On Friday night, Fashion East alumni and friends gathered in the Nike 1948 LDN space in East London to celebrate the initiative’s spread in Luncheon magazine issue 8. On the eve of Fashion East's 20th anniversary, the talent incubator features as one of the three covers for the biannual style and culture magazine.
With next year seeing the platform celebrate two decades in operation, Fashion East have dug through their archives for Luncheon, enlisting founder Lulu Kennedy’s five year old daughter Rainbow as a model, photographed by Joyce Ng. Rainbow wears the designers who have quite literally grown up with her; Charles Jeffrey, Simone Rocha and Craig Green feature alongside the late Judy Blame and Richard Nicoll. Ease and familiarity emanate throughout the photographs, a fitting reflection of what Kennedy and her team have built.
Just a few hours before, Fashion East had presented their Spring/Summer 2020 womenswear designers in the same space. Gareth Wrighton and Yuhan Wang showed alongside a debut footwear presentation of Ancuta Sarca’s kitten heels made from upcycled Nike trainers. Connor, one of Wrighton's models, told me that the atmosphere backstage had been one of the warmest he had ever had, giving him the confidence to rock white briefs down the runway as models snaked in through the iron gates and into the space, which was now filled with guests sipping on Hennessy from bright neon cups. Members of the Fashion East family including menswear designer Stefan Cooke, activist and model Munroe Bergdorf and revered fashion journalist Charlie Porter, who interviews Lulu for the issue, passed through the space in Bateman’s Arches, with Miss Jason later hitting the decks.
I managed to catch a few words with Kennedy and the star of the show Rainbow before she zoomed off in her enviable custom Mowalola leather trousers to say her hellos to her legion of fans, and later also spoke with Joyce Ng.
Hetty Mahlich: Congratulations on twenty years. What else have you got planned to celebrate?
Lulu Kennedy: We’re not quite twenty. This is the little pre, the warm-up sesh. Umm…a few projects I can’t talk about but this is just a little moment in time. It's lovely that Luncheon have done this for us.
HM: How did the project come about?
LK: Luncheon invited us via Charlie Porter who writes for them and he’s on both our menswear and womenswear panel and a big supporter. He said, "How would you feel about doing a little feature, like an archive piece? I’ll write it up!" and I was like, "Yeah, great!" And when we met with Frances (von Hofmannsthal) the editor, she suggested Rainbow modelling it. I had to think about it, and I was like, "Do you know what? Actually, that’s perfect! Because she embodies the spirit of Fashion East."
HM: Which was your favourite outfit? (Rainbow frowns slightly, thinking intently).
Rainbow Kennedy: Well I liked the one where I couldn’t get the jumper over my head.
LK: Gareth Wrighton! It was his show today.
HM: Luncheon has the concept of luncheon itself and lunches at its core. Have you had any memorable lunches or perhaps where an exciting idea was sparked?
LK: What’s our favourite lunch?
RK: Spaghetti! Woo!
LK: Friday night is pizza treat night. That’s our little tradition. We’re not really foodies.
RK: I am!
HM: The announcement Fashion East are now collaborating with Nike is really exciting.
LK: We only just got together…(laughs.) It sounds like a boyfriend or something.
RK is getting restless. LK tells her we’ll be finished soon.
RK: But when is it my turn?
LK: Oh, do you like Nike?
LK: You’re wearing Nike, aren’t you? We’re both wearing Nike on our shoes. I loved even just for our first little kind of venture with them to do it in their space - it felt quite special and to be back in the East End. So we’ll take it from here. It didn't feel at all forced.
HM: You can really feel the sense of family and community in the photographs.
LK: I don’t know how Joyce manages to squeeze such amazing work out of people but it still feel like fun. Some of it's really hardcore, like the models had to hold Rainbow in a giant spoon. It was a lot! We were doing about nine shots a day, nine set ups. Ten in the morning till six at night. [To Rainbow] And you were such a little professional, weren’t you? Didn’t fuss at all. We made it fun, we had TV breaks, we had dancing with Miss Jason and Carrie (Stacks). And Mischa (Notcutt, casting director), you were spraying her with a water gun. And tap dancing! And a whoopee cushion!
RK: Which broke!
LK: Yes it did, it didn’t last a whole day because we over-used it. There was another thing that was really fun...oh yeah you painted your own mask thing, for your dancing with Claire Barrow.
RK runs off inside.
LK: She’s so tired. Bless her!
HM: How are you helping the young designers Fashion East works with to incorporate sustainable practices? It’s hard as a young designer as it can be expensive to be sustainable.
LK: Not necessarily. We’re actually taking advice from a couple of experts who I’m going to invite to join our panel. It’s a lot on top of everything else [young designers are] trying to do, but I think if people start out with that mindset and goal, then that’s half of the battle. Thinking, "Do I really need that plastic thing? Could it be something else?" We’re definitely working closely with our designers on achieving [sustainability]. One of our celebratory projects for next year is around sustainability - that’s all I can say - but we are really going to champion that as a cause. That’s why it felt good today to have Ancuta (Sarca) with her upcycled shoes - I liked that juxtaposition, given we're in a Nike space. I think it's very, very cool of them that they supported that as well. They had every right to feel a bit strange about it. But they were like, "No, no, it's wicked! and behind it.
HM: Congratulations on the project and the anniversary!
LK: Thank you!
Joyce Ng, the CSM graduate and rising talent, who has worked previously with Fashion East alumnae and friends including Ms. Carrie Stacks, told me more about the project and working with her youngest but most professional model yet.
What was it like shooting Rainbow?
Other than factoring in ice-cream breaks, which I appreciated very much myself, there was not much difference in flow compared to other shoots. We achieved 19 looks in two days... with a set and styling change in almost every shot. This was smoother than some shoots with adults! Rainbow was there to work.
How did you approach planning the concepts for the shoot and who was involved in this process?
It was simply Rainbow and her comrades, real and imaginary, doing her usuals, like slime- making, dressing up, playing cars, having her favourite skinny fries, playing tent. The photographs had to be uncomplicated. It’s about a family as well as familiarity. It’s the Fashion East baby wearing the other Fashion East babies from its 20 year-history.
Why did you want to be involved in the project?
Lulu reached out to me and it was meant to happen for last issue. But it was a huge task to make happen as it involved a big archive pull. My beginning photography work involved a lot more of my own street casts of adolescents and teenagers. As I progressed, perhaps my outlook became a bit less childish and as some publications are also careful with shooting underage models, I just leaned less towards this age range. This was the loveliest reason to go back to something that more or less got me into photography. Rainbow was more focused than some of her friends involved, for instance, Rainbow kept her pose on point, meanwhile I had to remind Miss Jason to keep their legs closed every other shot.
You frequently street cast your models. I know you have worked with the Fashion East team before, shooting Mowalola’s collection for i-D, Rottingdean Bazaar for Dazed, and have previously worked with Ms. Carrie Stacks. How does photographing people you know differ to strangers?
Working with people you know feels less like work - it helps when the warming-up period is out of the way. On the other hand, it’s cheesy to say but the camera is the best training for me to be less shy, since I must engage any subject in a limited amount of time.
Can you explain how the team involved came together and how did it feel to collaborate again?
The team shifted nonstop until the last minute. The scheduling involved so many people and we had to take Rainbow’s school timetable into account. It was my first time working with Brian Molloy (stylist) and Amy Stickland (set design). The novelty is always a bit nerve-racking in the beginning. In the end, you just need to make sure you communicate everything on your mind across, both ideas and doubts, and not be overly polite.
What's the response to the project been?
Too much love!
What’s your favourite photograph from the project?
The close-up of the play tent Gareth Pugh shot. The tension between Rainbow and Sethu’s (model) gazes in different directions, like they have no awareness of each other, versus the intimacy created under the tight tent space and Sethu’s sacrifice of his Gareth Pugh sleeve as Rainbow’s pillow gives me so much warmth.
Luncheon magazine is based on the premise of ‘luncheon’ itself, spending time in restaurants, the conversations that happen around a table and a sense of community and sharing. Do you have any special or crazy memories that happened at a meal?
The luxury of time that photographer Alice Neale and I had when we were still in university... We invited 27 friends over for Christmas dinner in our tiny flat around six years ago. We start preparing the ham and gathered ingredients a week ahead and started kitchen work three days before. I was shucking oysters and catered to all dietary restrictions. We had Alice’s long white Comme des Garçons purse hanging on the door as an honesty system, having asked everyone to contribute a small portion back to the costs of the lush dinner. I think four people left some change! Nevertheless the reviews of the night were only positive.
Do you see any future collaborations with Fashion East?
Another go at this at the 30th anniversary would be rather major.
Do you have any exciting projects lined up?
I want to plan a holiday since I haven’t taken one - perhaps on my own.
The premise of Luncheon, remarks Frances von Hofmannsthal in her editor's letter, is looking both backwards and forwards. Fashion East celebrate their past, but aren’t taking their eye off the future. With the recent announcement of their partnership with Nike, the Fashion East family continues to grow.