Lulu Kennedy is a Responsible Adult

Lulu Kennedy is a Responsible Adult

NP
February 19, 2019
lulu-mobile

"It’s probably for the best that I found my fashion family, because it’s where I feel at home.”

photography Tung Walsh / styling Zoe James / words Alison Taylor

Lulu Kennedy MBE is a bona fide fashion legend and our latest Responsible Adult. As the founder and director of Fashion East, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to finding and nurturing new design talent in the fashion industry, she has helped launch some of British fashion’s brightest stars - from Jonathan Saunders to Simone Rocha via Roksanda Ilincic, Gareth Pugh and JW Anderson. Each season, Fashion East offers three womenswear and three menswear designers the opportunity to stage a runway show during London Fashion Week. We caught up with Lulu at home in East London ahead of the LFW show to talk raves, mentors and trusting your instincts…

The lead up to fashion week is crazy. day is a mixture of site visits with the production team about the show, visiting the designers in their studios, checking that they’re holding it together, that there is a collection and that they’re okay - this season’s amazing designers are Charlotte Knowles, Gareth Wrighton and Yuhan Wang. I’m also dealing with a lot of interviews - we just did something with American Vogue, which was great!

Fashion East came about when I was working for the owner of the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, helping him fill it out with studios, and then events. We started hosting fashion shows for people like Hussein Chalayan and all the younger designers. When someone big came in to do a show we would do little shows around it, off schedule. In the end, the owner said: “I can see you have a real passion about this, we should actually do it like a project”. We put together a panel of industry experts and journalists so that we could have really good advice because I didn’t have a fashion background so they all helped shape and guide it.

My background was putting on gigs and raves so my approach to organising fashion shows was to treat it like a party. just invite people and ask, “where does the bar go?!” I probably approached it very naively but the whole point of it was to help the designers and, luckily, we were guided by buyers and editors on the panel. It was geared up to be good for the designers and good for the audience. A bit like when you put on a rave, it’s dragging people to something that maybe they’ve never seen before, as well as a celebration of the talent. When I used to put on parties in Italy I’d bring out a dub group that would make people go, “oh that’s different”.

I was supposed to go to Naples for one semester during my cultural studies degree but stayed for three and a half years! There was this thing called the Erasmus programme where there’s a bursary and they put me up in a little hotel. I fell in love with the city and started putting on parties. I eventually finished my degree when I came back though I never really did anything with it!

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"In some ways it’s harder for young designers to break into industry now but in others it’s easier. Instagram means everyone has their own platform now so they don’t have to wait for editors to decide that they are the chosen one.”

Supporting young designers was definitely a bit of a calling for me. I hadn’t really found a job that I liked before then and I was just sort of bouncing around doing different things. Living in the East End at the time it was a very small community and very very sociable. No one was on their phones the whole time in those days so we’d actually meet up down the pub. Fashion East happened organically because the designers were saying to me: “Oh my god Lulu I really need a space. Is there anything at Truman that we can borrow?” I’d always go to the owner of Truman and say: “There’s this really amazing, talented designer, please can we give them some space?” And he’d say yes! I think that I’m just very lucky that I worked for this guy who’s very eccentric and very supportive of the arts. He’s a real patron.

In a nutshell my job is creative problem solving on a low budget. Sometimes the designers can’t find a factory to make their stuff because they’re only doing a small order. Or dealing with contracts - all the behind the scenes stuff. It’s about sharing the knowledge. How are they going to learn that if we don’t teach them? So we go over and above to put on shows for them, we’ll find them a hair and makeup sponsor, a DJ to mix their music for the show…it’s like second nature because we want them to do well.

In some ways it’s harder for young designers to break into industry now but in others it’s easier. Instagram means everyone has their own platform now so they don’t have to wait for editors to decide that they are the chosen one. The designers that do well are really good at visualising their brand and communicating it with their following. Of course it’s still difficult. We all know the main shops are dominated by the big super brands and it’s very rare they’ll take a risk on a young brand when they’re not sure if anyone will have ever heard of it. It’s risky for the shops, too, and I get that.

We had an incredible moment when Rihanna chose to wear one of our designers. We were all screaming! The designer was Martine Rose, and Rihanna wore her big fur coat that was covered in patches. It’s crazy because that designer is just out there in the world, relatively unknown, and suddenly being picked up by a global mega star! It’s a heart-warming moment!

Having mentors, whatever walk of life you’re in, or whatever you do, is so important. I’ve been lucky enough to be mentored and it’s invaluable isn’t it? Like someone could say one thing that you would never have figured out for yourself. We all have our blind spots and somebody can just open everything up.

lulu-mobile-2

"When I want to relax I make sure that I go out and completely switch off. I go out and dance and have loads of fun!”

I’m very direct because I don’t think anyone’s got time for pussy footing around. I try not to be too blunt because obviously you can hurt people’s feelings and I’m not there to do that. But there comes a time sometimes where it’s better just to say something.

If you can get some positive vibes out there to the people you’re working with it can really make someone’s day go better. I thrive off people being enthusiastic about Fashion East or about our designers so I try to be the return the favour. In the office we have a very open, chatty, positive atmosphere so I think when the designers come into that atmosphere they really feel welcome and at home.

Kim Jones did Fashion East back in 2005 and he flew me out to Tokyo for his Dior show this spring. This really was like going full circle. It was seeing that someone can go all the way and that you can stay friends after you’ve worked together. True talent going to the top! Apart from being very fun and exciting it was really fulfilling on that level.

I used to work around the clock but since having a kid it’s made me have to impose some sort of balance. Before, if I wasn’t at work I was at work in my head, or I was out on a social thing with someone connected to work. Now, when I’m with my kid I try really hard not to be in work mode at all and just be with her. It also makes you work in a different way, because when you have a window of opportunity you work really hard because you know that pretty soon you’re going to have to rush to school to pick up your kid.

When I want to relax I make sure that I go out and completely switch off. I try to do that once a week while Rainbow is with her dad. I go out and dance and have loads of fun! I don’t find exercising relaxing - it’s invigorating in a different way. I love doing like heavy weights in the gym - makes me feel great!

I used to think that people who worked in fashion were really annoying, it was too glam for me. The fashion designers I liked were the kind of deconstructed ones like Margiela, or Vivienne Westwood because of her punk ethos. So that was how I started buying into fashion and wearing it really. Before that is was all DIY - I’d just make my own clothes. God knows what I looked like.

lulu-mobile-5
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It’s probably for the best that I found my fashion family, because it’s where I feel at home. I never aspired to be anything when I was a kid. I didn’t picture myself working or particularly have any big ambitions - I lived in the moment and had fun. I wasn’t a career person at all! I worked in art galleries and I married an artist at one point and that felt like my life for a while but then I realised that wasn’t my scene and along came fashion!

My daughter Rainbow is definitely my biggest achievement but on a work level it would be when we started menswear and it worked. It was a real gamble and no one else was seeing it. We questioned if there would be any appetite for it in London and we did our first show and people were queuing around the block to get in! It was a real happy happy moment thinking: “Oh I’m so glad we went and decided to double our work load.”

My style is like me - a bit introverted and a bit extroverted. I guess I’m part goth girl, part show girl. One minute I can be like an amazing bubbly person and full of glitter, and the next I’m keeping my head down wearing a hoodie. What I will say is that I am willing to try new stuff. I’ll try a bit of colour, I’ll try a print - I’m not really stuck in my ways apart from having to be practical for moving around a lot. I’m usually wearing flats, and I do like my trainers.

When I had my own clothing line, it grew too fast, I didn’t have the investment and the whole thing went ‘pop!’ It was good to have gone through that because I learnt so much from it. If I did it again I’d make sure I have all the money and put everything in place before just embarking on something. Most of the time I’m very instinctive in the way I do things and this one time I didn’t listen to my instincts. Everything I tell my designers to do I went and did the opposite of it myself and ended up in a mess! So it’s a good lesson, especially in terms of what practical advice I can take from it and pass on to other designers.

Quick Fire Five

What’s your most overused phrase?

FFS

Who inspires you and why?

My gang are a constant daily inspiration, plus people I don’t (yet) know that I come across on Instagram

What is your screensaver?

Rainbow beaming at me with freshly braided hair in her favourite Asap Rocky style

What are you 90% sure of?

Myself

What’s your favourite joke?

Myself

"It’s probably for the best that I found my fashion family, because it’s where I feel at home."

Lulu Kennedy MBE is a bona fide fashion legend and our latest Responsible Adult. As the founder and director of Fashion East, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to finding and nurturing new design talent in the fashion industry, she has helped launch some of British fashion’s brightest stars - from Jonathan Saunders to Simone Rocha via Roksanda Ilincic, Gareth Pugh and JW Anderson. Each season, Fashion East offers three womenswear and three menswear designers the opportunity to stage a runway show during London Fashion Week. We caught up with Lulu at home in East London ahead of the LFW show to talk raves, mentors and trusting your instincts…

The lead up to fashion week is crazy. My day is a mixture of site visits with the production team about the show, visiting the designers in their studios, checking that they’re holding it together, that there is a collection and that they’re okay - this season’s amazing designers are Charlotte Knowles, Gareth Wrighton and Yuhan Wang. I’m also dealing with a lot of interviews - we just did something with American Vogue, which was great!

Fashion East came about when I was working for the owner of the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, helping him fill it out with studios, and then events. We started hosting fashion shows for people like Hussein Chalayan and all the younger designers. When someone big came in to do a show we would do little shows around it, off schedule. In the end, the owner said: “I can see you have a real passion about this, we should actually do it like a project”. We put together a panel of industry experts and journalists so that we could have really good advice because I didn’t have a fashion background so they all helped shape and guide it.

My background was putting on gigs and raves so my approach to organising fashion shows was to treat it like a party. You just invite people and ask, “where does the bar go?!” I probably approached it very naively but the whole point of it was to help the designers and, luckily, we were guided by buyers and editors on the panel. It was geared up to be good for the designers and good for the audience. A bit like when you put on a rave, it’s dragging people to something that maybe they’ve never seen before, as well as a celebration of the talent. When I used to put on parties in Italy I’d bring out a dub group that would make people go, “oh that’s different”.

I was supposed to go to Naples for one semester during my cultural studies degree but stayed for three and a half years! There was this thing called the Erasmus programme where there’s a bursary and they put me up in a little hotel. I fell in love with the city and started putting on parties. I eventually finished my degree when I came back though I never really did anything with it!

"In some ways it’s harder for young designers to break into industry now but in others it’s easier. Instagram means everyone has their own platform now so the don’t have to wait for editors to decide that they are the chosen one."

Supporting young designers was definitely a bit of a calling for me. I hadn’t really found a job that I liked before then and I was just sort of bouncing around doing different things.Living in the East End at the time it was a very small community and very very sociable. No one was on their phones the whole time in those days so we’d actually meet up down the pub. Fashion East happened organically because the designers were saying to me: “Oh my god Lulu I really need a space. Is there anything at Truman that we can borrow?” I’d always go to the owner of Truman and say: “There’s this really amazing, talented designer, please can we give them some space?” And he’d say yes! I think that I’m just very lucky that I worked for this guy who’s very eccentric and very supportive of the arts. He’s a real patron.

In a nutshell my job is creative problem solving on a low budget. Sometimes the designers can’t find a factory to make their stuff because they’re only doing a small order. Or dealing with contracts - all the behind the scenes stuff. It’s about sharing the knowledge. How are they going to learn that if we don’t teach them? So we go over and above to put on shows for them, we’ll find them a hair and makeup sponsor, a DJ to mix their music for the show…it’s like second nature because we want them to do well.

In some ways it’s harder for young designers to break into industry now but in others it’s easier. Instagram means everyone has their own platform now so they don’t have to wait for editors to decide that they are the chosen one. The designers that do well are really good at visualising their brand and communicating it with their following. Of course it’s still difficult. We all know the main shops are dominated by the big super brands and it’s very rare they’ll take a risk on a young brand when they’re not sure if anyone will have ever heard of it. It’s risky for the shops, too, and I get that.

We had an incredible moment when Rihanna chose to wear one of our designers. We were all screaming! The designer was Martine Rose, and Rihanna wore her big fur coat that was covered in patches. It’s crazy because that designer is just out there in the world, relatively unknown, and suddenly being picked up by a global mega star! It’s a heart-warming moment!

Having mentors, whatever walk of life you’re in, or whatever you do, is so important. I’ve been lucky enough to be mentored and it’s invaluable isn’t it? Like someone could say one thing that you would never have figured out for yourself. We all have our blind spots and somebody can just open everything up.

"When I want to relax I make sure that I go out and completely switch off. I go out and dance and have loads of fun!"

I’m very direct because I don’t think anyone’s got time for pussy footing around. I try not to be too blunt because obviously you can hurt people’s feelings and I’m not there to do that. But there comes a time sometimes where it’s better just to say something.

If you can get some positive vibes out there to the people you’re working with it can really make someone’s day go better. I thrive off people being enthusiastic about Fashion East or about our designers so I try to be the return the favour. In the office we have a very open, chatty, positive atmosphere so I think when the designers come into that atmosphere they really feel welcome and at home.

Kim Jones did Fashion East back in 2005 and he flew me out to Tokyo for his Dior show this spring. This really was like going full circle. It was seeing that someone can go all the way and that you can stay friends after you’ve worked together. True talent going to the top! Apart from being very fun and exciting it was really fulfilling on that level.

I used to work around the clock but since having a kid it’s made me have to impose some sort of balance. Before, if I wasn’t at work I was at work in my head, or I was out on a social thing with someone connected to work. Now, when I’m with my kid I try really hard not to be in work mode at all and just be with her. It also makes you work in a different way, because when you have a window of opportunity you work really hard because you know that pretty soon you’re going to have to rush to school to pick up your kid.

When I want to relax I make sure that I go out and completely switch off. I try to do that once a week while Rainbow is with her dad. I go out and dance and have loads of fun! I don’t find exercising relaxing - it’s invigorating in a different way. I love doing like heavy weights in the gym - makes me feel great!

I used to think that people who worked in fashion were really annoying, it was too glam for me. The fashion designers I liked were the kind of deconstructed ones like Margiela, or Vivienne Westwood because of her punk ethos. So that was how I started buying into fashion and wearing it really. Before that is was all DIY - I’d just make my own clothes. God knows what I looked like.

It’s probably for the best that I found my fashion family, because it’s where I feel at home. I never aspired to be anything when I was a kid. I didn’t picture myself working or particularly have any big ambitions - I lived in the moment and had fun. I wasn’t a career person at all! I worked in art galleries and I married an artist at one point and that felt like my life for a while but then I realised that wasn’t my scene and along came fashion!

My daughter Rainbow is definitely my biggest achievement but on a work level it would be when we started menswear and it worked. It was a real gamble and no one else was seeing it. We questioned if there would be any appetite for it in London and we did our first show and people were queuing around the block to get in! It was a real happy happy moment thinking: "Oh I’m so glad we went and decided to double our work load."

My style is like me - a bit introverted and a bit extroverted. I guess I’m part goth girl, part show girl. One minute I can be like an amazing bubbly person and full of glitter, and the next I’m keeping my head down wearing a hoodie. What I will say is that I am willing to try new stuff. I’ll try a bit of colour, I’ll try a print - I’m not really stuck in my ways apart from having to be practical for moving around a lot. I’m usually wearing flats, and I do like my trainers.

When I had my own clothing line, it grew too fast, I didn’t have the investment and the whole thing went ‘pop!’ It was good to have gone through that because I learnt so much from it. If I did it again I’d make sure I have all the money and put everything in place before just embarking on something. Most of the time I’m very instinctive in the way I do things and this one time I didn’t listen to my instincts. Everything I tell my designers to do I went and did the opposite of it myself and ended up in a mess! So it’s a good lesson, especially in terms of what practical advice I can take from it and pass on to other designers.

Quick Fire Five

What’s your most overused phrase?

FFS

Who inspires you and why?

My gang are a constant daily inspiration, plus people I don’t (yet) know that I come across on Instagram

What is your screensaver?

Rainbow beaming at me with freshly braided hair in her favourite Asap Rocky style

What are you 90% sure of?

Myself

What’s your favourite joke?

Myself