Fashion: It looks great, but will it sell?

Business nous and marketing skills are as important to a fashion student as a vivid imagination. Tamsin Blanchard and Melanie Rickey pick out the most marketable ideas at the annual Graduate Fashion Week
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This week, more than 1,000 students around the country graduate from their fashion or textile degree courses. This is the time in a graduate's life when the imagination can run riot; moon suits, baco-foil knickers and 18th-century costumes will be among the outfits bounding down the catwalk sponsored by BhS at the annual Graduate Fashion Week at the Business Design Centre in Islington.

Fashion students are often criticised for producing unwearable, uncommercial collections that have no relevance to the shape of people's bodies or to the marketplace. Increasingly, however, fashion courses are including a business or marketing element and encouraging students to think about the reality of going into business. Last year's winner of the BhS High Street Award went to Anna Meikle, who has since gone on to work with Phase Eight.

Fashion degrees are not just about producing science fiction costumes or John Galliano clones. We went in search of students who have found themselves a realistic niche in the market that could make them stand out from the crowd.

Andrew Moore, Fashion Middlesex

"It's quite strange for a fashion student to have an interest in football," says Moore. It is even stranger for a fashion student to aspire to design football merchandise. But football is Moore's passion and his graduation collection comprises a range of tailored menswear inspired by the kits of Italian football teams.

Moore's collection could not be better timed, coinciding with Euro 96, although he began planning the collection and seeking sponsors last summer. "It's a mix of Italian couture and Italian football," he says.

The collection has been sponsored, to the tune of pounds 1,500, by Pony Sports UK, which designs kits for Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United, Coventry and Southampton. The company has also been working with him on a project to raise the level of merchandise available for football fans. "Football merchandise is still aimed at a customer profile that harks back to the hooligan days," says Moore. "We're trying to do something more sophisticated."

Moore also gained backing from Channel 4's Gazetta Football Italia programme, which has produced the music for his show.

His clothing, under licence to a football club, will be sold in fashion stores.

Victor Benady, BA Fashion Promotion, London College of Fashion

Benady started at college primarily with the idea of getting into fashion PR. "I thought it was a glamorous job," he says, "but I soon realised it was one of the hardest."

Last summer, he won the Jackie Moore Award for Fashion Journalism. His prize was a trip to Paris to cover the couture shows and to write a report on it for the Guardian. He then began a collaboration with Attitude magazine.

The area that proved to be his strongpoint, and big selling point, since completing his degree two weeks ago is multimedia.

His final project was the creation of an interactive magazine on CD-Rom. This is a club-oriented fashion supplement that was designed for Attitude. Its contents include a menswear fashion shoot using computer-enhanced images, an interview with the Belgian designer Dirk Bikkembergs and an interactive club guide.

Microsoft and Attitude are in talks about production, and the magazine hopes to give a sample CD-Rom away with its August issue, which will contain portions of Benady's work.

Adam Richardson, Fashion Design and Marketing, Central Saint Martin's

Three months spent working in Italy for Benetton gave Richardson the focus for his graduation collection: childrenswear. But instead of showing the collection on children guaranteed to make people coo, Richardson has made up his clothes in adult sizes.

The collection, which is made of Velcro, comes with badges, purses and superhero labels. "It's like a board-game," he says, "a jacket for a child who wants to style his or her own clothes. You can either be a robot man, a computer man or you can be a superhero."

The possibilities are endless, encompassing advertising logos, cereal packet give-aways, and comic book tie-ins.

Richardson hopes to sell the collection in toy shops, and plans to approach games companies such as Waddingtons to put the clothing into production. He will also show the idea to Benetton where he has built up a strong relationship.

Richardson has researched his market thoroughly and wrote his thesis on board and computer games. "I've always done fun things. I'm not sophisticated," he says. His work demonstrates an originality and sense of humour so often lacking in students' work.

Elainea Emmott, Fashion, Manchester Metropolitan University

Emmott had already embarked on her career in advertising with a company car and comfortable salary when she decided that it wasn't the life for her. "I knew I wasn't doing what I felt really passionate about."

Her graduation collection has been finished for two weeks, and while other students are up all night sewing on the final buttons, Emmott's nine outfits, comprising 25 separate pieces, are already bagged up waiting to be driven down to London for her show on Thursday.

Emmott has also been sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat and Waterman Pens, which are promoting part of her final collection called "inky blues". The colours range from midnight navy, to smoky grey and electric blue on wool crepe column dresses, printed lycra tunics, long slim cashmere trousers, a stretchy lace dress, and the one extravagance - a voluminous wool coat with a trail.

The clothes are aimed at the 25-plus age group, at women who shop at Whistles or Jigsaw. Emmott has her feet firmly on the ground: "The hard work starts now in terms of getting my foot in the door, but I feel quite confident, I have everything to give."

Jan Oliver Booth, Fashion Textiles and Business Studies, University of Brighton

Booth is reaching the end of a four-year degree. He's nervous and excited; his show tomorrow will be a transitional point, a launch into his future. Like most students of fashion he began his course to follow a dream. "Two years ago I was still designing my fantasies," he admits.

Today, however, he is more down to earth. "My year out taught me to be realistic. Now my designs are more tuned and wearable."

After spending six months with Hussein Chalayan and a month with John Galliano in the lead-up to his autumn/winter 1995 show, Booth saw both ends of the scale: a young company starting out and an established international company.

He also spent time at Whistles where he saw a company in touch with the commercial elements of fashion. Each placement contributed to his skills, but more importantly it helped him understand the world he was preparing to enter.

Booth's graduate collection of nine outfits reflects commercial elements, but also allows for some self-indulgence.

"The clothes are glamorous and sexy, but not obvious. I think working women will aspire to them," he says. There's an evening dress in there, as well as a modernist skirt suit in duchess satin with "bleeding" seams and trouser suits teamed with crisp shirts.

Booth deliberately chose a combined fashion and business degree: "I don't want to end up a poor English designer with no money. I feel as confident with business as I do with design, and I certainly couldn't have said that a year ago."

The static exhibition at the BhS Graduate Fashion Week is open to the general public until Friday, 14 June, from 10am to 6pm, at the Business Design Centre, 52 Upper Street, Islington, London N1. A pounds 5 donation is payable on the door. Entrance to the fashion shows depends on seat availability.