On: Off

We chat to Lee Lapthorne about his renowned creative platform On|Off and the importance of emerging fashion talent.

Curator, consultant, mentor, textiles artist and show producer are all titles that fashion and art expert Lee Lapthorne possesses, but one of the highlights of his incredibly varied career is his internationally-renowned creative platform On|Off. Recognised for showcasing the best of both emerging and established fashion brands, On|Off identifies and mentors the gifted designers of the future and then promotes their creativity on a global scale. It’s a total win for any fledgling designer. On|Off is often a first step onto the international fashion stage for the designers involved, and provides an opportunity to professionally promote their creativity on a global scale, giving them priceless exposure and valuable mentorship. With previous On|Off participants including Gareth Pugh, Peter Pilotto, Pam Hogg, Christopher Raeburn, Louise Gray and J.W. Anderson, Lapthorne’s talent for realising potential “next big things” in fashion is always spot on.

The intuitive selection for those designers shown through On|Off boils down to the essential components that make a fashion brand great – talent, creativity, energy and professionalism. On|Off then helps the designers develop key business aspects, and presents their work through catwalks, presentations, installations and exhibitions. Ultimately, the On|Off mission is to promote up-and-coming fashion designers and gain press for their selected talents in fashion design, millinery, show design, art, illustration and film making, to name but a few areas. By participating in On|Off, emerging designers can ensure they one day become the established.

What made you want to start supporting emerging talent?

I love to see talent succeed. I was producing and directing shows for designers such as Robert Cary Williams, Preen and Emma Cook, mostly big productions and many were conceptual and innovative – very creative and typically London eccentric. Designers wanted an alternative showcase to the main LFW tents on the Kings Road, so I got everyone together and started On|Off to support my friends. Shows were spread all over London and many were difficult to get to, so On|Off remedied this by bringing the best of Off and On Schedule designers together. Fashion East and On|Off were really the only off schedule events supporting new talent.

What kind of support do you offer the fledgling designers?

Basically, at On|Off we aim to give emerging talent the opportunity and support to take their business forward and be recognised fashion designers or renowned artists.  We have built our reputation through our work, breaking and working with some of the greatest International designers, such as Peter Pilotto, Gareth Pugh, Yang Du, J.W Anderson (who was an On|Off Presents participant) and Mark Fast by offering a platform from which to showcase their talent, sponsorship & facilities to showcase their work. We have cemented some very exciting plans for this coming September and the books will shortly be closing on applications from talent – we urge talent to step forward right now if they want an opportunity to be considered. We have a strong network of high profile industry supporters and therefore we are able to make key introductions to designers.

What are the criteria a designer has to fill in order to be supported by On/Off?

It really is an intuitive selection and a combination of criteria, talent, energy, a unique offering and sting DNA, professionalism and above all ambition – a strategic plan and conviction.

How do you find young designers that you want to support and sponsor?

My team and I visit shows and exhibitions, research the web. It’s important to not just look locally. Many designers approach us with an idea too. We welcome all form of innovation and vision.

How do you decide which designers are shown through catwalks, presentations, installations or exhibitions?

It’s a gut instinct. We really want our designers to succeed and go on to new gen or On Schedule, and the fact that so many have hopefully means we are doing something right!  We do not encourage designers to showcase unless they are ready.  Catwalk is also a huge step.  I’m keen to work with designers to ensure that their presentation is on brand, exciting and delivers the best opportunity for press and potential supporters to view the collection and walk away excited to see more. We champion innovation in all aspects of design and showcasing.

For AW16 you hosted the first catwalk show of its kind, with live music from punk band Baby Strange and a live photoshoot with Diana Gomez– where do you look for inspiration for innovative ideas such as this?

Every season we research and then debate what the industry is doing and how can we best showcase our designers. We’ve always embraced new technology being the first to live stream our shows, to download shows from iTunes, second life installations, iPod and iPad walls (sponsored by Apple). Last season for On|Off we had a catwalk with photo shoot live streamed onto Dazed Digital and also Carnaby Street to the backdrop of live punk band Baby Strange. It’s about creating a buzz and new energy that has that true London vibe. We continue to develop new ways of showcasing On|Off and ultimately to promote new emerging designers. On|Offs mission is to promote creativity to gain press for the talent that we select – these could be fashion designers, milliners, shoe designers, accessories as well as music, artists, illustrators, film makers, stylists, hair stylists, make up artists and directors.  We relay heavily on sponsorship and partners to realise these creative ideas.

You started On/Off in 2003 – what have been the biggest lessons you’ve learnt in terms of running a creative business in the past 13 years?

To keep focused and ignore negativity. That our industry lacks support from within it. I have had to continually put up a fight for my designers and On|Off as a platform, London Fashion Week is a very crowded space but without the emerging, there is no established, it starts here. We want to see some of the bigger names in the press and buying world showing their support for the emerging category. We need more philanthropists and supporters who can make a real difference. In terms of designers – creativity isn’t enough, you need a lot of drive, support (emotional, business and financial) and professionalism. Diva’s and tantrums won’t get far.  Those designers that are open to advice never really make it. Finally there are a lot of bullshitters out there – I’ve learnt to spot one!

How do you help the designers prepare for the show in the run-up to Fashion Week?

We try and arrange one to one meetings as often as possible. We offer access to a network of casting directors, music directors, stylists, PRs and hair and make up teams and even seamstresses. We have a check list of points to go through. The team and I try and make the process as easy and smooth as possible so that the designers can concentrate on their collections. We also focus on pre press to gain as much interest as possible

How does your support for international designers differ to the support you give your British designers?

We celebrate the diversity and difference that international designers bring to London and I’ve sat on the International Fashion Showcase panel. Though some designers need to push their assets to emphasise their strengths, it could be a London based stylist that can support this and ensure the look is presented to its maximum. Some designers want a 360 holistic package where we’ll support every aspect of their presentation. Thank goodness for SKYPE and email!

Do you have any advice for young designers looking to start showing at Fashion Week?

First you need to decide if you are ready, do you have a following, stockists, press, a website, a plan and a brand USP? This USP needs to be immediately noticeable across your collections, presentations basically the look at and feel of your brand. Those larger more established brands are expected to create huge brand catwalk experiences for consumers such as celebrity driven Victoria Secrets and Burberry shows to drive press and sales. New emerging designers should consider more intimate and clever formats for press and focusing their next season collection sales in Paris. Faustine Steinmetz who we have been supporting for a while is a great example of this. Faustine is creating unique presentations that are a social media bloggers dream to photograph, which is in turn helping to build her DNA and brand. And a big question is do designers need to show during the constraints of the 5 days of LFW as it is over saturated and becomes more commercial??

Annabel Lunnon