Fashion: A mind of his own

Martin Raymond teaches the next generation of fashion journalists how not to follow the flock. Susannah Conway sits in
There's something about Martin Raymond that keeps you listening to him. He has been a senior lecturer in fashion journalism at the London College of Fashion for the past three years and you can imagine his students sitting in rapt attention, listening to his tales of the mad antics that go on in the fashion world. He is quick-witted and amiable and seems a touch eccentric, which may explain his predilection for trainers and combat trousers one day and a tweedy olive-green suit the next.

"At first I thought I would hate teaching - I felt I lacked a historic and cultural understanding of fashion - but I think teaching has helped put that in place. When you teach, unless you yourself learn there's no point in it. You learn from what students are wearing and from people arguing with you in class. My students often question what I say because you can't teach something as transient as fashion and assume it's always accurate and correct."

Looking you straight in the eye, Raymond will fire questions back at you with a raised quizzical eyebrow. "I had an aunt who taught me two things: that you should get up every morning and try to learn five new things per day and I've always tried to do that. And secondly she said you can sleep when you die. So in between how much sleep do you need? I irritate people because I'm doing things when they're sleeping and ringing them when they're getting out of bed."

He moved to London from Ireland in the early 1980s, aged 21, to pursue the two things that really interested him: fashion and the arts. "I was seen as an oddity in Dublin and was never allowed into bars because my hair was white and my trousers had slashes in them." Living in a squat for the first three years, he started working freelance for publications such as Elle and the Evening Standard, writing about fashion and architecture. In 1989 he became the editor of Fashion Weekly (FW), transforming it from an ailing trade journal into what he calls "the industry bible". While there, he saw a definite shift in the way retailers saw themselves. "They ask why we called their clothing industry 'fashion', but eventually they came round to that way of thinking because fashion was sexy and clothing was not. Clothing was what you wore at home and fashion what you wore on the street."

Leaving FW in 1994, Raymond went back to Ireland to present a television show he describes as "The Clothes Show with an Irish accent". He returned to London to host Look Sharp on Radio 5 and in the process discovered a medium he loved. "Radio requires you to listen and to listen to something means you are going to find fault, so you have to get things absolutely right. You have to describe fashion on the radio so you have to think about the images you create with your words."

As a journalist Raymond looks everywhere for inspiration and says most of his ideas come from observation. He visits every art exhibition, club and fashion event he can, a work ethic he passes on to the students he teaches. "My job is to teach journalism students to see things first and then filter them back in their general reporting. Fashion is information and information is activity and activity means going out!"

During the past three years Raymond has gone back to television, working as both a stylist and presenter. He says shows such as the now- defunct Style Challenge were "excellent to do because they gave you a chance to present wearable solutions to contemporary fashion issues. I have a thing called the Streatham Hill bus stop test, whereby I say to somebody 'if you wore this at the bus stop in Streatham Hill on a Monday morning, would people stare at you?' and if the answer is yes then it's not wearable fashion. That's the bottom line."

But Raymond thinks avant-garde designers are necessary to push fashion forward. "Left to its own devices, fashion would just be Marks & Spencer. We are accepting again that fashion can be knitted into the arts and culture without being inconsequential."

This year will see the publication of his first novel, Murder Most Fowl, and he is currently working on the follow-up, A Very Fashionable Funeral. "It's about the killing off of various dislikable people in fashion, none of whom will be thinly disguised, and looking at the effect on the fash pack as they move from Paris to Milan to wherever." As his book suggests, Raymond stays sane in the mad world of fashion by having a healthy cynicism. He adds, "Fashion editors aren't editors; they're weathervanes. When the wind of fashion blows they will all point in the same direction."

For more information on the London College of Fashion, call 0171-514 7400

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