Watching the east

Beyoncé on the Europe Music Awards in 2008, in a dress by Gareth Pugh. © MTV

Being the fashion capital of Europe, London is home to many iconic British designers. From golden oldies like Vivienne Westwood and Burberry to contemporaries like Stella McCartney and the late great Alexander McQueen, British fashion is well known by fashionistas. But all of them had to create a business at one point. We can only imagine the hurdles they had to overcome. Nowadays, it’s even harder to gain notoriety for young designers. But there’s help.

Meet Fashion East, a non-profit initiative established by the Old Truman Brewery in 2000. Its goal is to nurture young and upcoming designers through the first stages of their career, which are often difficult. Each season Fashion East, under the guidance of Lulu Kennedy and her team, offer three womenswear and three menswear designers an opportunity to present a catwalk collection. These are shown at London Fashion Week. The designers receive a bursary, free space to work and complete catwalk show production, professional catwalk photography and video. They also receive mentoring, guidance and in-house PR. Each season, the designers  get the chance to showcase their collection in Paris to top buyers. The initiative gets sponsorship funding from retail giants Topshop, TOPMAN and the London Development Agency.

A signature look, understanding the fashion industry at an international level and being able to show on-schedule during London Fashion Week. A designer needs those attributes to be able to enter Fashion East. The initiative requires them to have already set up a small business, with a good stylist, a PR team and some press coverage. Once a designer applies, a panel selects three designers for womenswear as well as menswear. Members of these panels are people already well known in the fashion world. The womenswear panel consist of among others Sarah Mower, editor at Vogue USA and, Harriet Quick, fashion editor at Vogue UK, and Hugo Scott, head of European operations at Marc Jacobs. The menswear panel might be even more impressive. Most notable on that list are Nicola Formichetti, menswear designer at Thierry Mugler and fashion director for Vogue Hommes Japan, and Tim Blanks, editor at

One might say that it’s no good helping young designers, as they might go unnoticed in the shadows of great designers. This is a mistake. Fashion East has already produced some well-known brands. At the 2008 MTV Europe Music Awards Beyoncé wore a Gareth Pugh dress. Pugh, one of the Fashion East designers, also designed for Kylie Minogue and Lady Gaga. Jonathan Saunders, House of Holland, and Marios Schwab all show collections during fashion weeks and are featured in fashion magazines.

Looking at what Fashion East has already produced, it seems the initiative has a share in what can be defined as London fashion. Though it is possible participants still find difficulty in defining themselves on the runway. Known designers have the advantage of their brands. But if you’re looking for something new, watch Fashion East.


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