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On|Off founder gives advice for new designers ahead of LFW

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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On|Off is one of the most recognisable independent fashion showcases during London Fashion Week, over the year’s the event founded by Lee Lapthorne has nurtured both emerging and established designers including Gareth Pugh, Peter Pilotto, Pam Hogg, J.W. Anderson to name but a few.

The creative platform has always been much more than a catwalk space, On|Off, has that ability each season to reinvent itself, whether with technology, they were the first to offer a lifestream and podcast for its catwalk shows. Or by just offering a different approach, such as creative installations made up of 360 degree video art, or combining fashion films with live photoshoots and presentations.

“At On|Off we’ve always been big on innovation, we were the first to livestream and last season for On|Off Presents we re-did the catwalk with a live band, which then went into a photoshoot,” said Lapthorne. “Afterwards, the models actually stayed in the room, while the party kicked in. So people could go up and see the outfits more closely.”

Lapthorne added: “For us, that’s what's On|Off is about, trying to break down some barriers, which is sometimes difficult because designers can be fixated with doing a traditional catwalk show and we try to persuade them to think differently.”

With more than 25 seasons at London Fashion Week under his belt and producing well over 300 shows and presentations for the likes of Roksanda, Jean-Pierre Braganza, Jasper Conran, Tata Naka, Felder Felder, Bora Aksu, Charlie Le Mindu, Louise Amstrup, Louise Gray, and most recently Edeline Lee and Clio Peppiatt, Lapthorne and his team have proved that they know how to nurture creativity into commercial success.

“When you showcase a designer, you have a responsibility to say to that designer that they are ready. With On|Off we interview potential designers and go through everything like a tutorial almost, asking them who their target market is, discussing the size of the collections, what their ambitions are, and where they want to go with the collection,” explains Lapthorne.

On|Off gives most designers the opportunity to show to an international audience for the first time and Lapthorne explains that it is his job to get them ready.

“I often say to our designers you have to expect to create exquisite looks for three seasons and you’ll probably make no money, but you have to go out there and wow. This will build up their reputations and start earning them commissions,” said Lapthorne. “A lot of designers want that instant hit, and that’s just not going to happen. Buyers want to see them for a couple of seasons and check the quality before they commit.”

One of the biggest pieces of advice Lapthorne regularly dispenses to emerging talent is to find their brand identity, focus on that before they make plans to move forward.

Lapthorne states: “When giving advice I often reference Palmer Harding and Christopher Raeburn, who have got their collections on point. Palmer Harding have built their reputation on the white shirt and then built from that. Christopher Raeburn is the same building his label around the parka jacket. They’ve both built their business up successfully before expanding too much. That’s what makes a successful designer these days.

“Don’t try and build a whole wardrobe for your clients, your customer, or your muse, no one is going to buy your whole collection anymore, they used to, but now the market is saturated with designers.

“You need to think about what your focus is, stay with that for three seasons and develop that idea and then once you’ve done that, for instance, if the focus was the shirt, then you can start adding trousers, jackets etc. It’s about doing research and thinking strategically. Some of these designers are building collections of 30 outfits. Instead of doing 30 looks, why don’t you do 15 that are so exquisite and so beautiful — and have a stronger offering? I think buyers are more interested in that.”

On|Off continues to champion emerging talent

This season’s On|Off crop of talent is diverse including new fashion week favourite Clio Peppiatt who has become know for her creative presentations and collections, knitwear specialist John Smedley, exciting emerging designer Judy Wu known for her strong feminine aesthetic, and sports-lux label Pa5h, which is all about “mashing up, reinventing and elevating” street style to offer pieces that are fresh, original and different.

Other designers on the schedule includes New York-based brand Asli Polat inspired by American sportswear, London College of Fashion alumni, Mariana Jungmann who showcases tactile details and texture in a sustainable way, contemporary London-based label Miló Maria, Paris-based label Token, and Typical Freaks a London-based fashion brand by Seun Ade-Onojobi, a Central Saint Martins MA fashion graduate, and Sonia Xiao a graduate from womenswear at London College of Fashion.

Keeping with the theme of mixing both on-schedule and off-schedule designers, this season On|Off is committing to supporting emerging designers with the addition of a graduate MA showcase, Tomorrow’s Talent in association with creative director Chris Sutton. The showcase on the eve of London Fashion Week will be a full-day of activities featuring the very best in international degree and post-graduate talents selected by Lapthorne.

On|Off launches Tomorrow's Talent MA showcase

The event will feature a video installation and photo shoot produced by the duo, featuring designers Stefan Kartchev (RCA, Antwerp), Yeojin Kim, Letitia Berthier and Mao Tseng Chang (all RCA, London). There will be an additional showcase of 10 further emerging designers presented via the Arts Thread organisation, and Winchester School of Art’s MA and Kingston MA graduates will present on the catwalk.

Lapthorne said: “Tomorrows Talent is showcasing the very best of international recent graduates offering innovation and inspiring silhouettes, fabric manipulation and new ideas.

“I wanted to offer a platform for the recent graduate category, to really give them a showcase on an international basis. A different perspective. Something original. I'm hoping this will be the start of something very exciting.”

A highlight of the schedule will be On|Off Presents, where founder Lapthorne has selected emerging designers Jayne Pierson, Laura Theiss, Luke Anthony Rooney and Timothy Bouyez-Forge to present in a back-to-back catwalk showcase.

“On|Off Presents offers a unique mix of aesthetics and direct,” explains Lapthorne. “These designers are emerging talents offering fresh, outside the proverbial box, manipulation of fabrics, embellishment, art, design skills and technology with strong new shapes against a backdrop of new live female power rock music talent.”

Lapthorne added: “We focus on pure creativity at On|Off, it’s about showcasing ideas, we take young, creative talent who are still raw and not completely polished and show them to press and the fashion industry, who hopefully will leave inspired, or even offer them a job, and let the designers find their own way.

“It’s more than just fashion week On|Off, we keep in touch with all of our designers we work with, and we help them network, link them up with people they can collaborate with, work with, or gain ideas from. We share our experience with our designers.”

On|Off takes place from September 15-18 during London Fashion Week.

Images: courtesy of On|Off

The international Fashion Week season for women's ready-to-wear kicks off in the month of September, with all eyes set on New York, Paris, London and Milan for next seasons latest trends. For all the women's wear catwalk season must reads, click here.

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