Here come the girls: The women set to take over Fashion East

London Fashion Week’s ultra-hip kid sister, Fashion East, has already given us Richard Nicholl, Henry Holland and Jonathan Saunders. This year, it’s the ladies’ turn to shine
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Indy Lifestyle Online

When Fashion East began |eight years ago as a platform for young designers to show during London Fashion Week, it was a chaotic affair held in a draughty warehouse. “The first show we did I invited 700 people thinking half would turn up,” says its organiser, Lulu Kennedy. “But they all came – and brought their friends. It was out of control.”

The roll call of designers since launched by Fashion East includes Richard Nicholl, Henry Holland, Marios Schwab and Jonathan Saunders, and the show is now recognised as an important incubator for tomorrow’s talent. “We were seen as the rebellious, east London kid sister of London Fashion Week,” says Kennedy. “But we’re establishment now.” Not so established that Fashion East can’t still raise an eyebrow or two: unusually, this year’s line-up is an all-female affair.

These days the show is sponsored by Topshop and has moved “up west” to be near the official catwalks. So, with LFW in full swing, what better time to meet this year’s Fashion East talent.

Holly Fulton

For a fashion designer, Fulton spends an inordinate amount |of time mooching around in hardware shops sourcing plastic, enamel, and even door-hinges to use in her womenswear collection. “It’s about fusing |couture techniques with contemporary materials,” she says.

For example, she covers simple shift dresses with Perspex pieces to create dramatic geometric shapes, or metal enamel discs in gorgeous hues, each painstakingly sewn on by hand.

“Someone saw my range and said it was like Art Deco on acid,” she says. “I’m very much influenced by strong graphics, Bauhaus, and Communist style.”

Born in Edinburgh, Fulton graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2007. She has since worked for the crystal company Swarovski and in Paris for Lanvin. Alongside her wearable mosaic dresses, Fulton also makes skirts and jackets in the softest leather, and large-scale embellished jewellery. “I like to combine luxury and modernity,” she says. “The ideal scenario for me would be to have quite a small collection so I can keep the level of hand-finish.”

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Natascha Stolle

Of the three designers showing at |Fashion East this year, Stolle is the |indie kid. Born in Hawaii but raised in Charlottesville, Virginia, she developed an interest in fashion when working with costumes at her university drama department, and as such her styling is more humorous than high fashion.

She moved to London in 1999 and worked for the designer Russell Sage as well as Peter Jensen, with whom she stayed for 10 seasons. “Without |a shadow of a doubt I could not be where I am now if I hadn’t worked with him,” she says. “I learnt a bit of absolutely everything.”

Jensen encouraged her to do the MA at St Martins and she emerged with her own quirky style, which combines luxury fabrics with the slouchiest, most casual shapes. Her tuxedo, for example, is made from silk but is big and sloppy enough to be worn every day.

“It’s about taking luxurious fabrics and doing something with them in an almost childlike way,” she explains. “I used to have this tie-dye T-shirt that I practically lived in as a teenager, so I made a top with the same tie-dye pattern on |it but recreated out of sequins.”

Stolle has since appeared in Vogue, Self Service and V and has stockists in Europe as well as the States. Her collection |for Fashion East promises |more of the same. “I’ve based the collection on the idea of |late bloomers,” she says, “so there’s a lot of awkwardness in there. I like to call it prissy grungy.”

Expect structured nonchalance, childlike prints, intense colours, gorgeous fabrics and above all a sense of humour. “Everything I’ve ever worn |has a certain silliness to it,” she says. “And the clothes I make don’t take themselves very seriously, because I certainly don’t.”

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Maria Francesca Pepe

When Pepe, 29, graduated from St Martins in 2007, her final-year show was immediately picked up by the fashion press. What caught the eye were her dramatic signature pieces, chunky punkish statement necklaces – or “tubulars”, as she calls them – each one hand-made by Italian craftsmen. Inspired |by a snake-like 1970s design, the necklaces came in different sizes and colours, just |as a dress would, and it wasn’t long before Agyness Deyn, Alice Dellal and Roisin Murphy were spotted wearing them. “I got such a great response from my MA show that I went back to the factory in Italy and asked them to do more – more sizes, more colours and more widths.”

Buyers were equally enthusiastic and after presenting her wares at a trade show |in Paris, Pepe’s pieces were snapped up |by Dover Street Market and Selfridges.

But instead of launching her eponymous collection immediately, Pepe decided to learn more about the business side of the fashion industry, enrolling on internships at both Jens Laugesen and Vivienne Westwood. “The experience was amazing,” she says, “with Jens in particular. I helped out on |a whole collection with him and that gave me the kind of awareness you need to manage your own label and run a company.”

Now Pepe is all set to launch not just her jewellery but also a range of womenswear (below), bags and shoes on the catwalks of Fashion East. It sounds ambitious, but for Pepe it was a logical step. “When I am thinking about what to design I always start with the jewellery. So rather than accessorising to match the dress, I design a dress to match the necklace. It’s a backwards attitude.”

It’s an attitude that works. A strong, simple masculine silhouette, in black and white with a bit of petrol and fuchsia thrown in, serves as |a canvas for her jewellery, |while the craftsmanship, luxury fabrics and hand-finish reveal |her Italian roots. “Someone once wrote that my jewellery is like weaponary for women as it has a hard, fierce image,” she says. “It is a strong image for a strong woman, but there’s also a great sense |of irony to it which, I think, |makes it feminine and sexy.” n

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Fashion East (| is on Tuesday at Quaglino’s, London SW1