Mentoring and the cat walk

Fashion and style aren’t really concepts that exorcise most of us. We take what we see for granted, and tend to buy into the latest trends and fashions simply because that’s what’s on offer in the shops when we hit the high streets. For some, however, fashion is more like a religion: they scour the magazines for the current trends and scrutinise the cat walks for the latest look. Whatever your opinion might be, there’s no doubting that fashion is vital to the UK’s economy: it’s estimated that high-end fashion now contributes £21 billion to the economy each year. However, getting to work in the industry is far more difficult than you might expect. Moreover, making a name in the industry and carving out a reputation is all but impossible, without help, mentoring and guidance. Unless you have the inside track and know someone with contacts, then the doors to future fortune are firmly closed.  Well, the world of high fashion has decided enough is enough and have come up with the idea of Fashion Fringe. Fashion Fringe is an annual project, launched to find, nurture, mentor and promote undiscovered talent within British fashion design.

The concept of Fashion Fringe was created in 2003 by Colin McDowell, MBE, in partnership with IMG Fashion – a global solutions provider, connecting fashions key constituents and corporate brands using IMG’s global resources, influence and expertise.  McDowell, a fashion historian and Sunday Times Style Contributor, felt that in order to help British fashion regain its place as a powerhouse of cutting edge originality, young talent needed to be targeted, nurtured and widely promoted. He hit upon the idea of staging a dynamic annual fringe event to coincide with London Fashion Week, which would ensure that the most talented young designers got all the guidance and mentoring support they deserved. McDowell’s belief was that in order to keep British fashion strong, it must be invigorated by the introduction of new sustainable talent. Fashion Fringe is the nationwide search for such talent.

The challenge for 2011 was to reinvent a sense of adventure and creativity in the London fashion scene. Fashion Fringe’s aim was to support and promote cutting-edge, iconoclastic talent in both design and creativity which would continue the rich traditions of world class designers like Vivienne Westwood, Hussein Chalayan and the late Alexander McQueen. The qualities needed by the 2011 Fashion Fringe award winner were determination, passion, self-belief and a strong aesthetic, as well as the ability to create clothes of extraordinary originality, but with a realistic practical intelligence behind them. Fashion Fringe looked for talented people who could not only dream, but had the will and determination to make that dream a reality. The winner had to be prepared to fight for everything for years if they wanted to eventually build their own viable and profitable business.

Running a design business takes a lot of hard work, dedication and knowledge of not only fashion design but business. Hundreds understandably applied for this exclusive opportunity to work with and learn from some of the top names in fashion design: only 10 candidates though made it through to the semi-finals. Of these, only the very best 3 qualified for mentoring support. They were judged by a panel of experts comprising  Anne Pitcher, Managing Director at Selfridges, Bel Jacobs, Fashion & Style Editor at Metro Newspapers, supermodel, Claudia Schiffer, creative director, Roland Mouret and Professor Roy Peach, Dean of Post Graduate Portfolio, London College of Fashion.

The 3 Finalists had been announced in April, 2011 and spent June, July and August working on their Fashion Fringe Collections. During this time they took part in an intensive mentoring programme, covering all aspects of the business from design, press and buying, to industry and technical guidance. Fashion Fringe provide them with the funds, studio space at the London College of Fashion, and technical assistance to create 12-15 “looks” for their capsule collection. The finalists were able to pick the brains of some of the luminary names in fashion and could call for help and mentoring guidance from eminent figures like Dolce & Gabbana, Donatella Versace, Marc Jacobs, Massimo Ferretti, Miuccia Prada and Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue. The three finalists chosen for this year’s fashion Fringe, Fyodor Golan, Heidi Leung and Nabil El-Nayal had their capsule collections showcased this week at the annual London Fashion Week.

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