Chaos And Magic With Lulu Kennedy: Fashion East Turns 20
At the turn of the millennium, when Shoreditch was yet to be infiltrated by Prets and Tesco Expresses, the seeds for Fashion East were sown. Having spent the late 90s throwing fashion shows for her friends, as 2000 rolled around, Lulu Kennedy founded a talent incubator which would change the landscape of the London scene forever.
Two decades later, the Fashion East alumni list reads like a who’s who of British Fashion. As perhaps the most anticipated event on the LFW schedule, Fashion East’s shows are always more like a raucous party than a runway show. Where else would you see Skepta front row, watching his brother JME storm the catwalk, or a cardboard cut-out of Naomi Campbell being carted down the runway? Or London’s ICA taken over by a queer rave-cum-fashion show? After a year of doing things digitally due to you-know-what, Fashion East is back for SS22, teaming up with Browns for an exclusive exhibition in our Boutiques in celebration of their 20th birthday. Dazed’s fashion features director Emma Davidson chats to Lulu to learn more...
First of all Lulu, what did you dress like as a kid and through your teen years?
I was always getting sent home from school for tweaking my uniform to the point that it wasn’t really a uniform. I kept getting suspended, until my mum wrote a letter to the school saying I could basically wear what I liked. When that happened, I just went for it.
You moved to Naples while you were still in uni, right? How did your style change out there?
I had some friends who owned a shop called Closer and they’d let me come in and borrow stuff. So I started wearing Margiela and a bit of Westwood - they were my two go-tos - alongside lots of flea market finds. As soon as I got to Naples I also chopped my hair off and dyed it black.
And so how were the seeds for Fashion East sewn?
When I came back from Naples, I ended up with a job on Brick Lane. The owners of Truman’s wanted me to turn the space into a creative hub. I wanted to quit after day one - I absolutely hated it! But I stuck it out and here I am, 20-odd years on. I'm so glad I did and am so thankful for their ongoing support.
Brick Lane was a bit like the wild west then, you could do anything. I started doing fashion shows with friends from the pub, like House Of Jazz and Katie Grand, in these huge warehouses, and I’d organise them like raves. I didn’t really understand seating plans at that point, either. I was like: “Doesn’t everyone just sit with their mates?” The PR was horrified, but I knew nothing of the hierarchies in fashion or how things were usually done. It was just my instinct to help my friends who I thought were really talented.
You’ve turned out some of the most incredible designers working today. What makes someone stand out in your eyes?
I think you know when they’ve got it. Sometimes it’s easier to see it in their work straight away, then other times it becomes apparent when you meet them and dig a little deeper – after five minutes I’ll be like: “I love you, you’re doing Fashion East”.
This is probably a difficult question to answer – can you pinpoint a favourite show or collection?
So many! The Gareth Pugh one (SS06), at the Electric Ballroom – that was legendary. I used to go there all the time when I was a little punk, and me and Eugene (Souleiman, hair stylist) were almost licking the walls, we were just so happy to be in that venue. ASAI, Charlotte Knowles, and yuhan wang were a wicked line-up. Symonds Pearmain was always great, and the time we took over the Tate Modern’s Tanks (AW13) was incredible.
I loved Louise Grey’s show at Truman’s, when the paint on the ceiling was so old it started flaking off and I could see it settling on Suzy Menkes’ bouffant. Nasir Mazhar’s first presentation – he brought in a really tinny speaker from home, put some grime on and had the boys stand around under these really harsh overhead strip lights, but it was just the most sexy thing ever, so confrontationally brilliant. And SS16, when we took over the ICA and had Grace Wales Bonner upstairs, with all the models standing like statues around a beautiful water lily pond, and Charles Jeffrey downstairs having a big party in the theatre. That one was really magical – but then actually, lots of them are.
One of the Fashion East shows that everyone remembers is the season when Craig Green made everyone cry (SS15). Is there a show that’s particularly moved you?
Simone Rocha’s always made me teary. Her whole family is just so lovely and so proud of her – if I was sat opposite her mum and she got emotional, that was me gone. Craig Green and Stefan Cooke’s shows were often quite emosh. But actually, I think it’s more their first solo shows that get us, when they fly the nest and we see them doing well.
What was it about this season’s line-up that you love?
Chet (Lo) is one of those people that’s completely lost in his own world, which I love. His work is very confident and optimistic, and really, really fun to wear. He gave me a top, actually, and I thought “oh my god, I can’t wear that”, but then tried it on and felt great. MAXIMILIAN is just Max, what can you say? Just fab.
I think it’s really important to look after people like Jawara (Alleyne), he’s amazing at what he’s doing. He’s someone I could spend days with – when I go round to his house I love getting into the nitty gritty of all the upcycling and sourcing. Goom (Heo) we’ve not seen enough of – she’s in Korea at the moment, but when she sends us through pics the collection is looking so clean, so good. And the same with Hannah (HRH). Her work is so much fun, and we really encourage her to go all out with that. Sometimes it’s not that deep, you know?
What advice do you give your new recruits when they join the fold?
There isn’t really much advice you can give them, other than do what feels true to you. Don’t try to do everything at once, it’s fine to do it in small steps. And try to plan a bit – don’t leave it all to the last minute.
You’ve joined forces with Browns to champion Fashion East designers past and present. What appealed to you about collaborating with them?
They’ve always supported our designers, and they really look after them. Everything from paying them on time to giving them a lot of guidance, which is so nice and actually quite rare. And come on, Fashion East and Browns East? It just makes sense, doesn’t it.
I think for people coming to London to make it in fashion, a trip to Browns is a bit of a rite of passage...
I used to go in there with my student grant and spend the whole lot, then live in a squat eating Marmite on toast – I’m not even kidding.
Everyone loves seeing your daughter Rainbow on the front row - do you think she’ll join the family business?
Oh god, she’s got a really good look for the next one already. Head to toe KNWLS. I look at her and I’m like “I could never, how do you do it?!” (laughs) She’s actually always coming up with little business plans for Fashion East – the other day she was saying she’s going to set up a little stall outside selling “bits and bobs”.
Where do you see Fashion East going from here? What will it look like in ten years?
Raphaelle (Moore, Fashion East team member) will be running it and Rainbow will definitely play some part (Raphaelle shouts from the background “she’ll be my boss!”) I’ll be in some commune in Ibiza!
Shop The London Fashion Week Edit
Visit our Browns East and Browns Brook Street Boutiques where we're celebrating the stars of Fashion East past, present and future for London Fashion Week with a riotous installation by set designer Tony Hornecker showcasing collections from Fashion East's alumni.
Discover Our Boutiques
Interview by Emma Davidson
Artwork by Patrick Waugh
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