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Be commercial and creative, ambitious designers told

High street and premium designers urged the next generation of design talent to marry commerciality with creativity to succeed in today’s competitive market.

As part of the design panel at the Drapers Next Generation Academy, Topman design director Gordon Richardson said: “Everything is commercial. Comme des Garçons is commercial. It’s about understanding the customer. I don’t see myself as a particularly good designer, but I know what’s going on. You must know your market and your customer. You need to be like a dry sponge to start the creative process.”

Former Oasis design director Nadia Jones, who is now consulting for the young fashion chain, said designers possess a “sixth sense” but have to communicate their ideas effectively to be heard by those at the top. “People find it quite hard to understand creative people, especially men in suits,” she said. “My brother Kim [Jones, menswear style director at Louis Vuitton] sits in sales meetings just like I do; it’s all about the bottom line,” she said.

Richardson added that the commercial element of a designer’s role is the “fun of the game”. He says: “Without sales, you haven’t got a business.”

Olivia Rubin, founder of the eponymous womenswear brand, agreed: “I take note of what buyers tell me. There wouldn’t be a label if I just did what I did at college.”
Luke Roper, co-founder of young fashion brand Luke, said young designers must be a “nuisance” to stand out. “I got my first job at River Island because they liked my cheek,” said Roper, who saw the job advertised in Drapers. Having no previous experience, he called the recruitment firm which, after much persuasion from Roper, gave him the company’s details. Roper called River Island and applied directly to the person recruiting for the role.

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