Lulu Kennedy is having a moment. The tanned, irresistible director of Fashion East is curled up in a Richard Nicoll Linder Sterling print dress in the airy attic office of Fashion East, reminiscing about the Spring 2008 show for Fashion East which variously featured Agyness Deyn ripping down the runway in best mate, Henry Holland’s studded leathers, much fancied Scottish designer Louise Gray’s London debut and the return of couture recycler, JJ Hudson or Noki who had two drag queens playing ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Lulu. “It was in a disused roofspace in the Truman Brewery,” muses Kennedy, “We had to clear out two skips of rubbish beforehand and the paint on the ceiling was flaking. At the show, I could literally see the paint flaking onto the guests!” In the ten years since its inception, the not-for-profit organization may has changed venues from The Truman Brewery to chic Mayfair restaurant, Quaglino’s to the basement of Somerset House and finally to Topshop’s “heroic” venue this season, the old disused Eurostar station at Waterloo; but Fashion East (and its menswear offshoot, MAN) has stayed true to its agenda of being an incubator for fashion’s best and brightest and correspondingly become must-see shows to scout new talent.
Asked to list highlights from the last ten years, Kennedy reels them off – House of Jazz, Gareth Pugh, Jonathan Saunders, Richard Nicoll… In truth highlights of the last decade of Fashion East would be a good potted history of London Fashion Week’s coming of age from edgy underdog to Paris, New York and Milan to a powerful and influential player on the fashion scene in its own right. From Michael Van Der Ham’s patchworked loveliness, Louise Goldin’s intergalactic warriors to Meadham Kirchhoff’s interpretation of gothic beauties and Marios Schwab’s intellectual take on erotica, Fashion East’s alumni have all gone on to impressive careers post their debut at Fashion East. Not one to rest on her laurels however, Kennedy has taken the momentous occasion of the 10-year anniversary to set up a new venture, Lulu & Co., launching a ten-piece edit of iconic pieces from the Fashion East designers handpicked from their archives. Featuring Gareth Pugh’s diamond hard aesthetic encapsulated in a patent leather bandeau dress, Meadham Kirchhoff’s raw-edged sheath to Holly Fulton’s art deco tube dress among others, the collection is sure to be a sellout when it hits Harvey Nichols, Matches and selected concessions worldwide today.
Dazed Digital: What are your memories of the first Fashion East show?
Lulu Kennedy: It was next door at the Atlantis Gallery, a warehouse next to The Truman Brewery. We had Blaak, Camilla Staerk and PPQ showing. It was completely out-of-control. It was a huge space but we had double the amount of people we should have. It felt like an experiment but people really liked it and the press coverage was incredible. It felt like it worked.
DD: How has the area changed?
Lulu Kennedy: I was talking to Hazel and Pablo (from House of Jazz) yesterday. There were only two pubs, one being The Bricklayers Arms which they owned. I would help out behind the bar pulling pints! There was literally no one in the area, there was a Texaco garage where you would do your shopping. When I first started working for the Truman Brewery in 1996, it was a ghost town and we were rattling around this huge 11-acre site with 20 tenants. It’s a completely different world. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been teleported into the future.
DD: Does it feel like Fashion East could only happen here?
Lulu Kennedy: I think it is unique to London. I think London’s very brave, almost to the point of recklessness which I love. I feel very reassured by that cavalier attitude. But it’s also a credit to the Truman Brewery. It’s their project – I run it for them. It’s their philanthropy that makes the whole thing possible. They are very interested in supporting creatives – it’s their way of giving something back. They liked the idea of the venue being used and they love the parties and shows we’ve done here. But it was me nagging them saying we should do something with these young designers.
DD: Does it amaze you that a philanthropic effort has gone from strength to strength and you’re now celebrating your 10th birthday?
Lulu Kennedy: It amazes me because when 9/11 happened, our show was just a few days after. It was such a difficult time and we were wondering if we should cancel our show. It felt like how can the economy recover from this and how can we still be relevant? Sponsorship got pulled and marketing budgets got pulled back but somehow we were very lucky. We’ve got loyal sponsors like Topshop and Truman Brewery who have stuck by us. It’s made everyone pull together. People have stuck to their guns, stayed true to themselves and raised their game. London is where it’s at – an incredibly strong, vibrant fashion week and more and more people are coming here.
DD: What have been some of your highlights of the last decade?
Lulu Kennedy: House of Jazz – their shows were always fun and they are the most brilliant characters. However stressful things got, they never lost their cool and working with them was always fun. Marios Schwab – I first heard about him when he worked with Kim Jones. When he started doing womenswear I was completely over the moon. Then there’s Gareth Pugh - I’m so glad that was a risk we took. It’s a perverse thing but I enjoyed people being up in arms. Richard Nicoll – I super believed in him and seeing him do so well is so rewarding. Also Jonathan Saunders, Louise Gray – I really love her vision.
DD: How would you describe your role to these designers?
Lulu Kennedy: It depends on where they’re at. With someone very new and inexperienced – I try to be reassuring and sisterly or motherly. But others are brilliant and they teach me things. We usually try to have fun as well as well as work very hard.
DD: How would you define the quality you look for when choosing who will show at Fashion East?
Lulu Kennedy: You just know it when you see it. You don’t even need to go out looking for it - it jumps out at you. It’s a strength of conviction and belief in who you are as a designer. We can usually see past people’s mistakes to see their spark and you can just nurture that. I think it’s a very easy process.
DD: Why was it the right time to launch Lulu & Co.?
Lulu Kennedy: It felt like it was our 10th birthday and we wanted to do something special to celebrate it. I wanted to take Fashion East to the next level and launch it as a business.
DD: How did you find getting involved in the design process?
Lulu Kennedy: We tried to improve on price and make it more accessible than their main line and made clothes easier to wear. The process has been a massive eye opener for me. If I had known then what I know now I might not have tried it – it’s full on. But we’re going to open it up, and we’re talking to some menswear designers. Once we’ve got over the headache of setting up a business, we’re going to do the fun stuff which is the design process of making the selection and working with the designers and working with new collaborators who aren’t necessarily from Fashion East.
DD: And what were your feelings about putting your name on the brand itself?
Lulu Kennedy: Terrified! (Laughs) It’s the name of my blog actually. Because when we decided to do this little range, we just used the name of my blog – it was as simple as that. Afterwards I thought, “God, my name is on this thing!”