In his new role as chairman of the British Fashion Council, Harold Tillman aims to unite the UK fashion industry.
As London Fashion Week kicks off this weekend, newly crowned British Fashion Council chairman Harold Tillman will be prowling the catwalk tents and doing some power-networking. His ambition is to unite the high street with the high-end and bring suppliers and fashion students together.
The Jaeger owner takes the mantle from Marks & Spencer chief executive Sir Stuart Rose, who will stand down after next week’s event. Rose was instrumental in restoring LFW to its former glory, helping to secure a new £4.2 million, three-year funding package from the London Development Agency in December last year. The funding will provide support for emerging designers and will be used to boost LFW’s profile. Of the £4.2m, about £1.2m will go to LFW – double the amount it used to receive from the LDA.
That is Rose’s legacy, and he will be a tough act to follow. But Tillman, who was himself a design student at the London College of Fashion in the 1960s, has plans up his sleeves to take the international event and the UK industry to the next level.
Tillman says he will combine his passion for design with his retail expertise and is committed to nurturing young talent to build the commercial aspect of the BFC. His goal is to become an international ambassador for the UK fashion industry.
“I’m really excited about the role,” says Tillman. “We’re quite unique in the UK when it comes to creative talent and I want to ensure this is at the front of everyone’s mind on an international level. My strengths are my understanding of and passion for design, and my involvement with fashion colleges. I want to ensure a commercial focus too.”
He admits the current discord in the fashion industry is a concern. “We need to bring retail, design, manufacturing and production – all aspects of the industry – together to create harmony,” he explains.
Tillman has the support of other bodies to achieve his dream of unifying the sector. BMB Group chairman and chief executive Peter Lucas, who will become chairman of the British Clothing Industry Association (BCIA) later this year, says: “In the past, the relationship between the BFC and BCIA has been challenging. But Harold and I have known each other for more than 20 years and we share the same objective, which is to make the fashion industry speak with one voice.”
Lucas explains that Tillman’s design background means he is in tune with LFW’s fledgling businesses and the problems they face.
“The main reason why Harold is right for the job is because he has a genuine passion for it. Fashion is close to his heart, and you couldn’t say the same thing for most of the previous candidates,” says Lucas, who is a director of the BFC.
He goes on to point out that Tillman stands out from previous BFC chairmen. “He’s a bit of a surprise appointment because the BFC tended to gravitate towards the big high street retailers. But Harold is a safe pair of hands and understands the dynamics of the retail scene, as well as fashion design.”
Fortunately, Tillman already has experience in developing and nurturing emerging designers, which is of massive importance to the BFC. He sits on the board of the Fashion Enterprise Forum, which raises cash for young industry entrepreneurs, alongside new Whistles chief executive and former Topshop brand director Jane Shepherdson. He has also pledged £1 million to sponsor 10 MA students each year at the London College of Fashion. Last week he was appointed chairman of the alumni board for the University of the Arts London, which comprises six London universities including Central Saint Martins and the London College of Fashion.
BFC chief executive Hilary Riva says: “The BFC is recognised for identifying and nurturing new design talent. Harold has a wealth of experience in design, manufacturing and brand development, and brings an understanding of the many challenges that designer businesses face.”
Mark Eley, one half of LFW label Eley Kishimoto, hopes that Tillman will do more to nurture and sustain the UK’s creative talent during his three-year tenure. “Everyone knows London is a hotbed of creativity, but designers need an infrastructure to turn this talent into a profit-making business,” Eley says. “UK design talent is rarely exploited commercially. We have a category of established designers such as Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood, but can you name me a commercially successful young designer who doesn’t have the support of the high street through tie-ups?”
Vivienne Westwood is returning to the LFW catwalks after a nine-year absence and is one of this season’s biggest draws.
Designer Richard Nicoll agrees that an infrastructure to support designers is vital if the BFC is to encourage UK labels to show in London. He also recommends setting up more initiatives such as Fashion Forward, sponsored by developer Westfield, which provides funding for more established designers.
“As well as financial support, we need help finding manufacturing and production contacts, and developing licensing agreements,” Nicoll explains. “The New Generation scheme [which sponsors 20 young designers and is supported by Topshop] is great for young designers, but for those like myself, who sit between new and well-established names, there aren’t many opportunities.”
However, Tillman is aware that designers want their voices heard. He plans to attend as many shows as possible during LFW and to meet with the designers. “That’s my first task as chairman,” he says. “I want to establish what the needs are and talk to the designers. Supporting the designers through an infrastructure is an area of great importance.”
Another of Tillman’s challenges is the ongoing ‘skinny model’ debate. In December, the BFC unveiled an action plan to ensure that models at LFW are healthy, and banned models under 16 from the catwalks.
The strategy, a response to the findings from the recent Model Health Inquiry, also states that models working at LFW will have to produce a medical health certificate, and they may only be employed at LFW under representation from a UK-based agency.
Tillman believes style icons such as supermodel Naomi Campbell make good role models for the industry as regards model health. “The BFC has taken huge responsibility for this issue and we will continue to do so, but we also need support from the rest of the world,” he says.
Drumming up support from all corners of the fashion world is top of Tillman’s agenda and he is eager to continue to retain existing relationships with the high street, as well as to develop new partnerships and sponsorship schemes. “If people want to get involved with the BRC’s work, I welcome their support and I welcome the continued support of Sir Stuart Rose and Sir Philip Green,” he says.
When asked what his own BFC legacy will be, Tillman initially hesitates. “I’ve only just been appointed and I’ll pick up my full responsibilities after this week’s show,” he says. “But I want to bring together retail, design and manufacturing, and support new talent. I know what I want to achieve: unity in the sector.”
Harold Tillman’s CV
2008 Chairman, BFC and University of the Arts London Alumni Board
2007 Appointed chair of Complete Leisure Group
2006 Rescues department store Allders of Croydon
2003 Acquires 100% of Jaeger and becomes chairman
1999 Joins Peter Lucas and backs the buyout of Baird Menswear Brand, taking the role of chairman
1986 Acquires a division of Austin Reed and becomes chairman
1966 Acquires 100% of Lincroft Clothing Company
1963 Graduates from London College of Fashion