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Colin McDowell – On Fashion Fringe


Many of you will already know about Fashion Fringe, the annual competition to seek out the UK’s young Vivienne Westwood’s and John Galliano’s. Of course design-a-like Vivienne Westwood’s and John Galliano’s need not apply – as Fashion Fringe is specifically looking for designer’s that are original and buzzing with their own creative ideas.

“We don’t want another Alexander McQueen, we’ve already got him, we want someone who is original, with their own ideas,” McDowell informs the audience mostly made up of students and fashion graduates. “We are looking for someone with fire in his/her belly, with a collection that says ‘this is my vision,'” McDowell continues.

Colin McDowell is certainly no stranger to the fashion industry, having been in the business for decades he is a regular visiting professor to several colleges, author of many a fashion book and Fashion Editor of the Sunday Times Style magazine. He is also well known for speaking his mind – quite unapologetically.

Season after season McDowell felt that London was loosing out, loosing too many of its good designers and loosing its edge as an international player. Top buyers and journalists seem to bypass London on the international circuit and yet some of the very best young designers are produced here.

The idea for fashion fringe came about a couple of years ago. McDowell had always been interested in the Edinburgh Festival, which on one hand is very formal, while on the other offers the accompanying Fringe with a more avant-garde appeal. It was this very notion of a Fringe event strengthening a main event that got McDowell thinking.

Now in full flow – in its very first year Fashion Fringe hopes to bring in a new element to the British Fashion Council’s London Fashion Week. “I feel like Father Christmas, I really do,” says McDowell of the top prize of £100,000 to set up as a professional designer. “We want to invest in a career, to build up a fashion business, this is no Pop Idol! We are not giving the winner £100,000 to follow trends – we want them to set them!”

“The 3 runners up – I’m sure will also go on further from all the exposure,” continues McDowell. After the May 24th deadline the entrants will be whittled down to 10, who will go on to be interviewed by a special industry panel led by Katie Grand. From there the 4 finalists will be selected and with technical support from the London College of Fashion will go on to create their capsule collections. Aimed at the high fashion market all of the finalist’s collections will be made to the highest standards in the UK and possibly Italy.

Anne Pitcher, Buying Director at Harvey Nichols also highlighted a few points to think about commercially: “How are you going to persuade us to look at your collection? Why should I buy it, what will it add to the overall mix on the floor.” Pitcher mentioned that Harvey Nichols was the very first store to pick up on John Galliano and that in his first season he didn’t sell one piece. Now of course it’s a different story, “it’s all about building a partnership with your stockist and communicating the spirit of your collection to your audience,” says Pitcher.

If you are interested in entering Fashion Fringe but have further questions that need answering then there are three remaining tour dates left.


Bristol: 13 April @ Hotel du Vin

Edinburgh: 20 April @ Harvey Nichols

Leeds: 27 April @ Harvey Nichols

Gaining entry to the Fashion Fringe Talks will work on a first come first served basis, with each tour date accommodating a maximum – 100 attendees.

For those of you who would love nothing more than to be a creative designer of your own womenswear label – Fashion Fringe could be just for you. The competition is the biggest of its kind in the UK and offers the impressive prize of £100,000 of support to set up your fashion business. Not forgetting to mention direct access to some of the country’s top buyers and press. The grand final and after-party has now been scheduled for September 23rd, which is guaranteed to be a London Fashion Week highlight.

Fashion Fringe is open to anyone over the age of 18. 18 maybe the minimum age requirement but there’s definitely no limit upwards, just a young, fresh outlook is required. “This is an open competition so even your Mum who has secretly thought ‘I would like to be a designer’ can go into it too,” adds McDowell. To check out the competition brief visit the website www.fashionfringe.co.uk The closing date is 24th May 2004.

JoJo Iles

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