In Conversation with — Claire Ginzler

Claire Ginzler is the Fashion Director of On|Off, London Fashion Week’s independent fashion showcase that has come to play an increasingly important role within the London fashion Calendar.

In her capable hands On|Off became the catwalk that first drew press attention to now-established names like Peter Pilotto, Gareth Pugh and Hannah Marshall. Her work as a stylist for top titles and big brands has, over time, led to her heading in a more editorial direction: she has worked for quality UK broadsheets such as for The Guardian Weekender and Style/Sunday Times magazine. A woman with fashion in her blood – she started out as a buyer- it’s perhaps fitting that for someone who started out working on UK television’s legendary The Clothes Show, she would head back towards the medium. For example, Claire styles for top UK TV programmes ‘10 Years Younger’ and ‘How to Look Good Naked’.

Ken Pratt tracked her down in the aftermath of recent fashion weeks to put a few questions to her…

KP: So how did fashion week go? Any unexpected surprises or unusual twists? Or have you now got it down to a fine art of control?

CG: Even though we are a small team we all know what we are doing and just get on with it. Once the designers and venue are on board the rest is put into motion.

This year was one of our strongest in terms of the designers we had on board.  J Maskrey relaunched her label showing her body art as well as some truly interesting garments. Pam Hogg was onboard again. I loved her show simply for people-watching in the audience such as Nick Cave and Phil Dirtbox who was a figure I remember from my clubbing days in the 90’s. We also showed Roksanda Ilincic which was great coup for us.

KP: How did you actually come to be involved in ON/OFF? It’s obviously a hugely demanding undertaking so I’m wondering how you juggle it in relation to all your other perhaps more personal projects?

CG: I met Lee Lapthorne when he was teaching at Birmingham University and I was styling a show there. We got on well and he asked for my advice on fashion and then mentioned a project that he had coming up, the beginnings of On|Off. It started with a party that I got involved in at a club by Selfridges and then the first actual event was at The Army Museum; the tents were on Sloane street then. The rest is history…

As far as juggling is concerned I am used to it as I am freelance and, in the last 18months, a mum.  Sometimes projects do overlap but I have many good assistants to call upon to help me out in perhaps these more stressful times.

KP: During the London Fashion Week just past I heard lots of people saying that they felt that many of the collections on most of the London catwalks were ‘safe’ and uninspiring, linking it with the ubiquitous economic situation. Do you think this is a fair general opinion or just a clichéd and unfair response?

CG: Of course the recession has had an effect. Buyers aren’t buying as muchand therefore use their option to buy on the established brands making it a lot harder for the emerging or lesser-known designer brands to get noticed. To survive designers have had to play it safe with their collections which is a huge shame but also a must for their survival. What does concern me is that trends that have come out of fashion week are repeats of past trends that seem like they had only just disappeared. For
example,  the 80’s trends. I remember it first time, so please, I don’t need to see it again already.

London, however, has always accepted designer’s individuality and allowed them to do their own thing. Trends are apparent but always have come second to the designer’s own style and creative flair.

KP: Assuming that ON/OFF is in the luxurious position of having far more people want to show than is possible  – and I understand that this remains the case, despite the recession- how does the ON/OFF team make its decision about who to show?

CG: As Fashion Director of On|Off, I scout, interview and then decide who is showing in terms of the emerging designers. Lee, the Creative Director will also scout and let me know if there is anyone he wants me to see. Each season I see a lot of applications and from this I decide, from their website and images they email me, who I think would be good to interview. The interview is really a relaxed meeting where I can see and feel the garments as well as ensure that the designer has manufacturing and production in place.  Of course I have designers who believe they are ready to show with us and I know they get frustrated when I say they are not ready for our event, but I can’t help that. On|Off has to remain a strong voice where buyers and press come and know that they are seeing talent that will last and not just be here for a few seasons.

KP: Would you say that ON/OFF had a very specific fashion position, a ‘flavour’ or style that distinguished it from any of the other London catwalks, for example? And, if so, what would that position and style be?

CG: Yes definitely. On|Off is an established brand that has become known to emerging and on-schedule designers as a great platform to showcase their work. The venue has always had to be a strong starting point and victoria House fits in perfectly with the aesthetic of On|Off. This season we also had on board Yasmina Dexter who curated the event.

KP: If I were a talented young designer who had received enough critical praise as a student and perhaps worked for a few years and now managed to get the resources together to show my strong new collection, assuming I had ON/OFF’s approval, what would make ON/OFF a sensible choice for me? What could that experience offer me to advance my fashion career that other catwalks couldn’t?

CG: On|Off has grown as it reputation has. We have carefully created and tapped into the talent that is London Fashion Week. Therefore each designer that comes onboard becomes part of the event and can access the history of information that we can offer them. We support and nurture where possible and guide on numerous topics such as production, sponsorship or the collection itself.

On|Off has been established and part of London Fashion Week now for a number of seasons. This means that we have a good press and buyer attendance each season. We not only show in London but also we have a showroom during Paris Fashion Week.

One of our strengths for emerging designers is On|Off Presents which is a catwalk show where we sponsor the designers we believe have great talent but don’t have the funds to go to the next step or maybe simply need attention that we can offer them during London Fashion Week. On|Off Presents is a showcase for designers that are recently graduated or have had a little press and are not ready for a full show. Each designer shows 8-10 outfits.

KP: On a similar tack, I wonder who you think ON/OFF has been particularly instrumental in profiling or offering a platform over the years.  Who are the hot talents that first had an important moment on the ON/OFF catwalk over the years?

CG: We were one of the first to see a gap between the ‘on’ schedule designers and the ‘off’ schedule or emerging designers. It was getting to a point that the buyers and press couldn’t simply go to all the shows as they were scattered everywhere around London. Something had to be done, hence the name On|Off, basically bridging the gap between the ‘on’ schedule and the ‘off’ schedule.

We have had a lot of hot talent over the seasons. A few that we have showcased that have gone onto to be truly established in their own rights are the designers such as Peter Pilotto, Mark Fast, Gareth Pugh, Richard Sorger and Hannah Marshall.

KP: I want to ask something that might put you in a difficult position diplomatically, but I’ll ask anyway: who for you were the strong talent showing during this fashion week just past; the hot next things?

CG: Erdem’s prints are just simply beautiful and Roksanda’s captures glamour perfectly . Opposite to them is Yang Du whose oversized t-shirts in jersey
or cashmere are simply beautiful and fun.