London's NEW GEN and taking risks in Fashion| Prestige Hong Kong (Jan 18)

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Of the world’s four fashion capitals, London’s view to the future is unparalleled. zaneta cheng explores the city’s predilection for incubating and nurturing new talent

Alexander McQueen, JW Anderson, Erdem, Peter Pilotto, Marques Almeida are a handful of names that we all know, thanks in part to the British Fashion Council and its NewGen scheme, set up in 1993.  In a world where super brands are under increasing pressure to perform financially, and where no super brand – except, perhaps, Armani and Versace – bears a designer of the same name at the creative helm, fostering emerging and independent talent has become ever more important. This is not only to ensure a continual supply of designers for umbrella corporations to switch in and out but, more importantly, to bear the mantle of creativity and to keep it moving forward. 

The city that’s become the beacon for young fashion creatives is, by far and away, London, which is home to some of the most celebrated schools and renowned teachers in fashion. Indeed, many designers admit that they wouldn’t have been able to see success were it not for the British institutions.

Eudon Choi would be the first to agree. “I mean, it wasn’t easy,” he says. “I wasn’t confident because I was Korean, not even British, so I didn’t know if I could make it here. But because I was in London I can be where I am now. They really embrace the new designer and they are really very supportive.”

Despite the fact that London was not his first choice for a master’s programme, the education convinced him otherwise. “Since I started going back to Seoul to teach,” he says, “I’ve tried to implement the English education style. I really like it.

“I did my MA at the Royal College of Art and rather than just enforcing the professor’s vision, the English art-school method is to comment and give feedback, but there were no classes. I just needed to keep doing my own work and focus on what I like and what my own ideas are. So now I give my students that same freedom.”

The Ambassador for Emerging Talent and chair of the NewGen committee, Sarah Mower, also sings the praises of British art schooling but saw something missing when designers graduated and entered the workforce. “What young people are thinking is always where the future will take place,” she says. “And that’s exciting to think about; where movements start. British art-school education encourages individuality and originality rather than conforming to markets, so many graduates leave fired up to start businesses – but without any knowledge of how to operate alone.

“When the BFC asked me to take up the role of ambassador and chair, we added specialist business mentorship, and then in 2009 began the London Showroom in Paris, so that buyers and journalists could come and meet all the designers in a ‘one-stop shop’.”

The impact on the economy of this support is significant. “These designers are pushing society forward in all those ways,” says Mower, “and they make it look fun and optimistic.

“I certainly think that other countries should have similar schemes, Not just because it’s creative, but because fashion is now contributing £28 billion to the UK economy.”

Reece Crisp, menswear buying manager for Farfetch agrees, highlighting Fashion East, NewGen and the British Fashion Council Fashion Trust, of which Farfetch is a partner, as platforms that allow designers to showcase their talents and gain exposure. The UK market is so couched in this atmosphere of innovation and creativity that private enterprises such as Farfetch have set up their own platforms to continue to encourage independent design. “I personally am always on the pursuit of up and coming designers,” says Crisp.

“‘FF Finds’ is a current initiative that we’re working on at Farfetch, which aims to champion new emerging designers that have limited distribution. It offers these designers a chance to get wider exposure and provides them with sales information, which is invaluable to their growth.”

The proof is in the pudding. Some notable imports include Central St Martins-educated Phoebe Philo, who went to to Chloé and Céline, and, more recently, JW Anderson – whose own eponymous label has seen great success – being appointed as creative director of Loewe. Others have realised that the investment is worth the risk. LVMH introduced its eponymous prize in 2013, also in order to support fledgling designers. 

While London’s early focus on talent has undoubtedly given its Fashion Week a unique angle and first-movers advantage, its industry heavyweights still believe in the value of replicating the system abroad. Mower is positive, “I certainly think that other countries should have similar schemes. We rely on very many specialists who give up their time to sit on committees and go out to advise designers in their studios. Every country has its own culture and assets on which they can build.

“It’s always worth taking a risk on creativity – otherwise there’ll be nothing interesting to wear in the future.”