As creative director of design competition Fashion Fringe, Colin McDowell is renowned for his support of UK designers. Since launching three years ago, the project has given advice and support worth £300,000 and the 2007 Fashion Fringe, which opened last week, includes a new accessories category. McDowell is also senior fashion writer for The Sunday Times Style supplement, and a fashion historian and author of more than 16 books.
Why did you launch the Fashion Fringe initiative?
Young UK designers really struggle to build a business. There's government funding in Paris and Milan, while in New York designers who gain their experience with a major fashion house know there's a chance one of these will take a gamble on them. There's no similar system in the UK. We have the best art and fashion colleges and the best youth culture, and Fashion Fringe was set up to help nurture this. Find out more at www.fashionfringe.co.uk.
Why is the UK so renowned for its creativity?
Creativity isn't meant to be prissy and middle class, and in the UK, especially in London, it's not. Instead it's raw and rough, with amazing drive and vitality. In London we embrace all cultures - other fashion capitals don't.
Fashion Fringe began in 2004. What is its lifespan?
It can go on forever. We're at the start of a project for which we have big plans. Winning designers are thriving - for autumn 07 Basso & Brooke has orders of more than EUR3 million (£2m), Erdem's orders are at EUR2m (£1.4m) and Gavin Douglas has written EUR89,000 (£61,000) after his first show.
What is your view of London Fashion Week?
It has improved massively over the past few years, which I'd like to think is partly because of Fashion Fringe. I was fed up of apologising for London and its poor schedule and I've always been interested in young designers, so doing something for both made sense.
What one thing would you change about the fashion industry?
I'd do something to make shows start on time. For the autumn 07 catwalks I must have spent a total of about two days waiting for late shows.
Who is the most inspirational designer working today?
There are two - John Galliano, who is the true genius of the age, and Miuccia Prada, who is on a roll at the moment.
What is your opinion of the UK high street?
It is buzzing and vibrant. The likes of Topshop and Zara have done a fantastic job of focusing everyone towards fashion - not just clothes, but fashion. They've even helped to raise the age limit of who can be fashionable. No other country can compete. But it's the indies that are really at the cutting edge. It's easy for fashion writers to pick the looks of the season, but we don't have to make hard buying decisions. If I owned a shop I would be haunted by the Sale rail at the season's end. And it's getting harder because there's so much variety and no real consensus.
What will be the strongest trends to emerge from the autumn 07 catwalks?
Silver is already out there, but will be bigger and bolder. Moulded leather is another winner.
What does your future hold?
I'm working on a symposium of fashion ethics and ethical sourcing, and my book about Princess Diana's clothes, Diana Style, will be published in June. I'm also involved in the Edinburgh Fashion Festival, which will become an annual event from next year.
THIS FASHION LIFE
What is your biggest fashion weakness?
Clinging on to my favourite clothes that have become anti-fashion. I'm very lazy about buying clothes for myself.
What was your best fashion moment?
The best moment was when Basso & Brooke won the first Fashion Fringe. We held an amazing after-party - kids kept approaching me to say how great they thought it was. It was then I knew we'd got it right.
And your worst?
I don't think I have a worst moment. I'm a very optimistic person.
Who is your industry icon?
I admire M&S boss Stuart Rose more and more, especially in the way that he is committing M&S to ethical projects.
What would you be doing if not fashion?
I would definitely be doing something to help other people's creativity.
Where do you shop?
Ralph Lauren - it's the only brand I wear.
Who is the best dressed person of all time?
What are you reading?
Queen of Fashion: what Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution by Caroline Weber.
Who is on your iPod?
Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and lots of classical music.