Sarah Mower has always been a force to be reckoned with, but now that she comes with three rather important letters after her name (M, B and E), her clout has been considerably amplified. It’s about time Ms Mower’s ‘services to the fashion industry’ were so formally recognised and her name bought to the attention of the public-at-large; after all she (along with other authoritative and influential figures including Louise Wilson, Caroline Rush and Louise Carter) have gone ‘above and beyond’ to promote, nurture and develop London’s fledgling talent, itself the rock-bed of British fashion.
Her famed honesty and forthright views, which remain refreshing in an industry saturated by conglomerates and advertising, made her the ideal choice for Ambassador for Emerging Talent for the British Fashion Council, a role which is supplemented by her position as chair of the NEWGEN committee. Mower’s respected voice, her passion for new design talent and her ability to spot and mentor this talent (coupled with a stubborn refusal to bow to the perceived strain of a global financial meltdown) has facilitated the extraordinary success of young designers including Mary Katrantzou, Michael Van Der Ham, Christopher Kane and Peter Pilotto (to name just a few). It’s safe to say that when Sarah Mower speaks, it’s best to pay attention.
F156 – Firstly, congratulations on your recent MBE. How does it feel to be recognised for your efforts in such a formal manner?
Sarah Mower – It is unreal. And very grown-up, and unexpected. And at the same time you think it just makes you think, well, did I really deserve this? And in the next breath, how can I do more – because it’s about contributing to your country, and could you do better?
Fashion156 last interviewed you in 2009, when you had just taken the role of Ambassador for Emerging Talent at the BFC. How has that role developed over the past three years?
I took the role because I was frightened. We had so much talent which was just getting started in the first half of the 2000s, but now banks were crashing and I was afraid our designers would be swept away. I couldn’t bear to see the lights go out in London again. So I thought I would try to bring as much attention as I humanly could to the designers, and work closely with the BFC, which itself was entering a really active and out-going phase. Now the situation is unrecognisable – the cohort including Chris Kane, Jonathan Saunders, Erdem, Peter Pilotto, Roksanda Ilincic and Mary Katrantzou is going from strength to strength, London’s shows run on time, we are more hospitable than any other city- and the London showroom initiative has become an established must-see and must-buy in Paris and New York. Not to mention the huge reaction the designers had in LA and Hong Kong last November. This is all due to all the amazing women at the BFC, Caroline Rush, Louise Carter, Katie Bain, Anna Orsini, Barbara Grispini and Clara Mercer – who never say no to a good idea and go out and organise with such class, imagination, professionalism and charm. Also, we never boast. Coming from behind as London underdogs makes all of us – designers and supporters – think harder, want try new things, and move faster and more cohesively than foreign establishments. There’s always more to do, but I think we’re more confident that people – the world- actually rate London as a force now.
Is there an achievement relating to the role of which you feel especially proud?
I can’t say a personal achievement. The enjoyment is being close to such creative people and being able to join dotted lines behind the scenes for them sometimes.
There’s a very supportive, almost community-like spirit amongst London designers. Is this something you were attempting to cultivate, or has it been a natural, organic process?
I can’t take credit for the closeness and friendship amongst designers – I think you have to hand the foundation of that culture to Prof. Louise Wilson and the bonding experience in her classes – and the sense she gives everyone that they must each do something unique. So they are confident and unthreatened as individuals who know they are stronger sharing than being alone. That is how this whole spirit started.
How difficult is it for designers to ‘graduate’ from the NEWGEN launch pad? Is London able to nurture business-savvy designers with career longevity, or is this an area that still needs improvement?
The whole aim is for designers to be able to stand on their own two feet, and that’s become much more likely now that there’s so much assistance on offer- a system which provides many structured opportunities to meet buyers and editors at the London Showrooms in Paris and New York. It’s really a fast-track to learning how to sell – I’m floored with admiration when I see them stand by their rails, explaining the whole story over and over again, day after day. Some people arrive almost tongue-tied – two seasons on, they’re performing like pros. They get really good at it by watching and supporting each other, too – and having a laugh together. I know that customers really enjoy that attitude as well as hearing about the clothes. And after New Gen, there’s Fashion Forward and then the BFC Vogue Fashion Fund.
There’s lots of exciting BFC supported initiatives planned for this year. What’s your opinion on the three-day menswear event planned for June this year?
I’m pleased, because I’ll be able to see the men’s shows at last! I’ve noticed that menswear is producing more talent than women’s at the college level now, and London of course is the hotbed of that. And having Dylan Jones to bring together the establishment brands with the new talent is going to be exciting.
There’s been a lot of press surrounding strong showpieces that are perceived to have limited commercial appeal. What’s your opinion on this, do you think it’s a London-centric issue, or something that can be applied across the entire fashion industry?
Showpieces? If you mean daring, extravagant runway statements – I’d like to see more! If you look at what sells first, all the designers – Erdem, Peter Pilotto, Christopher Kane, anyone – they all say it’s the elaborate pieces fly. Mary Katrantzou is a perfect example of that – her extreme things are bought by the new extremist dressers in droves – lampshade skirts, dresses in the shape of fishbowls, multicoloured floral pant-suits, you name it. There is a new class of wealthy young women who buy these trophies without batting an eyelid – they’re hungry for them. That’s not to say you don’t do the wearable blouse, constant biker jacket and accessible knit – but they all do that too.
Finally, could you explain the main challenges and differences individuals face entering the fashion industry today, compared to when you first started out with your own career?
Everybody is just so much more connected now, and constantly so. In the 80’s and 90′s, designers only had two chances a year to show their clothes. Journalists never even went backstage to meet them. There might have been more time to create, but if you were young, far less chance of being able to learn how to produce, sell and deliver your clothes. The situation is unrecognisably better now.
Image Source: British Fashion Council, London Fashion Week