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Colin McDowell

The Fashion Fringe founder tells Graeme Moran a level playing field is needed for British designers – and New York is a bad role model.

You set up Fashion Fringe in 2004 – why did you set up the initiative and which have been your favourite designers?

I was tired of having to put a creative spin on discussions with foreign designers and press about the state of British fashion.

In 2004 it was in a terrible state and few seemed to care. So I decided what was necessary was to find good designers and help them to make their own businesses in London by sustained encouragement.

They are all my favourites.

What else do you think the fashion industry can do to better support new designers?

I believe that what the industry should do is to keep a level playing field very much longer than they do in London.

It seems certain people are selected to be high-flyers and others are not.

If you were put in charge of the British Fashion Council, what would you do?

I believe the BFC needs a root and branch rethink, but I’m very excited that the new chair will be Natalie Massenet, one of the women I most admire. She has focus, intelligence, determination and a deep love of fashion and the designers who create it. What better choice could there be for the future?

Which do you think are the most underrated of London’s designers and why?

Anyone who isn’t on the British Fashion Council’s fast-tracked list is at a disadvantage in London fashion.

And the most overrated?

It would seem the most overrated at the moment are the ones who are ruthlessly gearing their talents towards big sales, and I fear London designer fashion could become like New York fashion – and as we know, that’s the only city where even a T-shirt could get a standing ovation if it was the ‘right’ label. Not a very creative role model.

What was your favourite catwalk show ever?

The Yves Saint Laurent retrospective at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Not only because of the clothes and the models, but for the audience. I sat next to Sonia Rykiel and she cried all the way through. That was one creator’s way of paying homage to a greater creator and I loved her for it.

If you could get rid of one trend, what would it be?

I think the skirt that is above the knee in the front and falls lower at the back is the cruellest thing for English women, who as Norman Hartley said when the mini first came out, tend to have knees like rock cakes.

If you weren’t working in fashion, what would you be doing?

I would be doing what I’ve done for all of my life (because it takes real effort and hard work), which is to work seriously at being a good painter instead of the slapdash flashy one I am at the moment.

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