To toast 20 years of Fashion East, six alumni – including Craig Green, Simone Rocha and Saul Nash – share what it means to them
It’s difficult to imagine what the landscape of British fashion – or indeed international fashion – would look like if it wasn’t for Fashion East. Needless to say it would be missing some of its most vital voices.
The nonprofit organisation, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this weekend, has spent the past two decades tirelessly cultivating and promoting emerging designers. From Kim Jones who now helms Dior Men and Jonathan Anderson who heads up Loewe, in addition to his own eponymous line, to Charles Jeffrey and Craig Green, Gareth Pugh and Grace Wales Bonner, Martine Rose and Meadham Kirchhoff, Simone Rocha and Symonds Pearmain – and many more.
Under the direction of Lulu Kennedy, Fashion East has championed brave new perspectives, breathing life and much-needed, no-holds-barred creativity into the fashion industry. It has also had a much more personal impact on the designers themselves, nurturing them, helping them realise their dreams. This is work Fashion East continues to this day: this week, Saul Nash, Nensi Dojaka and GOOMHEO were joined by Maximilian Davis – another emerging designer with great promise, as his debut collection attests.
Here, to toast 20 years of this pioneering organisation, six designers share what Fashion East means to them – and one or two of their favourite memories.
Craig Green (lead image)
“Everything began with Fashion East and their support, [it was] the first time I ever did an installation, first time I did a show. Without Lulu and Charlie [Porter] asking me to do that first show, I don’t think I would be doing what I do now. Beyond the support of the show and financial support when you’re starting out, they are your mentors as well. I don’t know how many times I used to call Lulu or Natasha to ask annoying questions, they don’t need to do that but they look after everyone. It was a community and everyone supported each other.”
“Fashion East was honestly a once in a lifetime opportunity. For Lulu to shine her light on you was so special, just out of college and trying to share your voice, creativity, and identity, she gave me that platform, sharing a story with so many great designers.”
“Fashion East is everything – it was where it all began for me, it was one of my first real breaks. Lulu was very supportive and protective of me when I first started out – and as a young designer fresh out of college, you really need someone who has got your back.
“I think [my favourite memory] has to be my first ever show back in February 2005. Though showing at Fashion Week had always been a dream of mine, I was totally unprepared but all of a sudden, it was happening – it was surreal. The show was on Valentine’s Day, and I don’t think I’d slept for a month – I was only asked if I would show with Fashion East just after the New Year, so the prep was pretty full on. My studio at the time was in a massive squat in Peckham, and I roped in everyone I could to help. Backstage was a crime scene, and the show was so late. Nicola Formichetti and Katie Shillingford were on styling, with Judy Blame on jewellery … That show was put together on a lot of favours – beg, borrow and steal, whatever we needed to do to make it work. Tracey Emin and Lynn Barber were in the audience alongside my mam and dad – that was an odd moment. It was one of the hardest things I think I’ve ever done but I loved it, and that was it, I was hooked, and [it’s] all thanks to Lulu taking a chance on me.”
“[Fashion East] shaped me in so many ways, from learning how to talk about work and how to use the skills I have, how to reach out and collaborate, how to say no, how to take a break. Most importantly, I think it’s helped me foster a really loving and supportive studio environment – whether with interns or staff or seamstresses or collaborators. It’s chilled and it’s real and no one’s killing each other or working round the clock. It’s taught me how to make the best work and differentiate the panic caused by over working.
“[As for my favourite memory,] where to even start. About two weeks before my first show with them Lulu convinced me that going kayaking with my friends in Devon was a brilliant idea. I was panicked about timing at that point as it was just me making the collection under my bedroom in a dreadful shared warehouse space Manor House. But of course she was right, it was totally grand and I had a ball and made a lovely collection that we showed in L’Escargot in Soho. We built a set for £12 using dust sheets that we put up the morning of and kind of during (the type I used to have on the building site with my dad) and put in my friend Evelyn’s amazing sculptures. Then Lulu sent over champagne so we were all wrecked but also fucked and having a ball falling about L’Escargot for the day. Being drunk definitely helped me articulate what I was actually doing so thank you for that Lulu. It was bliss.
“There’s so many more, even having my first ever runway open the show in the main hall of the Tate Britain blows my mind. To an incredible soundtrack of Whitney Houston’s It’s Not Right But It’s Okay. I had only enough money to do one fabric so made all of these striped stretch clothes from recycled acrylic yarns in Tottenham (the knit place has since closed down), sewed it together in the manor house under my bed, and then it was sold in Selfridges. That sentence to me is the essence of Fashion East and what they do so brilliantly. It’s constantly elevating the weird or the different or the underconfident to the level of the Tate fucking Britain. I honestly believe that Lulu sees things in people that others never would, she trusts people in a way that builds them up and allows them to flourish. She’s been an incredible mentor and we need so many more Lulus in the world, but of course there is only one.”
“Fashion East means family. Fashion East gave me the support I needed to take my work personally to the next level. They provided me the opportunity to explore my work and practice in new formats. [As for my favourite memory], I absolutely love the shoots done before announcements – we always have a laugh!”
“Fashion East is such an important platform, and also a family, Lulu and Natasha were so formative to getting me from a club night into a fashion label and were so patient with me to find my feet, I’m so grateful. I think what stands out is the fact that we still keep in touch, that for me represents more than a favourite memory, I’m always texting Lulu, I’ve still got a goodie bag here in my studio for her and Rainbow! I need to get that sent pronto, ha!”