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London calling! Fashion's leading men hit the road in search of talent

Top names go back to their roots in quest to discover next generation of designers

They left their home towns behind for the lure of London's fashion scene, where their creations earned them the highest praise. Now, five of the British fashion industry's leading lights are hitting the road, leaving the capital with the hope of unearthing the next generation of talent from other parts of Britain.

The Fashion Fringe Road Show is part of a talent-scouting and mentoring scheme set up by the journalist Colin McDowell that has supported fledgling labels since 2004.

He will be joined on campuses from Edinburgh to Brighton by household names Julien Macdonald and Matthew Williamson, as well as the critically acclaimed younger designers Giles Deacon, Christopher Kane and Gareth Pugh – all of whom eventually left their home towns to pursue their studies in the capital.

When London Fashion Week opens later this month, it will cement the city's international reputation as a hotbed of young talent, and bolster an industry that employs 1.3 million people across the country.

"In recognising that not all our fashion-industry professionals and students can be based in London, we hope that our tour of the country will help to further connect the UK regions with the London fashion scene," McDowell said.

"Fashion Fringe designers come to us from a huge range of countries and we want to ensure this level of diversity is reflected within our own borders as well."

The scheme was announced on the same day as a government report described youth unemployment as the biggest challenge to the economy, calling it a £28bn "time bomb".

The British fashion industry is worth around £21bn per year to the national economy, and the UK's fashion colleges are recognised as some of the most prestigious in the world, their graduates snapped up by foreign ateliers and high-street chains alike. But as the cost of higher education rises, studying in the capital may become increasingly difficult for many students from poorer backgrounds.

"The outlook for these students is pretty bleak," McDowell added. "It'd be foolish to pretend it isn't. There are a great many young designers who are hanging on by their fingernails. But there is a huge amount of talent lost because people are snobby and they don't want to know about things happening outside London. The spirit of Fashion Fringe is all-encompassing and welcoming."

Selected each year by a panel of industry titans – John Galliano and Donatella Versace have been among the judges – winners of the competition have included Erdem Moralioglu, who was nominated for the British Fashion Council's Designer of the Year award in 2009 and has dressed Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron, as well as design duo Basso & Brooke. Last year's winner, Fyodor Golan, will show his first collection at the London Fashion Week this month.

The Road Show begins on 12 March to coincide with the call for application for the 2012 award, which will be judged in September.

Erdem Moraglioglu, 34, born in Montreal

Born to Turkish and British parents, Moraglioglu grew up between Canada and the UK, studying first in Toronto and then coming to London to work for Vivienne Westwood and studying for his MA at the Royal College of Art. His designs, which feature digitised floral prints, delicate lace and sumptuous velvet, have been seen on Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron since he rose to success after winning the Fashion Fringe prize in 2005.

Gareth Pugh, 30, from Sunderland

After winning fashion's largest international prize, the Andam, in 2008, Pugh began showing in Paris but his early shows in London, after he left his Sunderland home and graduated from Saint Martins, were regard- ed as the hot ticket of fashion week.

Christopher Kane, 29, from Glasgow

Christopher Kane grew up in Scotland with a fascination for Gianni Versace. He was spotted before he left Central Saint Martins in 2006, and is thought one of the world's most promising designers. As well as designing his range, he is head of design at Versus, Versace's second line.

Giles Deacon, 42, born in Darlington

Born in the North-east and brought up in the Lake District, Giles Deacon moved to London and studied at Saint Martins alongside Alexander McQueen and Luella Bartley. He also won the ANDAM prize in 2009 and spent two years showing his collections in Paris, before returning to London. His bright, cartoonish clothes are close to couture in their intricacy; last year he designed a wedding dress for Abby Clancy, wife of the footballer Peter Crouch.

Matthew Williamson, 40, studied in Manchester

Williamson's feminine and fluttery designs are beloved of west London socialites – Sienna Miller is one of his best friends, while Jade Jagger is often seen in his clothes. He studied in Manchester before graduating from Saint Martins in 1994. After working for Monsoon he set up his own label and celebrated his 10th anniver- sary with Prince in 2007.

Julien Macdonald, 40, born in Merthyr Tydfil

Macdonald is known for his daring red carpet creations, and has become a household name thanks to his collection for Debenhams. Born in Merthyr Tydfil, Macdonald studied at the Royal College of Art before working briefly for Chanel and becoming chief designer at Givenchy in 2001. Recently, he has starred as a judge on Britain's Next Top Model.