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Where are they now?

Graduate Fashion Week alumni have gone on to great things within the fashion industry. Drapers catches up with some of those that have led by example and asks what GFW did for them.

Stuart Vevers
Creative director, Loewe

After graduating from the fashion design course at the University of Westminster in 1995, Stuart Vevers worked as an accessories designer/consultant for brands including Calvin Klein, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Bottega Veneta. In 2005 he joined accessories label Mulberry as design director, before taking up the role of creative director at Spanish accessories label Loewe in 2008.

How important was it to be part of GFW?

Having those few seconds on a catwalk was a way of showing what you’d spent your last three years working on, to potential employers, family and friends.

How did you get your breakthrough?

My first job at Calvin Klein; meeting Luella [Bartley], Giles [Deacon], Katie Hillier and Katie Grand - we still often work together; and meeting Mr Arnault [Bernard, chief executive of luxury goods group LVMH].

What was your biggest challenge?

I think it’s the same for me now as it was when I graduated. You have to know what you want. Will you go to a new country if it’s good for your career? What risks will you take, what are your priorities in life?
It often comes down to all that.

What was the best piece of advice you were given?

Work hard and be nice to people.

What advice would you give to a GFW graduate?

Your work is essential, but equally important is how you communicate with people and who you meet outside of college.

 

Ann Sofie-Back
Founder, Ann Sofie-Back Atelje

Swedish designer Ann-Sofie Back graduated from Central Saint Martins in 1998 and launched her own womenswear label in October 2001. In autumn 05 she unveiled a menswear line and in 2005 a diffusion line, Back by Ann-Sofie Back. As a stylist, Back has worked with Dazed & Confused and Miu Miu. Her stockists include Asos.

How important was it to be part of GFW?

The Pineal Eye, a new, influential shop in London, bought my graduation collection and that is what spurred me to start my own label. I was also asked to be part of an exhibition at the ICA in London called Stealing Beauty.

How did you get your breakthrough?

The ICA exhibition, followed by the styling I did for fashion magazine Self Service.

What was your biggest challenge?

I hadn’t been interested in clothes per se. I’d been interested in changing perceptions of beauty or questioning what fashion should be, but now I’m actually interested in clothes for their own sake. I know value fashion in its own right and as a business.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given?

It was from my stylist Naomi Itkes. She told me she has come to realise that she can’t “do better styling”; it’s now about who shoots it and what magazines her work is shown in or who her clients are. I find this very true about my own work. It’s not about designing better any more; what can be improved are the circumstances around it, how I present my collections, and who I work with.

What advice would you give to a GFW graduate?

If you want to start your own business then your collection should be original enough for that. If you want to start working for someone, you have to show how that particular brand should look in a year’s time, to develop their style.

 

Andrea Hickman
Buying director, Coast

One of the youngest buying directors on the high street at 34, Andrea Hickman graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2000 with a fashion and technology degree. Days later, she was on her way to Monsoon to take up a role as buyer’s clerk, and by 2002 she was buying all the business’s occasionwear. She moved to Coast in 2004.

How important was it to be part of GFW?

While at university studying fashion, it felt like my whole world revolved around the success and participation in GFW. It seemed to be the most important thing to be part of in my life at that time, and I threw everything I had within me at putting the collection together.

How did you get your breakthrough?

By learning that it isn’t just about designing and creating: it’s about timing, money management, building relations, learning new skills and making all of those things work together to ensure the entire experience and delivery is successful.

What was your biggest challenge?

My collection at GFW was a fine, delicate knitwear-based collection which really pushed boundaries for me, having worked on evening dresses up until this point. I had to quickly learn how to master various knitwear machinery to be able to deliver the visions and concepts I’d created.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given?

One of my tutors said to me: “This is your one chance to be individual and creative.” It gave me confidence to follow through in what I really believed in. Stick by your original concepts and ideas.

What advice would you give to a GFW graduate?

Participating in GFW doesn’t just open doors to designing; it can be the gateway to many opportunities within the fashion world. I soon realised after graduating that the whole experience opened my eyes to other options. I became aware that GFW had taught me more than designing and creating - the business side of the experience, making money and being able to decide what women would want made me realise that being a buyer was what I really wanted to do.

 

Katie Hillier
Accessories designer

Graduating from The University of Westminster in 1997, Katie Hillier has since designed accessories and handbag collections for high-end fashion labels including Giles, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Stella McCartney and Luella. She now runs a design consultancy.

How important was it to be part of GFW?

It gave me a taste of the industry I was about to step into and the opportunity for exposure in the industry.

How did you get your breakthrough?

Working for Marc Jacobs.

What was your biggest challenge?

That was how to pay for my final collection. I overcame this by having three part-time jobs.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given?

“Focus, you only have one shot at this,” as told by my tutor Nigel Luck, University of Westminster.

What advice would you give to a GFW graduate?

Focus - you only have one shot at this.

 

Zoe Knight
Accessories designer

Zoe Knight graduated from Northumbria University in 1998 as an accessories designer. Since then she’s collaborated with high-end brands Jimmy Choo, Matthew Williamson and Anya Hindmarch. In 2000 she was appointed head accessories designer at luxury brand Chloé and was creative director of London indie Wolf & Badger until last year. She now focuses on her own eponymous accessories label, which is stocked in Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Saks, New York.

How important was it to be part of GFW?

It was the first time you could benchmark yourself against the rest of the UK and see whether you had the makings or not. It was also an important platform to gain as much feedback and knowledge as possible about the market.

How did you get your breakthrough?

I was head-hunted by [then creative director] Stella McCartney to work at Chloé.

What was your biggest challenge?

Developing my skills as a businesswoman as well as a creative director, which is an endemic challenge for all creatives.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given?

“Don’t make the same mistakes twice and always learn from them. It’s how you react and handle challenging times that determines the level of success you end up achieving.” From Robert Bensoussan, then chief executive of Jimmy Choo.

What advice would you give to a GFW graduate?

Work for an esteemed fashion house to develop your creative skills but look at what makes the company profitable. Surround yourself with business associates and seek mentoring from business professionals.

 

Nargess Gharani
co-founder, Gharani Štrok

Nargess Gharani trained at the Surrey Institute, from where she graduated in
1992. In 1995 Gharani and childhood friend Vanya Štrok teamed up to launch their womenswear label, which made its London Fashion Week debutin 2001. It is stocked by the likes of Matches, Harrods, and indies Bernard of Esher and mini-chain Anna.

How important was it to be part of GFW?

It was the most incredibly exciting time as it was the first time to have my collection on a catwalk.

How did you get your breakthrough?

I was interviewed for Clothes Show Live after the show, which was my first TV interview. I felt so amazed that they chose me out of our year.

What was your biggest challenge?

Having the vision on a design idea and making sure it materialised in the way I wanted it to.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given?

[Design consultant] David Jones, our adviser, always said it was important to have regular short breaks from it all. Although weekend breaks were not that regular I trained myself to switch off while away and really felt fresher when I came back to the business.

What advice would you give to a GFW graduate?

Life is short, so just follow your heart and do what makes you happy. Work hard and play hard.

 


Tamara and Natasha Surguladze
Founders, Tata Naka

Identical twins Tamara and Natasha Surguladze are the force behind womenswear label Tata Naka. The pair came to London in 1996 to study at Central Saint Martins and after graduating launched their own label in 2000.

Stockists include Italian luxury boutique and etailer Luisa Via Roma.

How important was it to be part of GFW?

Extremely, as it is your first big exposure to the fashion world and is attended by press and buyers.

How did you get your breakthrough?

When Vogue Italy ran a cover feature on our graduate collection, which was shot in Georgia, where we’re from.

What was your biggest challenge?

Starting our business right out of university and keeping it going successfully.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given?

It was from our tutor Janet Lance Hughes: “Have your own individual style and don’t follow anyone else.”

What advice would you give to a GFW graduate?

Be yourself and prepare yourself as it is after GFW that the hard work really starts.

 

Amy Molyneaux
Designer and Co-Founder, PPQ

Amy Molyneaux graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in 2000. She set up womenswear label PPQ with Percy Parker in 1999. The brand shows at London Fashion Week and is stocked by indie Sarah Coggles in York and etailer Asos.

How important was it to be part of GFW?

I started PPQ in 1999, designing it alongside my final graduate collection. GFW was actually held opposite our old studio in Shoreditch, so PPQ was in the middle of the buzzing atmosphere.

What was your breakthrough?

The first PPQ collection was bought by a Japanese agent straight away, giving PPQ a presence in East and West markets. Their buying system meant a large deposit was paid upfront on all of the orders, enabling us to expand the business with less risk.

What was your biggest challenge?

Supply and demand and finding factories in the UK that didn’t have cash flow problems. We would build relationships with CMT units and a few months later they would either relocate overseas or just vanish.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given?

I’ve had no end of interesting things said to me, including being able to look at things objectively, retain a sense of fun and, more importantly, focus on design ethic and brand individuality.

What advice would you give to a GFW graduate?

Be shrewd with your business plans if you’re going to go it alone, or work with someone who can run the business side of things while you concentrate on the collections.

 

Adam Entwisle
Co-founder, Horace

Adam Entwisle graduated from Central Saint Martins in 1999 and started out working for New York T-shirt brand Buddhist Punk. In 2002 he launched contemporary menswear and womenswear label Horace with Emma Hales, who he met at art college. Distressed hand-washed leather pieces with jersey and T-shirt separates encapsulate the brand, which is stocked by etailer Asos and indie Sarah Coggles.

How important was it to be part of GFW?

It was incredibly important as I was applying for my MA at Central Saint Martins and at my college only half of the final year would be able to show their work.

How did you get your breakthrough?

I had my portrait taken by Lord Snowdon for British Vogue and Selfridges bought my collection in 2000.

What was your biggest challenge?

For my second London Fashion Week show I had £500 from my grandmother and £1,500 from my mum, but no
sponsors. I managed to get a free venue, free production, free models, and all my fabrics donated to me by [designer] Luella Bartley. When you’re young and you try super hard, people really do try to help you.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given?

Louise Wilson [MA course director at Central Saint Martins] would always scream at us about things being amazing, “but would you fucking wear that?” Horace has a strict ethos that comes not just from trends but from our youth and personality.

What advice would you give to a GFW graduate?

The bigger your goal or dream the higher you will climb; you need to always be ahead of yourself.

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