Lee Lapthorne - Founder of ON | OFF
Emerging designers in fashion and the arts have endless reasons to be grateful to Lee Lapthorne. As Creative Director and founder of On|Off, Lee and his team have done more to create new opportunities and platforms to show, support and promote new design than almost anyone else.
"On|Off is more than just a showcase but a defining process in the career development of our best fashion designers."
We take a moment to ask Lee some questions about the challenges of supporting emerging talent and working with the crème of the fashion crop in Paris, Milan and London.
1. How would you describe On|Off to the uninitiated?
Now in its tenth season, On|Off attracts the most influential media, buyers, style leaders and opinion formers from the UK and around the world, and generates substantial volumes of media coverage. It is a vital element of
London Fashion Week because it plays a critical sector development role, supporting young designers to develop the skills and confidence necessary for a successful career, connecting up-and-coming designers to established designers, and providing intensive guidance and support to ensure that On|Off is more than just a showcase but a defining process in the career development of our best fashion designers.
2. What prompted you to found On|Off?
In 2003, I saw that there was a lack of professional, sophisticated and dynamic catwalk and exhibition platforms at London Fashion Week. I was already producing catwalk shows for designers such as Robert Cary Williams, Preen, Emma Cook and Tata Naka. When you produce shows for designers they often become close friends and I wanted to find a way of supporting these designers both On and Off schedule. I thought, if I can find a strong central location where all the designers can share the space (instead of finding cool but scattered locations all over London which the international buyers and press were tired of traveling to), they could share the costs and then hopefully make it more affordable. I also wanted to create an event that profiled London and the diverse Art, Fashion and Design mix that London is known for.
3. Can you describe some of your earliest successes and failures?
There have been so many it is hard to know what to pick – but producing the Preen show is an example of how it can be a success with a few problems thrown in at the same time. We had to create a 150ft long, 8ft wide and 4ft high catwalk show in the New Oxford Street derelict sorting office. We had to organise a 3 day build, clean the 3rd floor and stairs of broken glass, with porta-loos, close off a busy bus lane to install the generators, switch on the generators in the basement 3 floors below, only to have the flumes flood into the catwalk room.
Failures, we have all made mistakes the point is, is to learn quickly from them.
4. Do you feel degree courses prepare graduates to enter the industry effectively?
No, I could name a few On Schedule fashion designers who wouldn’t even know how to pattern cut or grade. They say that the UK has the finest fashion design education in the world, many would now dispute that claim. Often degree courses do not prepare their graduates for basic business skills, like pricing, sourcing, manufacturing and selling.
5. What would you like to change to improve the route to market for new talent?
Support from the government with free and directional business management classes for creatives (Marketing, Promotion, Cash Flow forecasting, employees, trade law, Terms and Conditions, VAT, insurance, international markets etc… [I could go on]). Most designers don’t even have a solid business plan or 5 year vision/forecast. There also needs to be support for designers who want to produce small runs, therefore strong links with manufacturers who are prepared to produce small runs is essential – this could be supported/sponsored by the high street giants (who seem to take so much from the design community without giving back in return).
6. Are there any other resources, websites or initiatives you recommend or support?
The problem is, there are many initiatives that offer designers ‘free’ advice and support but there are few that are credible (as many are run and set up by organisiations just cashing in on funding who don’t have the experience or understanding of what a ‘new to market’ designer's needs are and the dynamics of the different layers that the industry operates within).I rate and believe that Fashion East and Fashion Fringe are initiatives that are set up to really help the designers (with Fashion Fringe it’s a shame that there is only one winner). The UKTI run the odd course which is focused and valuable. I do try and offer help and support as and where I can, and I’m always asking designers for recommendations of good services to pass on to others.
7. Which designers are currently exciting you?
We have our own On|Off Presents… a catwalk show that showcases must-see collections during London Fashion Week. It’s a joint show of innovative collections, the likes of Steph Aman and Richard Sorger, niche collections that are hand crafted and just stunning. Duro Olowu is the king of prints, he is the only designer that I know that can put clashing prints together that should not work but, remarkably, do.
This season I loved Nathan Jenden’s collection – it was so focused and inspiring, for its creative mix of contemporary silhouettes and classic fabrics – elegant and edgy. Internationally, there are a number of exciting fashion brands emerging from Turkey and Berlin to look out for.
8. On|Off already has presences in Milan and Paris – where is the next fashion capital on your radar?
We are always looking at how we can continue to build upon the support we already offer to our designers and artists. On|Off is already successfully showcased in Milan at WHITE and for this season we are partnering with Atmosphere in Paris during Paris Fashion Week.
We have launched our own online On|Off Boutique with www.oli.co.uk where we will be selling the designer’s collections directly to the general public. In September 08 we will be launching ‘On|Off Weekender’ a biannual public lifestyle event showcasing and selling fashion, art and design to the fashion and design conscious. We have been contacted by a number of cities that are interested in our creative approach, they want help to successfully showcase fashion, art and design – it’s a great mix! Moreover I really want On|Off to be inclusive and therefore the public can view the event at www.thedoll.org/onoff.
9. If you had to pick a single item of clothing to test a designer’s ingenuity on, what would it be?
The little black dress
10. What is the one word you couldn’t live without?