London is one of the most creative cities in the world, that’s no secret. Every subculture and artistic movement has had a place in the streets, clubs, art galleries, theaters and every other place imaginable of the British capital. Among others, it’s become one of the main fashion capitals in the world with its own idiosyncrasy and, of course, secrecy. For that reason, fashion journalist Tania Fares has teamed up with Sarah Mower to create a comprehensive book that offers an accurate behind-the-scenes look at fifty of the most iconic fashion houses established there. From Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood to Christopher Kane and John Galliano, we couldn’t help it but get lost through the pages of London Uprising: Fifty Fashion Designers, One City. We speak with Tania about why was it so necessary to do this book, and what lessons and insights can we get from reading it.
Could you please introduce yourself and tell us about your background? What has been the triggering factor that got you into fashion?
To begin with I am Lebanese by birth but I moved to Paris as a child and studied there up until university, where I did communications.  I was exposed to a lot of art and culture growing up and I always gravitated towards fashion. After graduating I became an intern at Pierre Cardin, like many people in fashion that intern at design houses.
I got married and moved away from Paris for my husband's work, and we have two children together.  Some years later we ended up moving to London and when my children were older I went back to do a bit of studying and to get involved in a few different fashion businesses and ventures. I realised there was a definite need to help and support emerging designers in London, so I researched this and ended up establishing the Fashion Trust, an organisation whose aim is to offer sponsorship and business mentorship to British-based designers.
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Ashish Gupta / Ashish. Photo by Kevin Davies, 16 March 2016
Why is it so important for you to be able to give a hand to up-and-coming designers? What gave you the desire to help them reach their goals and dreams? And was it how you first imagined your path in fashion?
I have been involved in fashion for many years and I know, first hand, the struggle to make a business in fashion work.  Because of this I realised there was a need to have a support network, and I feel that is where I am strongest to be able to help others.
Let’s now talk about this gorgeous book spotlighting fifty – both emerging and established – London designers that you and Sarah Mower published this year.
First of all, when did you decide to collaborate with Sarah Mower on such an amazing and huge project?
Firstly, I noticed that there was not a book on the market that really surveyed the fashion landscape right now. I did a lot of research into this and then I approached Sarah Mower, who immediately came on board and agreed to edit the book with me.  It has taken about two years altogether.
Moreover, how did you handle things to gather so many of the best fashion journalists and convinced them to bring their contribution to your project?
I guess the project appealed to so many people because it is quite a unique idea, and like I said, there was nothing really out there like this.
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Manolo Blahnik. Colour flows from Manolo Blahnik’s pen. Photo by David Hughes
How did you introduce your project to this whole of fashion designers who are not used to open their doors to get interviewed about what they lived, about their work habits, practices and also about what they want to convey through their garments, values and philosophies?
I have worked with many of the designers before but ultimately it comes from a place of respect.  I think the designers know we will respect both them and their stories, so they trust us. We have put a lot of effort and love into this book, so I think it shows.
Indeed, you got the opportunity to go through the hidden world of London fashion designers, sneaking out behind the closed doors of fifty fashion houses and studios, from East End’s start-ups to famous labels. Could you speak about the atmosphere that hides behind those walls? And how would you describe designers’ behaviours in their workplaces?
This has been such a unique opportunity and we wanted to do justice to the designers’ worlds, that which is behind closed doors.  It all had to be executed very sensitively, so working with great photographers was essential.  The results, I feel, are a true glimpse into each and every world these designers inhabit.
Your book helps us get closer to these designers, like if we now knew them better. In fact, each label has its own identity represented by a specific character or its own values and vision of fashion. Do you feel different about some designers after having a personal talk with them?
Yes, and I hope the readers feel like this too.  One of the reasons this book exists is to give a greater insight into the mind and world of a designer, so that the audience can have a greater understanding and appreciation of their craft and creativity. It is very rare they would give such close access to their world, and we are immensely grateful to all of them for allowing us in.
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Paul Smith. Treasure Chest: the many collections of Paul Smith, housed in the designer’s Covent Garden office. Photo by Kevin Davies
Otherwise, your work “documents the workplaces and the stories of the multigenerational, multinational fashion community”. What role is your book going to play in the growth of London’s fashion community?
For starters, I hope it raises more awareness for these designers’ creativity and businesses, and in turn that, I hope, will be a positive contribution to the industry in general.  Anything that raises awareness for our designers is a good thing.  I also hope that this book will live on as a record, but can also be developed into other projects in the future, maybe more books.
The fashion business is not always everybody’s all-time favourite. Most people use to talk bad about this multi-billion-pound industry. Working in fashion can let you feel underappreciated. Do you think that people would see fashion differently if they knew more about the creative hardworking brains behind these brands?
You know, all industries have positive and negative aspects, but I think fashion is one that is always striving for positive change.  The industry has addressed many serious issues head on, and even though there is some way still to go, at least it is working in a good direction.  I think we need to remember that it is a creative industry at its core, so yes, I hope the book does give that insight for the reader.
On the other side, some people may feel superior or more exclusive by working in the fashion industry, since it’s been an elitist universe since it’s inception. How would you describe this dichotomy? London, however, has a rich fashion scene, both underground and luxurious. What role does the fashion world play in London’s social fabric?
Historically, some aspects of fashion have been very elitist, like haute couture – it was once a very closed and closely guarded world, where attending journalists couldn’t even bring a pencil into the show for fear they would sketch the design and copy it.  Ultimately, fashion – and clothing – is something that affects all of us, as we all need to dress, whether for protection, for warmth, for society, for work, etc. It can also project a message of how we see ourselves in the world and how we want other people to see us.
I don’t feel traditional elitism is the same as it used to be because we live in an extremely open and connected world now.  You are right that London does have a rich history, a place where both the high and the low have long existed next to each other, sometimes fighting, sometimes sitting comfortably together.  It is strange and interesting, but it’s also something ‘very London’, and very British.  I think this is what has inspired so much creativity.
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Henry Holland / House of Holland. Fabric swatches at Henry Holland’s studio. Photo by Tara Darby
Besides the discovery of these amazing workplaces and stories, your book also spotlights a great friendship between this whole of designers. Did you feel this harmony within London’s fashion community by going through the designers’ studios?
Absolutely, not only when doing this book, but also in doing my work as chair of the Fashion Trust.  I find many of the designers I work with are interested and supporting of their fellow designers and want to see everyone being successful.  It is a very healthy, creative environment.
What do you personally think about London as a fashion capital compared to Paris and Milan? Where would you put London today in comparison with these two fashion capitals that have been reigning on the world for years now?
London, like other fashion cities, is unique.  It is a great centre of creative learning and a great launch pad for designers, and in recent years' it’s stature as a commercial destination has strengthened.  Creativity and commerce coexist quite nicely together here.
To conclude, most of the designers you mentioned in your book are now well-established in London’s fashion landscape. Obviously, these ones have played a relevant role for London fashion growth but there are a few more today that are astonishing the fashion community around the world. Here there are some great up-and-coming London fashion designers that have not been featured in your book: Craig Green, Xander Zhou, Astrid Andersen, Qasimi, Alex Mullins, Berthold or Charles Jeffrey Loverboy. What would you say about them? Are there any other names you’d like to highlight in this new generation?
There are many more names that we could have included, but it was not possible.  We also focused largely on womenswear.  I would like to do more books, so I definitely think there is scope there.  In my work with the Fashion Trust I am working with emerging designers all the time.  We have just announced our latest recipients of the trust for 2017.  They included Edeline Lee, Georgia Hardinge, Isa Arfen, Sharon Wauchob, Teatum Jones, Eudon Choi, Fyodor Golan, Huishan Zhang, Marques’Almeida, Osman and Rejina Pyo.  More names to watch in the future of our fashion landscape in London.
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Jonathan Anderson / J.W. Anderson. The design team at Jonathan Anderson’s studio in East London. Photo by Tara Darby
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Alice Temperley / Temperley London. Alice Temperley (lower left) and her team consider drape and fall. Photo by Tara Darb
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Mary Katrantzou. The designer’s response to the Wild West, including intarsia fur coats. Photo by Morgan O’Donavon
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Hussein Chalayan / Chalayan. Pattern innovations in progress. Photo by David Hughes
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Giles Deacon / Giles. Drawing / collage conjures Gloriana’s power. Photo courtesy Giles Deacon