Interview with Graduate Fashion Week Ambassador Holly Fulton

Scottish-born designer Holly Fulton has always been a vocal supporter of young talent. She describes her own journey from MA student at the Royal College of Art in London to successful business owner as one shaped and steered by the support of industry insiders and creative initiatives such as London’s Fashion East platform and the UK NEWGEN programme which supported her for five seasons in a row. Holly’s style is defined by her hand-drawn graphic patterns which can be traced back to her love of Bauhaus and Art Deco style; the sprit of Anni Albers and Eduardo Paolozzi shine through in her collections with the added gusto of Pop Art exuberance, layered embellishment and clean symmetry. Holly Fultons influences are never predictable but always in line with her love of bright geometry and textural contradictions, thanks to the use of both traditional and bleeding-edge materials such as industrial plastics and tough canvas cottons. For her debut SS17 resort collection, Fulton created a more commercial range that put forward a rainbow of wearable offerings: stripy cotton canvas separates and an altogether a more girly take on her catwalk aesthetic thanks to gingham, prints depicting cartoonish 1920s coquettes and graphic patterned dresses. Embellishments were scarcer but by no means forgotten on pretty ‘garden party’ dresses. While she played it safe, the concept of accessibility and wearability was an astute business move. Fulton understands her buyers and clients which is why, as an independent designer, she has stood the test of time in a landscape that is full of potholes created by big business competitors who continue to carve up the luxury sector. As a Graduate Fashion Week ambassador she is the voice of reason…

Graduate Fashion Week Interview

Graduate Fashion Week Interview 

Hi Holly, great to see you at this Graduate Fashion Week presentation. It’s nearly kick-off time for you as an ambassador and judge! How do you feel about taking on this role? 

One of the tenets of Graduate Fashion Week is to have industry insiders and influencers there to support the graduates over X amount of years. I’ve always been extremely lucky to have a huge amount of support throughout my career, so to have the opportunity to be involved in this is a huge privilege. Potentially to impart some of my knowledge, be it about how to start a business, or even just to help graduates to move into their first career role, is something that’s a real pleasure for me.

You started your label in 2009. What is the single most important piece of advice that you’ve stuck to? 

I think I was surprised with the amount of help I got at the time [when I launched my label]. It was more than I expected! People who were at quite a senior level had a lot of time for me. Initially I was too timid to ask for this help. I think the best advice that was given to me is that you can never start a network of support too early. I think connections are vital and you never know where they are going to lead.

What are the most relevant roles today – or rather what roles are often overlooked? 

Production managers, sales directors and studio managers are incredibly important in a business. It’s never me designing in isolation. Whoever is in charge of sales is going to look at collections with a different design eye for example. To me none of these roles are elixir, they all contribute to the soul of the business.

What have you learned from your role as ambassador at GFW?

It’s the raw passion and that insane belief in yourself! You can only really have that when you are 21. I always say that my favourite collections are the ones I did at the very start of my career. I wasn’t thinking commercially. I was just thinking, ‘This is my aesthetic.’ To see their work, the crystallization of this feeling over four years is really exciting.  It’s an emotion and creativity that isn’t tailored by constraints – it’s very inspiring.

People on the international stage associate this raw creativity with the UK. In New York it’s very different, but the UK is very much about a raw creative passion. To harness that is a different job. You can always take something that is extreme and pare it back. Buyers can see that design skill there. To me when you are studying, it is a time to play.

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Is there anything that you look for in particular as a judge?

I love to look at students’ portfolios. How they edit these and put things together. It’s just as important as the clothes themselves. To get a tight edit is a very difficult thing to do. Students who have spent four years on a theme may not find this easy so it can be a real testament to talent. To show your entire background on 30 pages is quite a task!

How do you remember your time as an MA student?  

I adored my time at the RCA. I always compare it to ‘Hair’ the musical, because we all got on so well! It was healthy competition. Working until midnight and then going out together. Such a stimulating time and the people who were my friends then are still my best friends now.

Do you think that university is really the best way to enter the fashion world?

I’m keenly aware of how expensive university is. I think that will have a knock on effect about who is coming in to the industry; it does undoubtedly make it a touch more exclusive. But for me, it would have been so tough to know at such a young age what path to follow, so university provided me with that place to settle in to. But some people have that certainty and to come through a less structured route can be incredibly fruitful. My friend Lou Dalton, the menswear designer, started through apprenticeships at various tailors. It can provide a solid grounding as long as you have those convictions.

What is the most exciting part of being a fashion designer today?

As you become more established, you get access to more stuff! You are no longer constrained by what you have access to. The bigger your business gets, the more support comes into the frame. So for example, when I launched my label, I was literally making embellishments. It’s still how I love to work of course, but now we get to work with specialised companies like Avery Dennison. Materials also really excite me as a designer. I love synthetics like plastics and mixing those up with something more naturalistic. Sometimes it’s as much about pushing your collaborators as it is about pushing yourself; so. for example. asking them to develop a material that will work in a certain way to fit your vision.

 

Here are images from the 2017 Graduate Fashion Week ‘Talent of Tomorrow’ campaign, shot by Damian Foxe and featuring pieces by eight shortlisted fashion students.To purchase tickets to the show, head to graduatefashionweek.com/buy-tickets 

Graduate Fashion Week Interview
Jamie Backshall, UCA Epsom
Graduate Fashion Week Interview
Frankie Dean, Edinburgh College of Art
Graduate Fashion Week Interview
Kate Clark, Kingston
Graduate Fashion Week Interview
Maddie Williams, Edinburgh College of Art
Graduate Fashion Week Interview
Alicja Teper, Southhampton Solent
Graduate Fashion Week Interview
Sophie Hampson, Ravensbourne
Graduate Fashion Week Interview
Ellen Fowles, Ravensbourne
Graduate Fashion Week Interview
Liam Falcus, Northumbria

 

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