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London’s Creative Talent on the Future of Fashion in the Capital

On Monday night, BoF and Mailchimp hosted emerging designers, fashion entrepreneurs and creative leaders in London to hear from the next generation of talent their reflections on the recent season, and the opportunities they see ahead.
From left: Priya Ahluwalia, Saul Nash, Imran Amed and Bianca Saunders.
From left: Priya Ahluwalia, Saul Nash, Imran Amed and Bianca Saunders. (David M. Benett)
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This week, BoF and Mailchimp hosted an intimate dinner in London’s Mayfair, celebrating the fashion capital’s design community by bringing together the next generation of entrepreneurial talent and creative leaders.

Sean Cook, vice president of marketing at Mailchimp, and Nick Blunden, president of BoF, at the BoF x Mailchimp dinner in London.

The event was attended by designers including Simone Rocha, Bianca Saunders, Priya Ahluwalia and Saul Nash as well as Chet Lo, Steven Stokey-Daley and Emilia Wickstead. They were joined by leading creatives and entrepreneurs like Isamaya Ffrench, Josephine Philips, founder of Sojo, and Machine-A’s Stavros Karelis.

In recent seasons, the global industry and its creative talent have faced a myriad of challenges, from evolving consumer expectations on speed-to-market and sustainability, supply chain bottlenecks, a pandemic and looming recession. For on-schedule London designers, they faced renewed disruption with this season’s schedule conflicting with a national period of mourning, and the State Funeral, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Today, emerging designers must navigate consistent disruption with agility. Susanna Lau wrote of this season: “There were some dropouts and schedule shifts. But by and large, London Fashion Week forged ahead [...] and the raw creativity that makes Britain’s fashion scene unique shone through, particularly from designers making their debuts.”

The dinner was co-hosted by Mailchimp, whose marketing services are intended to “level the small business playing field” for its 12 million active user-base across 190 countries. At the event, BoF asked attendees about their key learnings from the continued disruption, as well as advice for upcoming talent in the spirit of co-opetition and creative support for the next generation of designers.

Below, BoF shares some of their reflections and insights from the dinner.

From left: Steven Stokey-Daley and Leo Meredith attend a dinner hosted by BoF and Mailchimp.

Steven Stokey-Daley, menswear designer and founder of SS Daley

How did you find this season?

It was my first show outside of the BFC space, so it felt like a lot more pressure, but it was good. We had a lot to contend with, with the shifting scenario with the [State Funeral]. I was scheduled for Saturday, but the entire theme of our show was like a piss up and a party, so we had to change that whole thing [...] and the tone [of the show].

What is your hope for the future of London’s fashion design scene?

If some of the British houses came back and showed on schedule for like one mega season, it would be exciting and pull everyone to London. [...] I think it’d be great if [men’s and women’s shows] were combined because it would bring more of a livelier vibe to London, but it just wouldn’t work with the sales schedule.

What advice would you share with upcoming talent?

Don’t leave it to the last minute — I learn that lesson every season and then forget it as well.

And don’t try and please everyone around you. It’s very easy to listen to the advice of ten or 15 people who support you, and I do think it’s going back to how you consider yourself. So, focus on your message and your beliefs.

Designer Priya Ahluwalia attends a dinner hosted by BoF and Mailchimp.

Priya Ahluwalia, creative director and founder of Alhuwalia

What is a key lesson you learnt this past season?

I was lucky in the way that we weren’t presenting on schedule in September, so we didn’t have the same level of disruption. But I think, what I learnt watching fashion week, is that the designers are very resilient and able to react to the zeitgeist and things that are happening in real time. It was amazing to see the way the designers pivoted and in reflection, there’s so much space for creativity in times of turmoil. I think Covid has prepared us all for pivoting at the flip of a coin.

What is your hope for the future of London’s fashion design scene?

I hope it continues to bring really amazing, raw creative talent. I think London is one of the best [cities] at celebrating emerging talent, but [...] it would be great for some big houses to come back to London, or to test out showing in London, as it gives everyone else more opportunities.

What advice would you share with upcoming talent?

Figure out what you want to say. Be true to that vision, and get a really good team around you. So whether that’s where you’ve started with your internal team, or whether it’s who you work with on photography or styling, really focusing on getting a team of creatives who can help you make your vision even better than you ever imagined.

Rosh Mahtani, jewellery designer and founder of Alighieri, attends a dinner hosted by BoF and Mailchimp.

Rosh Mahtani, jewellery designer and founder of Alighieri

What is a key lesson you learnt this past season?

I’m definitely taking fewer risks, but [...] I’m going back to my gut instincts. Over the last 18 months, we brought in a lot of consultants and experts, but I think we maybe jumped a little too fast and made a lot of decisions that actually, in retrospect, I wouldn’t have made if I just trusted my gut. I think I’ve learnt a really big lesson there, and just in the nick of time.

What is the next focus for your business?

We are launching silk scarves, thinking about expanding the [Alighieri] universe, thinking about pieces that felt like they could be handed down through generations. I’ve been wanting to do [scarves] for ages and I was just waiting to find the right people to work with. We found this amazing atelier in Macclesfield, which is the silk hub centre of the UK. [...] I’m also really looking to retail next. I think it’s the missing [piece] in our armour.

What advice would you share with upcoming talent?

Don’t rely on other people if you can do it yourself. And actually, the best things you can do are the things you do on a low budget sometimes. [...] The things that really worked well for us was me, in my kitchen, shooting still life or sending pasta to [our community] during lockdown. It’s not necessarily the big names that are going to get you that amplification. For us, it all goes back to meaning. What’s the point in doing what we are doing?

I’ve almost gone back to really early days when I had literally £20 in my pocket and I’m like, okay, with this £20, what am I going to do that’s going to bring me the best use of that money?

Menswear designer Bianca Saunders at the BoF and Mailchimp dinner.

Bianca Saunders, menswear designer and founder of Bianca Saunders

What is a key lesson you learnt last season?

I feel like next season will be more about reduction. Last season [in June], I did like 30 looks [and 82 pieces], and I realised I don’t need that many.

I just want to get back to the creative side of things, to try some things out — basically remembering who I was at the beginning.

What is the next focus for your business?

My main focus is my core pieces and just not losing the storyline. [For those starting out,] focus on the design process and less on social media in the beginning.

What is your hope for the future of London’s fashion design scene?

More men’s! It’s controversial to say but I think it’s exciting to have something every four months [rather than] twice a year.

Alex Arsenault and Charlotte Knowles, co-founders of KNWLS, attend a dinner hosted by BoF and Mailchimp.

Charlotte Knowles and Alexandre Arsenault, co-founders of KNWLS

How did you find this season?

CK: We had such a good time — we haven’t done a show for a season, [so] it was quite refreshing to jump back into it again and have that adrenaline rush of the backstage, having everyone together as a team.

AA: We just wanted to do things that we feel are important to us. I think that we are interested in not trying to conceptualise or think too much about it, but just do things that we’re excited about. This season was the same — we had a more positive perspective on things. It was more about hope and what is to come.

What advice would you share with upcoming talent?

CK: We always say just don’t try and do it on your own because I can’t imagine doing it without Alex, without having a bit of a support system.

AA: There’s no shame in not starting your brand straight away. A lot of the fashion schools make you think you have to go out of school and start a brand to be successful [but] there’s tons of benefits in learning about the industry, meeting people [by] working for a brand and seeing how it works.

What is your hope for the future of London’s fashion design scene?

AA: The industry still feels a bit chaotic at the moment. I hope that things settle down and people start being a bit more [...] understanding. I feel like every brand went out and did something amazing [this season, but] there was still bits of negativity here and there, and I’m a bit tired of this. I wish, every moment, to just try to uplift everyone and be positive. It’s not easy to have a brand, so try to support a project instead of criticising them.

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