Lee Lapthorne’s career has seen him produce some of fashion’s biggest catwalk shows and launch initiatives to support and showcase up-and-coming designer brands. He shares his top tips for new brands and reveals who he hates seeing sat front row at fashion week.
Lee Lapthorne is a man with his fingers in many fashion pies. He founded Doll, a production events business that staged some of the biggest fashion week events in London, which has now merged with Premier Comms. This inspired him to launch OnOff, an off-schedule event taking place alongside London Fashion Week to showcase new and emerging fashion brands. As well as lecturing at various universities and designing one-off textile pieces for bespoke furniture and commissions, Lapthorne also designs his own range of unisex accessories.
How would you describe OnOff to someone who has never heard of it?
We’re the exciting fringe of fashion week that has a track record of discovering new talent.
When and why did you launch it?
OnOff was launched in 2002 as an alternative to the then British Fashion Council tents on King’s Road. I was producing fashion shows for designers all across London and, while listening to what they wanted, realised there was a need for OnOff.
Why focus on emerging talent?
New talent motivates me; there is pleasure and excitement in discovering and supporting new talent and watching it develop.
How do you find new brands and designers?
I visit the trade shows at Paris Fashion Week. We have industry supporters who recommend designers and we actively search. I look for a uniqueness, an openness and a willingness to learn and be adaptable, a brand that is hungry, professional and determined.
Tell us your best advice for emerging designers.
Focus on your unique offering, what makes you the best and, fundamentally, your product – the must-have item as opposed to those of your contemporaries.
Tell us about the OnOff Visionary Award – what is this?
We’ve always supported designers and the Visionary Award has enabled us to focus this support on an individual brand we see as exciting and visionary. Past designers have included Hannah Marshall, Peter Pilotto and Charlie Le Mindu.
You’ve attended and worked on many fashion shows and events. What is the one that stands out?
I would say Preen spring 04. It was many years ago, but it still stands out as a current contemporary fashion collection and an exciting show. At the time I had not long started my own [production events business Doll] and it was one of my first big shows. I was the first to use the then derelict Old Sorting Office on New Oxford Street and built an imposing 150 ft long and 4 ft high catwalk.
You also work as an artist – tell us about this.
I have an MA in Textiles and I started my PhD in the research of integrating textiles into architecture, but I had to stop when UCE asked me to run the MA fashion course, which I did for two years. I still love to print and make my own work. Nowadays I produce one-off pieces of textiles for bespoke furniture and commissions. I am also the artist in residence at London College of Communication, which keeps me busy.
What has been the high point of your career so far?
Watching many designers that I have supported succeed. Gareth Pugh, Roksanda [Ilincic], Peter Pilotto, JW Anderson and Christopher Raeburn to name a few.
What has been the lowest point of your career and how did you overcome it?
The lack of camaraderie in our industry can be frustrating. I am a determined individual and focus on my successes.
What is the best and worst thing about your job?
The creative mix of projects means that no day is the same and that’s exciting and can be challenging too.
Where are your favourite places to shop?
I love Istanbul for its eclectic mix of traditional antiques and contemporary boutique pieces. Online YBD (Young British Designers) supports British designers. Browns Focus and Liberty are good stores to visit to gauge what’s trending right now.
What is your current favourite fashion brand?
What was the last item you bought?
McQueen black boots and a mohair McQ Jumper.
What is the most expensive or the most treasured item in your wardrobe?
An Emanuel Ungaro midnight blue tailed morning suit, which I wore for my civil partnership.
What one fashion trend do you wish would disappear?
Talentless celebrity children with a lack of understanding for true design sat front row.
What one trend do you wish would come back?
The celebration of fashion legends before they are no longer with us.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Find a trusted and good lawyer.
If you weren’t working in the fashion industry, what would you be doing?
Printing fabrics and studying for my PhD.
Who else in the fashion industry do you admire and why?
I have known [the Royal College of Art’s head of fashion] Zowie Broach for a number of years. I admire her for her pure determination, integrity, eternal dedication for all that she does, infectious passion, generosity and talents.
Tell us something not many people know about you.
I have sold my own label of accessories exclusively to Harvey Nichols, and sold internationally and created collections for accessories website On Pedder across its seven locations in Asia. Which means that I have a deeper understanding of a new designer’s journey.