I had the pleasure of meeting one of Fashion Scout's co-founders John Walford, at London Fashion Week A/W 2017. John is an extremely well known and respected name in the catwalk world who has been involved in the production of many huge shows for many huge names.
We could only speak for 10 minutes impromptu in amongst the bustle of the backstage, but he was kind and courteous enough to talk with me. He had a certain way with story-telling: he was captivating and sincere and his thirst and love for fashion was clearly evident.
We discussed a number of things, including the beginning of Fashion Scout, problems facing fashion at the moment, including 'Instagram plagiarism', and what makes a good show.
For those who don’t know who you are, can you tell us a bit about your background?
I studied Drama and Theatre at Birmingham and then went on to work at the Royal Court Theatre, where I was on the Literary Panel for many years and worked developing young writers both here and at a number of other theatres also. I used to produce all the [Vivienne] Westwood shows years ago, among others, and I started Graduate Fashion Week. I often lecture too and have done so at Northumbria University, Bath, London College of Fashion and Regents.
How did Fashion Scout come about?
I had been doing fashion shows for a while and Martyn [Roberts, Creative Director and Founder] actually wrote to me for a job once! He was working with a PR I knew. We took over an old car-park in South Kensington for a weekend and did half-a-dozen shows there. Later, after a short digression into other things, he rang me and said that it worked really well, citing his enjoyment of the experience and a desire to do an event for young designers - and that’s how it started! It’s actually called Fashion Scout because when we started out we did the first few shows in Baden-Powell House, the home of the Scouts.
How were the early days? Did you find it hard establishing yourselves?
We got Vauxhall sponsorship, which carried us through for many years. They really were fantastic sponsors and took us through to here [at the Freemasons Hall]. However, one of things that really concerned me was how one could properly develop and also try to help people. It costs an awful lot of money and we were persuading designers to come and spend the money with us - at what point did we take responsibility for that, at what point was it a problem for us, or indeed their problem too.
I work now a lot in China and they have started to develop a really good model: a lot more young-designers, who actually work with department stores, with goods in the shops - so they can actually sell through them. How many people in Keynesian terms are priming the pump, going in and shopping and spending the money! Who can afford to, I guess, in the current economic climate... People aren’t.
Do you think that this is an issue for fashion currently?
How much of the fashion that we are seeing, not necessarily here, but across the whole of London Fashion Week is actually going to be sold? So much is going to be showpieces. And one can name the designers! They have all these fabulous clothes, but in the shops sell little black jersey dresses, because that’s what sells… Recently, a designer was bought out, and was told that ‘AW14 sold well, why don’t you repeat the line?’ This is what you’re fighting against. It’s difficult, it’s hard.
How have you found fashion has changed?
Fashion was very different in the old days. You had to wait 3 months to see the catwalk images, and it was really important that you bought the Vogue catwalk issue, and now it’s all out there, half an hour after the show. This helps in many ways, especially for publicity and for up-and-coming designers, but can cause problems. All people want is that little pic[ture]. Robert Cary-Williams wanted all the internet people banned from the show because he said people just rip me off so quickly – saying ‘that the longer I can hold my pictures, the less I’ll get ripped off’. He was well aware of the fact he was being copied and plagiarised, but there was nothing he could do about it.
Also, the things the internet pick up on are not necessarily the things that are important or that people want to wear - I mean, one show I did a wardrobe malfunction happened and that was the most tweeted picture of the show. You don’t have to go to a fashion show to see a nipple!
Previously working on the Literary Panel for young writers, lecturing and obviously supporting up-and-coming designers with Fashion Scout and Graduate Fashion Week, you seem to have a real desire for the development of new talent. What is it that makes you want to do this?
The main thing I have experienced being here is the energy, the excitement! People make the effort to come here, to dress up and for the students and the recently graduated, its lovely to see that it is still so very important. That is great!
Is there any advice you would give to up-and-coming designers?
When I lecture I try to get my students to look at artists like Donald Judd or Christo or Daniel Buren, who all play with shapes, shadows and colours. We look at pre-digital photography, post-digital photography and look at architects, a lot of architects, especially people like Luis Barragan: all about colour and light. Colour and light play a lot into things, but people forget this. What everyone wants is one image in a white box. In a lot of shows the models come out one by one, there’s 28 looks, there’s 32 seconds per look, its predictable. I’ve worked in 28 different countries, and most of the time that’s not what people have required – they want something that is a bit more dramatic - a bit of fun.
Who have you worked with who has embraced difference? Who wasn’t predictable, let’s say?
I was doing shows with Robert Cary-Williams. He is great - he was really prepared to try out ideas, unconditionally. Manish Arora was fabulous as well – I did a lot with Manish – he was very open minded and wanted his shows to be different.
What would be your ideal setup for a show?
It would probably not involve a straight cat-walk, it would probably not be white. It would have lots of models, so that one could do more. However, when fashion strays into pure drama, it is hard to get it right: it can be a little too indulgent. I have been using Vanessa Beecroft as my role model for grouping girls. She has been working with Kayne West recently, but I was using her 5 years ago, and doing finales that we used to call the ‘tribe’ where the models would come down and intimidate the photographers. We were the first to be doing things like that – finding people that want to try new ideas is hard! It sticks a big finger up, and people need to do that in fashion, it’s expression.
What is exciting is when someone has a good idea, a good hair and make-up team and a good model and it all comes together. That is so exciting and there is nothing really to beat that feeling. A fashion high!