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Glasgow styles better
Saville Row, Champs Elyseé, Buchanan Street . . . Designer labels are to Glasgow what coals once were to Newcastle. As the first ever Glasgow Fashion Week struts its stuff all over George Square, Kirstin Innes speaks to three up and coming young designers
Saville Row, Champs Elyseé, Buchanan Street . . . Designer labels are to Glasgow what coals once were to Newcastle. As the first ever Glasgow Fashion Week struts its stuff all over George Square, Kirstin Innes speaks to three up and coming young designers about Scotland’s healthy fashion scene
photo: ali toufan (www.sonassi.com) model wears: all saints
The brand man
Aaron Harper, who designed the brand logo and websites for Glasgow Fashion Week (GFW), has been running his own label CabalCovin for a year. Harper is a graphic designer by trade and his range of smudgy, stencil print T-shirts and badges have already graced the chests of The Kooks and The Arctic Monkeys. He is excited about GFW and sees it as an important development.
‘Yemi Agite, the GFW organiser, is using a lot of local talent on the catwalks. They are going to be displaying their work up against well-known designers and big name brands. I think it’ll be really interesting to see young talent up against the bigger names, because often, as with design in London compared to design in Scotland, there’s a lot more freedom to be creative when you’re on a slightly smaller scale. Sometimes I think that independent designers are producing all the interesting stuff.’
Harper points out that his Scottish roots run deep.
‘I wanted to start a brand that was distinctly Scottish, without using tartan in a clichéd way, so I’ve based my motifs on a more urban lifestyle - ghetto blasters, tattoos, anti-war slogans and skateboard designs over tartan. I suppose there is something quite distinctively Glaswegian about what I do. People in Glasgow are more conscious of labels than in Edinburgh, where things tend to be more relaxed, and I think a lot of that will come out in the catwalk shows.’
The idea behind GFW came about after organisers noticed that Toronto and San Paulo were running their own city-wide fashion weeks to compete with the larger events in Paris, London, New York and Milan. Further momentum was provided by last year’s Edinburgh Fashion Fair, which received criticism for not focussing enough on local talent.
‘I think Scotland as a whole has a very creative output at the moment,’ says Harper, ‘and I think sometimes Scottish talent can be overlooked because of London being such a big force. I think it’s important that everybody doesn’t emigrate to London; there’s so much talent outside of that one city, especially in Scotland. ‘There are a lot of good small design companies coming up in Glasgow at the moment - there’s a lot of cross-referencing. We started up a MySpace page for GFW and we were overwhelmed by the response we got from local people wishing to participate.’
The prodigal daughter
Jennifer Lang sounds a little bit flustered when asked to describe her recent ascent in London fashion circles. In the two-and-a-half years since she graduated from St Martin’s College fashion postgraduate course (having previously studied at the Scottish College of Textiles in Galashiels), Lang has been named by fashion bible Vogue as one of the six most promising young designers in London, has exhibited a collection of work at every single London Fashion Week, and won Scottish Textile Designer of the Year 2006. She has also collaborated with high profile labels in London and Rome, and was specially commissioned to design an outfit for Kylie. It’s a lot to remember.
‘A spread like we received in Vogue is a huge boost for a young designer and a great platform, as all sorts of people see your work. Kylie’s stylist called me up and asked me if they could borrow the catwalk pieces from that show, but they were all too big for her. I thought that was the end of it, but a few months later he commissioned me to make her a dress. It was pink, dip-dyed with deep burgundy. I’m still very pleased with it.’
Along with rising star Christopher Kane, Jennifer’s presence at London Fashion Week last month has helped place new Scottish design firmly in the public eye. Her unobtrusive, clever knits may be less ostentatious than Kane’s clubwear, but then ‘knits’ is a rather inadequate word for the cobwebby, gossamer-fine tunics and free-skirling skirts Lang has produced recently. She is wary of the current vogue for Scots and doesn’t think there is a distinctive Scottish ‘look’. ‘There’s been a drive to encourage Scottish talent recently which is great. There are increasing opportunities for designers in Glasgow, but there are a lot of opportunities in London, and the UK does still work out of there. I do think now that I could have been based anywhere and made it work.’
The emergent designer
‘Oh no, I’m not sure if I should tell you what my collection was influenced by,’ says young Glasgow designer Onnie (real name Veronica Renton), who is having her first professional show on GFW’s New Talent: Revelations stage. She laughs for a while, then breathes in. ‘Okay. I heard that Dali was inspired to paint The Hallucinogenic Toreador after seeing Matisse with his fly buttons undone. So this collection has a lot of buttons on it, for the picture and Matisse’s flies. I like things like that. It’s quite monochromatic, too, this collection. Lots of masculine lines - I’m making a piece I’m calling a tuxedo blouse just now - but with a glam edge. The source of inspiration often takes over my own particular style - I get creatively involved in an idea and it all spirals from there.’
Onnie has been running her own label for just over a year now. Like Jennifer Lang, she’s a graduate of the Scottish College of Textiles, but she went through Edinburgh College of Art before coming back to her native Glasgow. ‘It can be frightening, being a designer in Scotland,’ she says. ‘It’s such a small place, and I think there’s always that sense that at some point you get too big for the city - everyone’s a little scared of working so hard then ending up in London, working for free for a bigger designer who can occasionally offer you a hot lunch. But there’s a feeling now that you don’t have to get too big for the city any more.’ Onnie has been involved in Scottish fashion for ten years, since she was 16; she did work experience with ultra-hip Glasgow label Olanic after leaving art school, and she thinks things are changing. ‘Ten years ago, everyone in Scotland went to Galashiels for training; and then when they came back here, Olanic would host regular fashion meetings - and most of the people who used to attend are down in London now. It’s different these days. It’s really interesting, to be designing in Glasgow.’
Designers and companies taking part in Glasgow Fashion Week include Alchem1st, All Saints, Chateauroux, Christian Dior, Christie Alexander, Daryl Van Vouw and Der Kommiser of Amsterdam International Fashion Week, Diesel, Dune, efunkhouser, Fifi and Ally, Fran Pollock, Glitz & Glamour, Harry Gilan, Joe Blake, Laura Vickers, Mary Kay, Raw Vintage, Topshop and Ultimo.
Glasgow Fashion Week runs from Wed 28–Sat 31 Mar, with most catwalk shows based in the GFW tent in George Square. Please consult www.gfashionweek.com for full show listings.