Pushing your way through the hordes of tourists and day-trippers on a Saturday afternoon, it’s nearly impossible to imagine Brick Lane deserted. However, Lulu Kennedy nostalgically remembers a time when Shoreditch was a “ghost town” and the now flourishing fashion scene was still in its humble origins. 20 years on, Kennedy is the figurehead of an East London initiative that has helped launch the careers of some of the most revered names in British fashion.
Fashion East was founded by Kennedy in 2000, with the aim of offering aspiring designers financial support, mentoring, and the chance to realise their career ambitions by showing at London Fashion Week. The first roster of Fashion East talent included Camilla Staerk, Blaak, IE Uniform and Patrick Thomson. Household fashion names, such as Jonathan Saunders, JW Anderson, Holly Fulton, Henry Holland, Richard Nichol, Meadham Kirchhoff, Roksanda Ilinic and Mario Schwab, add to the impressive list of alumni. This season’s mentees, announced last week, comprise Asai, Supriya Lele and Charlotte Knowles.
The organisation began life at the then-derelict Old Trewman Brewery, where Kennedy had been recruited, four years previously, to transform the space into a hub for emerging creatives. Kennedy, who had spent her youth putting on raves in Italy, accepted the challenge put forward by owner Ofer Zeloof, and began hosting rough-and-ready fashion shows in the space, where music blasted out of mega sound systems and models complained of the too cold conditions.
“… It was all very raw, noisy and raucous. I just didn’t get my knickers in a twist about it,” she told Vogue. Despite her makeshift approach, Kennedy’s shows quickly gained popularity and her boss encouraged her to solidify her work into a philanthropic project. Fashion East was born.
Following the initiative’s success, Kennedy has gone on to collect a dizzying list of accolades. In 2005, she launched MAN, the menswear equivalent of Fashion East. Five years later, she launched her own label, Lulu & Co, whose first collection showcased ten dresses, made by Fashion East designers over its ten-year history. In 2012, she received an MBE for her contribution to the fashion world and was invited to take on a new role as editor-at-large for LOVE magazine, once again scouting fashion talent to feature in its pages.
Despite her involvement with a multitude of external projects, Kennedy has continued to kickstart fashion careers season after season, via Fashion East and MAN. Hopefuls are invited to apply through their website, where it states that only three womenswear and three menswear designers will receive mentorship. Prospective mentees are asked to fill out an application form, which can be found on the website, attach an up-to-date CV, images of their work and any press coverage. Applications for Menswear SS19 open this month, while Womenswear SS19 will open in March.
On her icons:
“My style icon is Grace Jones. She’s absolutely fierce. I loved how shocking her image was when she first came on the scene, carefully built up with the help of art director Jean-Paul Goude. She made a huge impact on me – this incredible androgynous woman with shaved men’s hair and men’s clothes, but still very sexy.” – Financial Times, 2012
On her “fairy godmother” status:
“I’m just a foster mum. The designers are with me for one or two seasons and then I let them go. I can’t grant them wishes. They make things happen. They’ve got to put the work in.” – The Guardian, 2012
On London fashion:
“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.” – Dazed, 2010
Words by Niamh Leonard-Bedwell | Feature image: Supriya LeLe AW17 (via Supriya LeLe)