Before Kim Jones became the artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear in 2011; was subsequently appointed creative director at Dior Homme in 2018 (to present); and, most recently, named the new womenswear creative director at Fendi (which happened earlier this month), the London-born designer made a name for himself with Fashion East, as part of its then MAN line-up, the London Fashion Week talent incubator founded by Lulu Kennedy.
And before Jonathan Anderson became the headline-grabbing creative director at Loewe in 2013, having previously taken the world by storm with his own eponymous JW Anderson line, he too showed as part of Fashion East. As did Simone Rocha and Roksanda Ilincic and 140 other designers – Richard Nicoll, Jonathan Saunders and Wales Bonner among them – who have gone on to define and shape the capital’s fashion landscape for the past two decades.
“I know, it feels insane,” reflects Kennedy who, over the years, has often been dubbed ‘fashion’s fairy godmother’. We’re speaking over the phone about the landmark 20th anniversary which we all know has also occurred at something of an odd time. “We were going to do a show as usual and I suppose a party,” she muses.
As London Fashion Week was forced to go digital as warnings of new lockdown restrictions began to emerge, it was clear neither was going to happen and Kennedy’s troops rallied themselves into action. “I said to them [the designers] at the beginning of the season ‘What do you want to do? Have a season off? It’s probably best not to do anything but if you want to we will,’,” she says. “And they were all really adamant that they wanted to do it. It was incredible catching up with them the whole time and to see how determined to power through [they were].” The result was four very different and personal films from this year’s crop – Nensi Dojaka, Saul Nash, Goomheo and Maximilian Davis – shown via a socially-distanced film screening for friends and family, which could also be watched online.
“Isn’t it great to have shaken up the formula? I think it’s really really insightful to see a bit more of their personality rather than trying to interpret it all through the clothes,” notes Kennedy of the digital film approach. Not that fashion film is anything especially new for her. Richard Nicoll, Kim Jones and Cassette Playa were among those of her clan to explore it in earlier years. “I’ve always been into it,” she says. But it’s a medium that has taken time to find its footing in the fashion industry.
It’s with the help of London venue Old Truman Brewery that what Kennedy’s “been into” has become a viable career. In 2012 she received an MBE for her services to the fashion industry. “I always feel it in the room… well I just get that feeling when I look at their work,” she says of her own talent for spotting talent.
With Kim Jones, she describes the full package: “He’s a fantastic designer, a really hard worker, he’s a marketing man, he’s super intelligent and he has drive but not in an ugly, grabby way, it’s as if he was born to do this.”
Of Anderson she says: “It was very obvious with him that he wanted the full dizzying heights of the industry and that he would get there; you could see that in him as well his determination.”
Meanwhile, it was precisely because Central Saint Martins had left Charlotte Knowles out of its MA show that Kennedy found the label fascinating. “I think they weren’t quite sure what to do with her. She was one rail sort of in a little back corner,” she recalls of Knowles who is now a firm favourite of Bella Hadid and Kylie Jenner. “To me, [it was] already a fully formed brand, one I hadn’t seen before, slightly strange… it’s not for everyone but I quite love that some people were like ‘eugh’. I think that’s quite a good sign, it means she’s connecting with something.”
That was pre-pandemic and now is undefined. But Kennedy notes how incredible it was to see Fashion East alumni Holly Fulton, plus others, rally together to form the Emergency Designer Network and create PPE. “The way they mobilised and suddenly these factories kicked into gear. Lessons learned, how we can join forces and do things better so it’s not just a moment in time when the country was short of PPE, but it could also become something people integrate into their businesses.”
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It’s equally got her thinking about what else can be learned from other Fashion East names of yesteryear, such as Jonathan Saunders who, upon giving a recent talk, had the audience sitting on each other’s laps, so eager were they to hear of his experiences. “I want to set up a mentoring programme for those who have been through it, the nuggets were golden. It’s almost like everything has to be re-analysed. Even the traditional channels of selling have changed entirely,” she says. Because where once it was all about key stockists and retailers, now there’s a lot more to think about. Sustainability for one. “[There’s] a lot of consciousness around, it’s something we need to check in on continuously.” And beyond that – as a socially and politically-charged summer proved.
“With the whole conscious awakening about inclusivity and Black Lives Matter, there’s going to be more people going in the direction of philanthropy and inclusion. All the things we’ve been quietly doing ourselves for 20 years, it’s simmered over into this whole ‘Society has to change’ and there’s going to be a lot more good will and collectivity and I‘m so all for it obviously,” she says.
She also hopes the “rest” or “pause”, as the industry has universally come to acknowledge it (even this LFW came with its very own reset hashtag), will serve as something of an edit. “I don’t mean a mass cull but hopefully some sort of edit collectively, people joining forces in partnerships. I think fashion weeks will be less defined.” Such a step away from the traditional catwalk template will open up huge opportunities for both big brands and small brands alike, with social media having been a significant change in fashion during the past 20 years and surely likely to be so even more going forward.
“It’ll be lovely when we can have them [catwalk shows] again, but it’s really interesting to express yourself through different mediums,” she says. “I guess you’ll get selective and only the right brands that are good at doing live will do it. It won’t just be because you have to do it because that’s the standard.”
The struggles faced by the fashion industry this year are undeniable, but Kennedy has still found a kernel of good. “We can look back on [this season] and say, ‘Yeah 2020 was an absolute shit show of a year, on our 20th anniversary there was no big party, but there was this very intimate kind of community feeling.’”
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