MR Q: Lulu Kennedy

by William Buckley

From raves to runways: Lulu Kennedy on the evolution of London Collections: Men.

Lulu KennedyWith a schedule so jam-packed that the formerly three-day event has been increased to four, you’d be forgiven for thinking the catalyst for London Collections: Men was something more meteoric than the unassuming East Londoner Lulu Kennedy. Although if you’d spent an afternoon eating grilled cheese sandwiches with the director of Fashion East at the Ace Hotel’s Hoi Polloi, as I did, you would quickly see that the word “meteoric” quite succinctly sums her up.

Fashion East has gone from strength to strength since you started the non-profit in 2000. A partnership with Topman in 2005 gave rise to the MAN initiative, which in turn gave rise to LC:M. Why an initiative for young designers? What was your fashion background?
Honestly, I have no fashion background. Well, my dad used to sell vintage clothing in Camden Market, so I used to help, and I worked in Kensington Market; do you remember Kensington Market? Pete Burns stomping around in his Gorilla coat. I loved it. Then I lived in Italy organizing raves and you just wore whatever you didn’t mind losing in a field. A boiler suit? Anything you could dance in and not freeze. So nothing to do with fashion, no college, nothing. Just lucky.

So how did it all come about?
I was headhunted on the street in Brick Lane. The new owners of the Old Truman Brewery needed someone to help rent out these huge warehouses: parties, launch events, etc. I was really drawn to the fashion events. The younger designers that I knew locally would ask me if we could help. I’d go to the landlord and tell him how talented they were, and could we give them a warehouse for free, and he’d say sure. After a year or two of doing this the brewery was taking off and the owner wanted to give something back. We decided to start a project for young designers.

So how does a small non-profit for new designers lead to LC:M?
Fashion East had been going for five years when we launched menswear, so we already had a good track record. We’d got some good names under our belt like Jonathan Saunders, House of Holland and Gareth Pugh, so we’d laid the foundations. We formed a panel who advised us well and I think that’s why it took off. When we approached Topman, we had such confidence that it was relevant, that we weren’t just pitching some idea that wasn’t going to work. At first it was literally just us and Topman doing our MAN show; that was it. Other brands started showing until there was an afternoon’s worth. All the menswear press started taking it seriously, and making time for it, so we started talking—us, Topman, and the British Fashion Council—to figure out if there was enough for a day or two, and perhaps if we got one or two anchor brands to come on board then it could really become a feasible standalone event. And that’s what happened.

You have Fashion East’s presentation and the MAN show. How are they different? And how do you find the talent?
I guess you could call Fashion East entry level, a multi-brand static presentation. For these kids at that level, it suits them better than putting them on a great big runway. It gives them a chance to build up over a season or two and then maybe they move over to the MAN show, which is a three-brand runway show. We groom them for that show: Are they working with the right stylist, the right PR? The panel, apart from helping us select talent also mentors them: major buyers, brands, press, and they’ll give them such great advice. Not always what they want to hear but it’s good for them. They tend to come out of Central St. Martins, Westminster, the Royal College of Art. Although you do get the odd wild card who comes out of nowhere. Henry Holland’s one. He didn’t follow the normal route at all. When we showed him at Fashion East Women’s he just had girls in T-Shirts with Doc Martens and over-the-knee socks, it was fabulous. We do a lot with the talent we’re working with. They’re young, edgy, exciting. They sum up all of London’s energy.

And now the event spans four days, with LC:M showing some of the biggest brands in the world. How do you continue to grow?
We aren’t focused on growing. I think at this point it’s about honing, focusing, fine tuning, so it’s as effective as it can be. Are we really doing the best we possibly can for these young designers? Do we do what we say on the tin, which is to support them, launch them? We’re always questioning what we do and trying to make it better. I don’t think bigger necessarily means better.