What makes a ‘fashion designer’?

I wasn’t going to comment on Sarah Mower’s scathing critique of Henry Holland’s show but in light of the hullabaloo* surrounding the Lindsay Lohan/Ungaro debacle, I couldn’t resist.

Question: what is a designer? Is it someone who has an understanding of the entire design process, who cuts their own patterns and pins their own toiles? Or is it someone who has an eye, is good at styling and can tune into the zeitgeist despite not having a design background? What I’ve learnt from the last few weeks is that fashion is subjective and there is no cut and dried answer. I sat through the Kinder Aggugini show, non-plussed at what I was seeing – ‘derivative… Galliano…not quite there’ went my scrawls while post-show I listened to Hilary Alexander and Michael Howells praise him as the next big thing. Henry Holland’s show (below) was pretty much laid into by Style.com’s Sarah Mower which was weird as she also has a role at the BFC to promote emerging British talent and Holland is one of her fledging designers. Mower’s beef with Holland was that his shows have become media circuses that revolve around his celebrity playmates and his design skills are little more than jumbling up a few eighties references without much finesse. Her concluding line was, “perhaps it would be cleverer to quit the runway altogether and throw parties instead.” Ouch.

Can a ‘designer’ who didn’t study design or train as a designer rightfully call themselves a designer? Well, that brings me to Luella. She came from a similar journalism background to Holland (although hers was Vogue to his Sneak) and if truth be told, it is the styling and clever pop culture references that keep her brand at the forefront of British fashion. There’s really nothing new in terms of design innovation at Luella and yet she is considered a real designer against Holland’s marketer-posing-as-designer.

And so to Lohan. Where to start with this? The girl is an actress who has made music and then decided she wanted to have a go at fashion. And who could blame her? The celebritisation of fashion means that everyone has had a play at ‘fashion designer’ and from what I know, her leggings line has sold well. But to install her as creative director of Ungaro, a luxury house of forty-odd years standing. Really? I didn’t buy it from the beginning and I’m glad it failed. According to WWD, it was “quite simply, an embarrassment“. Yikes, don’t hold back WWD!

A designer has to take the job seriously, they have to live and breathe the role and if they don’t it shows oh-so-clearly. Where do things go from here? I am really hoping this will be the end of the celebrity-as-model, celebrity-as-designer, celebrity-as-author trend. It won’t happen overnight but this could be the catalyst.

*new fave word
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17 Responses to What makes a ‘fashion designer’?

  1. Random Fashion Coolness says:

    A well thought out, insightful post Miss. Rollergirl (feel like a teacher commenting on a good essay!) The right-of-passage element that celebs feel they are entitled to, has always worried me. Act well-try your hand at singing, dress well-be a "designer" or lend your name to a collection….the boobs and mishaps are endless. Then I started to think of myself, I'm not a journalist, so what makes me think I can write a blog……mmmmm…..may have opened a can of worms there ;]

  2. Polly says:

    I didn't think Henry Holland's show was -too- atrocious…nothing outstanding and nothing that will set the world alight, but I've felt that about a lot of shows this season. And at least he has moved on from collections entirely consisting of those awful t-shirts with the writing on-I know he included a few but they were in mercifully small numbers. The Ungaro I really can see the problem with, everything was utterly hideous. The worst for me has to be the harem pant/bandeau bra with glittery heart combo. And the pasties…argh, terrible. How they made their way into a fashion show when you can pick them up in Ann Summers I do not know. Wrong wrong wrong. But I like your discussion on what makes a designer, it is an interesting point.

  3. The style strutter says:

    Really interesting post!!
    I have to agree with the whole Lohan thing being a complete joke, and as for Henry Holland…Ive never really understood all the hype!!

    Anyway, thanks for a good read:)!!


  4. La Magdalena de Proust says:

    I couldn't agree more with you!!

    I'm fashion designer and i love fashion that's the truth and right now there are lots of problems for those who are seeking for a job opportunity so i can tell you this kind of things trouble and angry us!

    I don't have anything agains Luella, Henry Holland or Lilo but let's make it clear, not all of us get the chance to be on top, let's stand with talent and not with marketing necause that's what fashions is in its inside, of course it is important to sell but, was necessary to embarasse Ungaro and Estrella Archs, who by know is a well known designer, does she needs Lilo?
    I don't think so..
    I hope you're right and new times arrive!

  5. Sweet_Tooth says:

    Hullabaloo is a wonderful word! I'm going to try to use it as many times as I can this week.

    Very revealing post! Makes one stop and consider for sure.

  6. Peters says:

    I choose the fashion design because this is the job connect between beauty and creation. I don't know why the girl want to be in fashion design. As I say, fashion design is really excited work, if people really love it and sometimes can handle the pleasure of " creation blank "

  7. Georgia LA says:

    Go one with your bad self! just stumbled across your blog and refreshing to read some thought provoking insightful commentary, thank you love. As for Holland, its true his stuff gets hyped because of the celeb status thang but its a catch 22 because without them he wouldn't be where he was today so it'll be interesting to see what if, any independant steps he takes now following the style.com review. xx

  8. jeanie annan-lewin says:

    its a tough one what makes a designer

    i honestly believe that in this business called fashion is all about who your know rather than what you know. 50% of a persons success relies on there actual talent the rest is a worldwind of networking promotion basically acting like a fashion prostitute and trying to tap into what you think people want.

    i think its funny that sarah mower rips into holland / Lohan so easily but there probably the first people she'll invite to an event because them and there 80's refs (the same refs that every other designer borrows/copies season to season) generates press.

    Henners designs don't bother me because i think he's been honest every single person that brought a funny logo t shirt watched frock me on channel 4 and wanted to dress like agyness dean got conned from day one! he was never trying to save the world just make a little fun and make a lot of money so of course his clothes won't be awe inspiring super fun.

    its the likes of style.com wwd grazia etc etc who propel these people into the spotlight on a weekly basis making them and us believe that turning into a designer artist painter decorator whatever is perfectly acceptable these same institutions then grow some sort of a twisted fashion conscience and slam them for poisoning the fashion world

    I guess my point on the whole is that anyone can be a designer because we put people on a pedistool within 5 seconds no one is judged on talent solely anymore there are plenty of designers who have amazing vision and end up creating for years until they make it big people crave and want a spectacle "bread and circuses" that's what the lohan's and Holland's provide sad state of affairs but a true one.

  9. EIGHT LONDON says:

    I agree entirely . Like you say, a fashion designer is someone who lives, breathes and loves their work, is committed to every sketch and stitch from start to finish, regardless of whether they went to a top design school or any at all.

    Designers are used to being panned in their fledgling years; Stella, Luella, Matthew Williamson have all gone through the Mower-wringer so I don't think this will blow Henry off balance. On Lindsay however, she may have walked tearfully dow the catwalk to applause as "artistic advisor", but she was nowhere to be seen at the Ungaro studio during the last few days of hectic pre-show preparation. Instead, she was on twitter.

  10. Style Slicker says:

    Excellent post DRG!!! Lindsay's debut as an 'artistic advisor' for Ungaro…well what can i say a 'DISASTER' a mistake and an embarrasment in the fashion industry. What does she know about fashion design? Pretty dresses?

  11. My New Favourite Thing says:

    I'd love to know who approached who with the whole LiLo / Ungaro thing. As far as I remember, she's only even worn leggings, leather bombers and the occasional Herve Leger number. Most peculiar.

  12. Natty says:

    I thought fashion design was a skill, almost a trade if you like, not something anyone can just "fall into". Personally I would be seriously hacked off if I was a trained and hard working designer who had to vye for attention alongside an actress with no formal training. I agree with you, hopefully this will put the lid on this "celebrities can do anything" era.

  13. enc says:

    I avoid news about Lindsay Lohan like the plague. But that bit about her being involved with Ungaro was impossible to avoid. I voraciously read anything I could about it. I was flabbergasted at the mere idea. It was preposterous, and doomed. I rarely say things like that, but this time, I have to. Putting out a line of leggings is one thing. Turning out an entire season's collection is quite another. What were they all thinking?

  14. womens dresses says:

    Loving the white dress!!im not so sure about the other one as its too revealing-i would wear something underneath it

  15. susie_bubble says:

    A great discussion and something that has been plaguing me too… I think there are some people that can be laid into all too easily… Lilo for one, Henners on the other… but then some that are still touted as the amazing thing… Christopher Decarnin for Balmain is one that springs to mind…like you said, it's a subjective thing and I don't think necessarily that one journalist or the other should decide the fate of a designer…

  16. queengilda says:

    as a designer myself, i scratched ungaro off my list when they brought lindsay onboard. are they kidding? of all people? someone with no fashion sense and who is retarded at the same time? i don't think so.

    i have a deep respect for REAL designers because i know the amount of work that goes into everything. everyone else just doesn't count.

    party boys/designers who get famous because they were already rich and their parents knew people and they interned at vogue and got famous immediately, etc, those "designers" make me laugh sometimes. i guess they are lucky since their parents had connections. the rest of us have to find out own way, but i don't want to be more famous for throwing parties than designing clothes. like a certain alex wang who "designs" $400 tshirts.


  17. Anonymous says:

    Mower was spot-on about Henry Holland's show.

    Why should fashion editors, press etc. have to give a show like Holland's the same attention as one, like Christopher Kane's, which was intelligent, original, creative, well made etc. They're just not even on the same level, and that Holland's hype-y fashion should be shown on a runway, comparable to designers who actually think about what they're doing and put loads of effort into it rather than just creating a marketing buzz, is quite absurd.

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