Awards season: Is fashion’s new welfare state really benefiting anyone?

Vogue Fashion Fund winner Mary Katrantzou is a worthy recipient, but how do you decide who these prizes go to when almost all designers deserve them?

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Indy Lifestyle Online

We’re knee-deep in awards season. Well, sort of. Two weeks ago, the winner of the 2015 BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund was announced – it went to Mary Katrantzou, the first female designer to win. And last week, the shortlist for its masculine counterpart, tied to GQ magazine, was named, featuring a sweep of young London talent encompassing suiters (E Tautz), tracksuiters (Astrid Andersen), and various aesthetic inbetweeners. Over the Channel, there’s also the second round of the LVMH prize, the conglomerate’s initiative to support young designers. The total cash doled out by the three tots up to an impressive sum of around £567,000 (the LVMH prize is in euros).

Very altruistic. However, for me these prizes raise a few questions. Namely, how do you decide who gets them? Talent-wise, almost all deserve them. So, should prizes be going to the designers who need the money to stay afloat, or to designers who are a sure bet, already financially stable? The Vogue Fashion Fund has been awarded to a safe bunch thus far – Christopher Kane, Erdem and Mary Katrantzou are all on sure footing; Nicholas Kirkwood had already opened flagship stores in London and New York by the time he won the award in 2013. Contrast that with Thomas Tait, the winner of the inaugural LVMH prize last May, whose business was operating on a shoestring.

This year’s nominees include the French designer Simon Porte Jacquemus, who designs clothes under his surname only and presents collections as part of Paris fashion week, a notoriously tricky schedule to officially get on to, and a city where shows are among the most expensive in the world to stage. Doubtless he wants the money – who wouldn’t want a handout of close to £220,000? But does he need it?

 

Perhaps that’s a terribly socialist perspective – from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. And while all the designers awarded these various prizes deserve them, I wonder who really needs them. Furthermore – and here’s the tricky part – should we be handing out cash to designers who would otherwise fold without intervention?

That happens a fair bit in fashion –  friends of friends intervening to secure backing, pressure from supporters to give them these kind of prizes. I’ve even spoken to retailers who support designers because they believe in their talent, while admitting that they can only sell their clothes at a 75 per cent discount.

Where should fashion’s welfare state stop? Surely, if a designer is talented enough, they should be able to support themselves? Fashion isn’t a charity. Nor is it art. It’s a business. If a designer’s clothes don’t sell, they should be asking themselves why they bother, not looking for handouts.

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