Lessons in style

It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it. Ellie Carr finds out what it’s like to be a young Scottish fashion designer.

ashion design like acting. ballet- dancing and football is one of those things parents tend not to take seriously when children announce they intend to do it for a living. It’s a brave career move anywhere in the world. but in Scotland it can seem closer to foolhardy. Not that we’re an un-hip nation, it’s just when you can’t think ofenough Scottish fashion designers to number the fingers of one hand, you begin to wonder if the odds aren’t stacked against us. So what happens to those Scots who do grow up with designs on the catwalk?

Fiona Boyter is a final-year BA honours student of fashion at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA). She is also one of a growing army of young designers out to trash the world’s image of Scottish design as all A-line tweeds and tartan. Her last collection was strong enough to win her a place in the UK final of the Smirnoff International Fashion Competition. Her 1995 degree show collection a wild and wacky series of clothing puns. such as a ‘ballgown’ decorated with footballs; a ‘tank-top’ bearing a picture of a tank and a dinner jacket subtly overlaid with silk-screen images of knives. forks and dinner plates is stirring up interest before it’s even gone on display.

The real test. though, has yet to come. Graduate employment is still flagging even in the so-called ‘safe subjects’. But as Boyter points out, the track record from her course has been healthy, with all seven of those who graduated last year having gained a foothold in the fashion industry. ‘That definitely gives you hope,’ says Boyter. ‘They’re not all designing for themselves, but you have to start somewhere.’

So is education the key to Scotland’s future as a style nation? ‘lt’s not the be-all and end-all,’ she comments. ‘Paul Smith didn’t go to college and it never stopped him. but you are better getting training, and it’s crucial that it’s available to those who want it, without having to move down south.’

On that front at least, it seems there is progress. There are now around seven further education courses aimed at wannabe designers in Scotland. The problem now, says Boyter, is that

provision at the highest level still isn’t adequate. ’This [the ECA course] is the only degree course in Scotland. which is pathetic.’

Not everyone shares Boyter’s view that firming up Scotland’s training slopes is the way forward. An ECA colleague who won the prestigious RSA competition last year was told by a leading fashion industry spokesman : ‘If you were really serious about a career in fashion you wouldn’t be in Edinburgh.’ /'

‘I can see his point.’ remarks Boyter ‘We are - kind of cut off from the ‘scene’. but there are advantages to that. Because you’re not so influenced by what the big designers are doing you tend to keep hold of your own creativity. I really think Scotland is a great place to be

making clothes right now. . messed to km. It’s also a great place to be selling clothes. Kathryn Erskine’s especially on the west coast. Glaswegians spend amou'ed 'ezfllef ress

one of the highest figures per head on designer

‘Scotland is a great place to be making clothes right now.’

clothing in the UK and Glasgow also boasts the highest UK concentration of designer clothes shops outside London.

Scan the racks of top style Glasgow emporium lchi Ni San. though. and you’ll find few Scottish labels. ‘Scottish design only makes up five per cent of what we sell.’ says lchi Ni San’s Cathal McAteer. That five per cent consists entirely of Squire. a company whose elegant designs trace back nearly a century. The rest of lchi Ni San’s business is with hip young designers like Londoners, Antoni & Alison and Joseph. So where are the hip young Scottish designers? ‘There’s no shortage of talent.’ says McAteer. ‘The problem is that a lot of the designers who come out of Scotland don’t have a clue about business. The ones who make it are the ones who go and work for someone else and learn how to market themselves. If you want to be a designer it’s not just about being innovative. You have to learn how to survive.’

Having a good head for business may not seem the most exciting aspect of fashion design. but it can be the passport to success, according to Edinburgh College of Art graduate Diane Cook. She has her own outlet Sidewalk in the basement of Glasgow’s Flip, where she also sells clothes by rising Edinburgh knitwear designer Sarah Lawrence. ‘You need to have real drive to succeed here. but it is possible.’ says Cook. ‘The real stumbling block for Scottish designers is that there’s no follow-up after college. What’s needed now is a trade organisation to push on our behalf and let the world know we’re here.’ Cl Designs by Kathryn Erskine (Clan Clothing), Diane Cook and Sarah Lawrence can be seen at The Clothes Show Scotland, 17—20 June. Call the hotline for details on 014/248 9999.

The List 16-29 Jun 1995 7