• Sarah Mower
I absolutely love being in touch with what young designers are thinking, and I started to do this thing because I like visiting designers’ studios, which is partly my job as a journalist —it’s my job to know what’s going to happen next.


Sarah Mower is a leading UK fashion journalist. She writes for US Vogue and The Daily Telegraph and reviews shows for Style.com. Last year, the British Fashion Council named Mower its Ambassador for Emerging Talent. She is also the chair of NEWGEN, a British Fashion Council initiative that supports emerging talent. Sarah Mower speaks about Lichting 2010, developing talent, and the importance of becoming a famous designer.


You see a lot of shows. Was there anything surprising about Lichting 2010? No, I wasn’t surprised; many BA collections look like this. I think I was quite surprised there wasn’t more textile development or print, or specialisation in knitwear—there was one knitwear designer. At British colleges you get more people intensively specialising. I was wondering whether there would be any evidence of designers looking at the sort of minimalist, restrained, more grown-up lines of Céline and Chloe, and that did come through in at least three collections. Then again, I thought young designers of this generation shouldn’t be doing that. They should be doing something else if they want to be original. Their clothes are too old for them. They should be thinking about something else.


One thing that did impress me was the audience, everybody here is so beautiful [she laughs]. Very well dressed. Better then you see in London… I think there’s a kind of style—semi-casual clothes—and there is zero evidence of that on the runway. Wherever I go, I want to see people  talking about their generation, and I think you see here people thinking, “Ooh, I’ve got to have a concept, I’ve got to look like other designers.” And that is not what I want to see.


Can we compare this show to the British graduation shows? Well, no. Britain is an international melting pot. It’s not British anymore. Most of the students are foreign students. You can’t identify it as British design. [At Lichting,] I saw what seemed to me to be a lot of Dutch names.


Last year the British Fashion Council named you its first Ambassador for Emerging Talent. How important was that for you? I absolutely love being in touch with what young designers are thinking, and I started to do this thing because I like visiting designers’ studios, which is partly my job as a journalist—it’s my job to know what’s going to happen next. But then I’ve got a lot of experience in the industry, and I know so many people I  can connect them with sponsors or people who might be able to give them consultancies or even just advise them, “You’ve got one fantastic accessory that you should develop.” So I became a sort of a godmother for this generation.


And why did you accept the ambassador’s position? I was really afraid that when the recession came designers would go out of business. So I thought, “Oh God, you know, it’s time to really step up there and really think about how we can do this on a stronger and more official level. And I thought it would be decimated, destroyed, but in fact the opposite happened… Buyers became so scared they only bought very boring clothes from the main lines they had to buy. So young designers doing something special became kind of interesting and attractive for retailers. Plus, we had another thing which was really fortunate: the exchange rate became favourable. The pound used to be so expensive for Americans. Now the Americans have come back and can afford to buy. So there are all these microeconomic things we have to think about as well.


I’m not showing off, because I always feel we can lose it at any point… If you look at Italy, Italy never bothered to—they neglected to develop any young talent, because they didn’t need to. And then suddenly a huge recession and manufacturing in China hit them overnight, and it’s quite worrying for them.


What do you consider a successful British example of talent development? The fashion council wanted to… We decided that, you know, the world changes. It used to be that everybody had to show in London. We couldn’t go to Paris to sell, even though we know everybody buys in Paris, not in London. Then we decided, OK, we’ll do a show in Paris and see what happens. It was my idea

with the buying people of the British Fashion Council. We’ve been doing this [the London Showrooms, ed.] for three seasons now, with 20 designers. And it’s working fantastically… Because I know I all the press—I work in the States—I decided to host the opening and invited everybody. And they all keep on coming, because they know it’s a must-see, and the buyers bought, sales have gone up 50 percent, every season.


You’re chair of the successful NEWGEN, which supports talented graduates and designers. Who gets selected? I have a panel of journalists and buyer friends, and we’re really, really careful and rigorous about this, because, you know, London goes through waves, and I’ve seen the downs as well as the ups. I’ve seen designers that couldn’t deliver, manufacturers and stores letting designers down. The selected designers have to have experience, and they’ve got to already have a buyer, a store. We don’t take a risk. We did take the risk with Christopher Kane, because everybody knew he had it. We told him, “Be careful and go really slowly. Only take orders from two boutiques, even if you have more. Say no!”… It’s not free. They have to pay a bit, because the thing is, if they don’t and then are thrown out at the end of it, they’re not in the discipline of paying something. They have to learn. It makes no sense just treating them like babies.


What can we learn from the United Kingdom right now? What’s fantastic that’s happened recently is, all the designers like Christopher Kane, Preen, Erdem and Jonathan Saunders are making really good clothes and are making them in and around London in small factories, and that is really a positive thing. They help the factories to get skilled to be able to make clothes that are at Barneys, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. All the designers know each other and help each other. It’s a community. But this wasn’t typical years ago.


What happened to cause this change? Probably Louise Wilson happened. The secret of Louise is that she is really, really horrible. That’s good. Most [successful UK students] come from Central Saint Martins. They’re classmates, and I think they don’t compete with one another because they all do things that are so specialised and different from each other. We have a whole network that’s going up organically to support designers. We have the Centre for Fashion Enterprise, that’s separate from the British Fashion Council; they provide free studio space [to ten designers, including Peter Pilotto, James Long and Louise Gray] and have a guy who’s a fantastic business advisor.


You said you came to Amsterdam because you’d never been here. Had you ever heard of Dutch fashion, besides Viktor & Rolf? No. But I just learned you have a lot of jeans companies over here… I only know the Arnhem school. It would be much better for Holland if they had specialist centres—a college that’s well known for menswear, another for knitwear, another for embroidery.


What other advice would you give the Netherlands? You have to really be sure that your designers are ready, because otherwise—in our case, they let Britain down. People have to deliver. It’s really valuable, because designers learn from buyers as well. They are also open to hearing, and the buyers are very kind… You need one store with a PR that tells the press they’ve got an exclusive, so the designer gets press. Make a name. That’s the way to do it.


How realistic is it for young designers to expect sinvestor to come calling? Well, investors never happen. Just work. My designers do everything to get consultancy jobs. They have to live. In fact, they’d rather do that than have an investor screw them over in a couple of years.


By Georgette Koning