selling in paris
As LC:M draws to a close, we explore how the season is far from over for its emerging design talents. After the show music fades and thoughts turn to price, Paris and production, here's how young designers work to get their collections into stores.
You would be easily excused for thinking that as a fashion show ends, so does a designer's season. It's a perception reflected in the coverage we see -there's a burnout hour on Instagram as the show takes place, a slow trickle of reviews in the days after and then not much after that, save for the collection's occasional appearance in a magazine's editorial pages. Of course the clothes end up in stores, and are successful, or not--but that always seems like somebody else's responsibility, far removed from the designers themselves.
Whilst this may be true for those at established houses, who can leave selling and production to a team below them, for London's growing set of young designers, the story is very different. Yes, the show marks the end of a creative project, but it also marks the beginning of a very different one--the challenge of selling their collection to stores and persuading an increasingly rushed set of buyers that these are clothes worth banking on.
It's a process that begins not in the designer's London studios, but in Paris, more particularly, the Marais district, where showrooms are set up each men's and women's fashion week to capitalise on the buyers who are in town to see the big shows. For London-based designers, the most important of these is the BFC-funded LONDON show ROOMS, a collective space designed to translate London's fame as a creative powerhouse into commercial enterprise.
"It can be a challenge for designers to balance creativity and selling,"says Barbara Grispini, curator of the showroom. "LsR really aims to guide designers through the selling process. At LsR, designers can share and exchange knowledge -both with the BFC and with and from each other." With spaces for designers sponsored by NEWGEN, Fashion East or MAN, as well as graduates of those programmes, the showroom gives the chosen designers an opportunity to meet buyers, sell clothes and make money - crucial for continuing on into another season.
Most of the designers who have just showed at London Collections: Men this past weekend will head there next week. For MAN designer, Rory Parnell Mooney, it will be his second time at the showroom. "From early on it's really good to develop relationships with buyers," he said. "You can get their opinion; see what they are looking for from you as both a designer and in terms of product." The success of the showroom mirrors a growing belief in young designers ability to sell. Liam Hodges, Rory's fellow MAN designer, says, "some of the bigger boutiques who I wasn't expecting to get until season five are buying earlier -I think it's reflecting a huge build in confidence after the menswear market has developed over the last few years."
The process of selling in this way allows designers to find a balance between creativity and commerciality in their work. In Paris, designers must learn the ability to translate their vision into something that stores want to buy. "I've thought a bit more about how things look on hangers, about how things complement each other on the rail," Rory says. "I didn't think about that before, I certainly didn't think about that at Saint Martins."It's one of LsR's strengths. "The designers here are able to strike equilibrium,"Barbara says.
Finding this balance has meant that London is being taken more seriously than ever as a fashion capital -moving on from its chaotic reputation towards something more refined, more commercial. But with this comes the inevitable question of whether the growing focus on business risks losing London's particular creative spirit. Rory doesn't think so. "I don't think we'll ever get to the point where we're doing jumpers. We'll never be Milan," he says. "The very nature of the fashion student or the fashion designer is to push against the grain."
Liam agrees, arguing that the lessons learnt whilst selling can actually drive the creative process. "I think the need to sell can have a positive effect on your creativity," he says. "It's a bit of a game, how can I make something of real value that's fantastic but isn't going to cost me a mint to make -often it's time and innovation."It is clear that creativity still lies at the forefront of these designers' work. The joy for them now comes when forward-thinking design and sales can meet. "If you can find a good balance between commercial pieces and more directional pieces, you're happy," Rory says.
It is certainly a balance that MAN-alumni Craig Green has struck -his challenging collections are now coveted and bought by a new generation of menswear buyers. A similar balance has also been key in the success and influence of others that have been through the showroom-J.W. Anderson, Erdem, Mary Katranzou, Christopher Kane -designers with not just commercial success, but also distinct thought and vision. "Over the past few years London has proved that its creativity does not get in the way of business," Barbara says.
However, the recent announcement that Meadham Kirchhoff would no longer show at fashion week brought these questions back to light. Known for their provocative spectacles that helped lend London Fashion Week its distinct spirit, Meadham Kirchhoff could no longer keep up with the punishing and repetitive process of showing then selling, season after season. For them, finding an equilibrium between creativity and sales was a struggle.
"Is there a way of selling directly to your customers? Can you avoid doing a big catwalk show?" Benjamin Kirchhoff asked Style.com. "Maybe it's better to just quietly have a store. Or do private orders. At the moment, even thinking about the alternatives seems too exhausting."As London flexes its commercial muscle, these questions become more relevant. How can we maintain London's inimitable ability to push boundaries in the face of big business?
Menswear designer and Central Saint Martin's graduate Charles Jeffrey, who presented his first collection for Fashion East today, has a refreshing attitude. He has decided he will not go to Paris. "'I'm just not ready to sell right now, it is a rebellion in a sort of way," he says. "I understand that it's important to work with buyers whilst you're fresh on the scene and have good press behind you but I would prefer to push my work as being more than just product."
It seems a fitting attitude for somebody whose collection found its roots in a club night, LOVERBOY, which he started whilst studying. "A lot of the people who come to LOVERBOY make outfits for the night," he told me. "Whether its customising existing garments, draping fabric or making costumes from scratch, there is this element of nonchalance which gives it life."With the support of Fashion East, he was able to make the presentation on his own terms."It's so easy to lose all your creativity in order to make money and a lot of the beautiful things in fashion you fell in love with you ignore," he says. As we head into a new round of sales and shows, it's certainly a thought to be remembered.
Text Jack Moss