London designers get a helping hand in a tough industry

With its frayed denim outfits, Marques Almeida is making a name for itself
on the London fashion scene thanks to a sponsorship scheme that has helped
half the designers showing here this season.

Portuguese designers Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida have been winning rave
reviews for their Nineties grunge-inspired collections since they started
the
label four years ago.

This season they expanded their repertoire further with a show at the
Tate Britain
museum on the last day of London Fashion Week on Tuesday filled with brightly
coloured, ribbed knits, and layered tops, skirts and trousers in floral
prints.

Such shows are a sure-fire way to attract buyers and press, and
hopefully increase
sales, but production costs — notably hiring a venue and models — can be
crippling. “It’s absolutely impossible without support unless you do it in
a low-key way, and that’s not going to get you the same result,” Marques
told AFP.

Since 2012 her label has benefited from support under the New
Generation (NewGen)
scheme, run by the British Fashion Council and high-street brand Topshop. They
paid for the venue and production this season, which Marques estimates was
worth up to 20,000 pounds (27,200 euros, 30,900 dollars), but she and
Almeida still had to cover other costs worth as much again.

The costs of a more theatrical show with A-list models can spiral into
the hundreds
of thousands. NewGen supports young designers who graduate from London’s
fashion
colleges, and previous recipients include the late Alexander McQueen,
Christopher
Kane and J.W. Anderson — all of whom later secured investment from major
fashion houses.

In fact, more than half of the designers showing on schedule this
season benefited
from either NewGen or Fashion Fringe, a similar sponsorship scheme, including
Gareth Pugh, Simone Rocha and Matthew Williamson.

But for every McQueen there are countless others who fail to make it
in a brutal
business, and Marques is understandably wary of what the future holds when
the money runs out. “We’re very worried,” the 28-year-old said. “We’re
taking every measure so our business is ready by then.”

‘Childish stupidity’

Warren Noronha won NewGen sponsorship in 2003 and at the time was tipped as the
hottest ticket in London, lauded for his sensual designs and sense of
theatre. These days, he lives in Los Angeles and works in digital
marketing, having wound up his label in 2005. “I had no real production.
When Barneys (department store) came knocking I couldn’t fill those
orders,” the 39-year-old told AFP.

He notes that back then, sponsorship meant a cheque in the post. Now it
comes with business advice, mentoring, industry contacts and the chance to
meet buyers in Paris as part of the British-government supported London
showrooms.

Marques said this side of things has been invaluable, admitting that she did
not even know how to register her business at the beginning, and Noronha said
he would have swapped the cash for more support. But he had no regrets,
saying: “There’s a certain amount of childish stupidity that you need to
set up a label, at least in the way that I did it. That’s gone.”

Commercial pressures

Meadham Kirchhoff, whose punk-style clothes evoke the early days of Vivienne
Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, had NewGen sponsorship for seven seasons up
until 2010. The label divided critics but was stocked by Harvey Nichols and
Browns and last year had a collaboration with Topshop.

But despite this apparent success, it pulled out of showing on the catwalk this
season, citing problems keeping with the relentless demands of the fashion
calendar. “What we made, we sold. Our problem has always been delivering
what stores have ordered,” Edward Meadham told Style.com in December,
echoing Noronha’s problems.

A spokeswoman for the label told AFP that it had not closed down, and was just
“taking a break” from catwalk shows. But fashion blogger Susie Bubble
warned its problems revealed flaws in an
industry that remains scared of the unconventional. “Everything needs to be
instantly sellable, commercial, and anything remotely madcap won’t go the
distance or even make it to the rails,” she wrote.

“And yet we still dance under the masquerade of an industry that promotes the
new, the exciting and the innovative.” (Alice Ritchie, AFP)

Photos: British Vogue

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