selling the t-shirts”.
The charitable element of the evening was largely overlooked and none of the browsers I spoke to had any idea that Save the Children were involved, although the sales of their Hermes bags could’ve saved quite a few children.

The free cocktails and sushi looked exquisite, but the whole evening felt empty and lacking point. It seemed to be an opportunity for designer shops to stay open a bit later and for people with large disposable incomes to buy things and have their pictures snapped in the same vicinity as a couple of fashion names. I came out feeling like some kind of poverty-stricken street urchin, and very disappointed that the whole thing seemed to be about spending money, rather than a celebration of style or creativity.

Word on the street: how is Northern style different?

Annie & Lisa, Manchester: “Up North we have a more diverse look, we’ve not got a point to prove and we’re not always on show”
Sabriyah, Manchester: “I think London style is more eclectic, they put more thought into their outfits despite seeming effortless. Northern style is more to do with following trends”
Katie, Leeds: “Northern style is more grungy and urban, we’re not as posh as those girls in London!”
Nicky, Manchester: “Northern girls are more eclectic in what they choose, they’re not afraid to go wild and really dress up”
Danni, Glasgow: “In the North we’re still a wee bit glam… we like our big nights out!”

Skinny and Boring

First published in The Huffington Post 8th July 2013

I’ve just read the July 2013 edition of British Vogue and I’m seriously underwhelmed. Not because I don’t enjoy the pages of glossy advertisements (as much a part of the magazine’s content as the actual copy itself), the pictures of lavish clothes and jewellery that I can’t afford, or the interview with the ever-thrilling Helena Bonham Carter. It’s the models. I’m bored of them.

There’s been a nagging sense that all is not well in fashion, vocalised particularly in the last ten years and crystalised by instances such as the 2006 deaths of Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston and Uruguayan model Luisa Ramos, and Alexandra Shuman’s tight-lipped refusal to comment on the eating habits of models. I’ve always been aware that the models are a bit too thin and that makes me sad, but I think I’m ready to throw my hat in the ring and state that I’ve had quite enough of this homogenous clothes-hanger culture. The models might have different hair and eye colours and be wearing different couture creations, but they’re really tall, bone-bag skinny and essentially, they all look the same. The same angular face stares back at me from every luxury brand advertisement I look at, be it Moss, Delevingne, or someone not quite so well-paid.

They don’t look like anyone I know. I’m perfectly aware of the theory that high fashion is an escape, as a beautiful, ethereal, other-worldly playground where one does not have to be grounded in reality, but hanging these clothes on extra-terrestrial models instils more than just dull envy. It creates a situation where women are forced to compare themselves with an unrealistic body ideal. Why are pro-anorexic websites crammed with pictures of catwalk models whose legs look incapable of supporting a rice cracker, never mind a human being? The answer is obvious. Because models look really thin, and thin, ill girls like to hold them up as good examples and as physical goals to strive for.
One of the best things about being alive and a human, on a planet of six billion others, is that we’re all different. The variety inherent in our humanity extends to style, taste, appearance and many, many other things. Why should high fashion be exempt from recognising, and celebrating this?

We all need clothes (even if you’re a committed nudist because everyone has to pop out to get milk and fags now and then), which suggests that clothes should be made for lots of different heights and weights. Sure, H&M might stock size XL and I can find things that look good on someone as miniature as me (5ft 2in if you were wondering) but the big fashion houses is where the high-end creativity happens. The fact that designers send out sample size 6 for someone of 5ft 9 and above sends out a very clear message: that this is the body type that they favour, the one they want to put their clothes on, the most valuable kind of body to have.

This buck-passing attitude, the ‘oh but the top agencies send us these skeletal models’ and the ‘oh but the designers only make the clothes in tiny sample sizes’ circular evasion has to stop. Someone needs to take responsibility and step up to the table on this one. My own eating disorder featured a real obsession with the size of models, their bodies were a kind of sick Holy Grail, and even at five and a half stone I didn’t feel thin enough (read: good enough) to belong to the model-girl club. I don’t want Vogue to be accompanied by a mental trigger warning but until some real change occurs, my love of high fashion will be tainted by unease and, for want of a better word, boredom.