IN CONVERSATION WITH HILARY ALEXANDER OBE
Inside the prestigious Istituto Marangoni London’s campus located on Fashion Street – aptly named – sits the distinguished Hilary Alexander OBE, named journalist of the year (1997 and 2003) in the British Fashion Awards and the former fashion director of the Daily Telegraph. Sharing the stage with the Officer of the Order of the British Empire are two not-so-recent graduates.
After Charlotte Gorse, Director of Istituto Marangoni London, made formal introductions, Hilary faced the two men to discuss their careers, their path to success and the realities of the fashion industry. In the off chance that some audience members would find them unfamiliar, Hilary chronicles their backgrounds in a succinct fashion.
Hilary Alexander being awarded her OBE by Queen Elizabeth II
Golan Frydman, one half of the Israeli-Latvian duo of Fyodor Golan, sits comfortably in his chair; a larger than life representation of his former self that used to wander the halls of this exact institution eight years ago. Not long after graduation, Golan met Fyodor, “a connection that was absolutely incredible”. And a few years down the line, they decided to come together in a partnership by pardoning themselves from their current positions – Golan at Mcqueen and Fyodor at Issey Miyake. The two then committed to a marriage of life and business. Next to Golan is Eudon Choi, a Royal College of Arts graduate, who prior to his graduation had been poached by All Saints, one of Britain’s largest high street retailers. It was an obvious choice for the international retailer, seeing as Eudon had been initially trained as a menswear designer in Seoul before moving onto womenswear. Well versed in both areas of expertise, demand for Eudon’s talents were high. He worked as a senior designer at Twenty8Twelve before setting up his eponymous label around the same time as Fyodor Golan.
Both men received prestigious accolades very early on in their careers. Eudon won both VFS Merit Awards in 2010 with Fyodor Golan winning the 2011 Fashion Fringe award. The two men show their adoration towards Britian’s fashion platforms for young designers.
Acknowledging himself as a foreigner, Eudon highly praises the openness of the fashion system in London. “It really is a fantastic city in terms of incubating young talent, the support system is incredible and everything is readily available to you. I’m from Seoul and I can only imagine how hard it would be for a foreigner if they showcased at Seoul Fashion Week”. Golan nods in agreement. “Fashion Fringe changed the whole picture for us, there was a lot of mentoring and we got free studio space. It really helped put us on the map”. Despite London Fashion Week being a stickler of tradition, their talents did not go unnoticed. Both men were instantaneously put on the fashion week schedule.
They attribute their success to the British Fashion Council’s Fashion Trust, an initiative that offers business support to designers. Members of the Fashion Trust, both emerging and established designers alike, are provided with business mentors. “You get so bogged down in the office, so much to do so you can’t actually sit back and look at your finances or think about forecasting; they really help reposition your business”, says Eudon. The business, he says, makes up 95% of the brand. Golan is in agreement and heeds a word of advice, “take into consideration in advance that you will only be designing 5% of the time. A passion for business must be there.” To succeed as a brand, he tells the audience, you must be excited about running a business. He details his daily routine to us which includes reading the Financial Times, The New Yorker, Women’s Wear Daily and The Business of Fashion; constantly. Hilary and Eudon concur.
On structuring their business, Hilary asks the two men about the importance of e-commerce and their social media presence. How have social media platforms helped you grow your business? Eudon says, “it definitely helps young designers, shows aren’t the only way to show your collection now”. Latching on, Golan talks about how social media has placed added value on their work. Collections were traditionally showcased for buyer purposes, but now, social media allows them to access consumers and other market territories directly to get immediate feedback. Gwyneth Paltrow commenting her love for Eudon’s pieces on Instagram is a prime example of this immediacy.
Braving the digital arena, both brands are branching out into e-commerce. In their fifth year of business, they believe that they are ready for this big step. “We have good establishments with wholesalers and retailers. But because this profit is very very small, e-commerce was the obvious choice. That margin will be enormous. But you still have to juggle between the three”, Eudon comments. At this morning’s Fashion Trust meeting, his team had just decided to put more money into their e-commerce platform. Despite e-commerce presenting itself as the next obvious step, Golan talks about investing your energy wisely. He explains that it’s better not to do something if it’s not meeting the desired goals and wasting time on it rather than perfecting the next collection.
Breaching a rather sensitive topic, Hilary asks the two men how long it took them before they were able to start paying themselves a little bit of a wage. A question everyone in the room seemed eager to hear the answer to. Mulling it over for a moment, Golan turns to Hilary and answers frankly, “paying yourself a wage is really hard. If we were working for our true official wages, we’re always making less than what we’re supposed to be”. Similar to any other business, the amount of return on an investment is not immediate. And the investments the brand makes are constant; whether that be higher show production costs, bigger models, stylists, and fabrics, the needs for the business is constantly evolving. Golan compares it to being a firefighter; “you’re just constantly going around putting out fires, whether it’s in manufacturing, organizing a show, managing employees, payrolls and taxes…. Sometimes you’re so into designing your new collection and you get this horrible letter from HMRC saying you forgot to pay your taxes for the past 5 months”. The two men reiterate the importance of facing reality, building an eponymous label is the same as running a business.
The two young designers have come far from their student day from working in tiny spaces where their garments spilled out into the corridors to gracing the pages of VOGUE, ELLE and Harper’s Bazaar. There’s a lot to take away and the room tingles with nervous energy from the soon to be graduates. Sensing the shift in dynamic, the two men end the talk on a high note, “Trust and believe in yourself. There are loads of people around you telling you what they think you should do, but as long as you trust your instincts and you are passionate about it, then it will work.”