Twice a year, Freemasons’ Hall plays host to shows for London Fashion Week, with press from around the world in attendance. Ellie Fazan finds out what happens when fashion and Freemasonry come together
Visitors to Freemasons’ Hall on London’s Great Queen Street are being greeted by a stylish young woman bedecked in a studded leather jacket. With a clipboard in one hand and wristbands in the other, she is very much in charge.
Upstairs in one of the 21 lodge rooms, frantic preparations are under way for design duo Leutton Postle’s Spring/Summer 2013 show. It is not a scene you would expect to find in Freemasons’ Hall: there is an impossibly tall model having her make-up done wearing nothing but underwear and sparkly high heels, while a team of assistants hurriedly make final adjustments to various hairstyles and outfits.
In the midst of it all, two young women are trying to control the chaos. They are Jen and Sam, otherwise known as Leutton Postle, and this is their third show at Freemasons’ Hall. Their work is being showcased by Vauxhall Fashion Scout – an initiative that offers young designers a space to show their collections. ‘Hello, we’d love to stop and say hi but…’ Before they can finish, they are swept away in a sea of assistants.
‘The building hosts such a vibrant and eclectic mix of people... but it still maintains the elegance of the purposes it was built for’ Karen Haigh
The frenzied atmosphere permeates the room. The majestic corridors are full to the brim with brightly coloured clothes, with fun oversized collars, playful patchwork and lots of glitter. A photographer is shooting a catalogue for the designers today, and has set up a makeshift studio in the cleaning cupboard. Meanwhile, the cleaning lady leans on her mop looking unfazed. She watches on while the call ‘Girls in shoes please’ sends everyone into a panic.
Start the show
Outside Freemasons’ Hall, the fashion crowd is queuing around the block: it’s one of the most anticipated shows of the season, and the designers here are the ones to watch. The Temple vestibule starts to fill with guests, and techno music begins to blast. The clothes are the main attraction – big, bold and attention grabbing – but they don’t detract from the space. Three models at a time appear in the three carved archways before taking to the perfectly polished floor. The contrast between the futuristic collection and the stately, solid building is powerful.
One of the finest Art Deco buildings in England, Freemasons’ Hall has been available for use as a location for television productions and photoshoots for more than a decade. ‘One of the location managers I’d worked with on a film project asked if we hired the venue to outside events such as fashion. We hadn’t before, but I just said yes,’ remembers Karen Haigh, UGLE Head of Events. ‘That led to us piloting the first London Fashion Week shows for Vauxhall Fashion Scout in 2009. All events are special in their own way, but working twice a year with Vauxhall Fashion Scout has become part of the venue. It’s bigger than ever now and it has been wonderful to see it develop each year. It’s like being a parent!’
Offering an opportunity
Freemasons’ Hall is an integral part of London Fashion Week, placing it alongside Somerset House as one of the most important events spaces in the capital, hosting the most cutting-edge shows. The designers here are the ones to look out for. This year fashion’s punk princess Pam Hogg showed, with celebrities and fashion editors alike coming to watch.
For Karen Haigh it’s an exciting time, with no friction between the long-term residents and the temporary inhabitants. ‘The building hosts such a vibrant and eclectic mix of people during this time, but it still maintains the elegance of the purposes it was built for. It really makes me smile when members come into the building during that period and can’t hide their surprise at some of the outfits on display!’
Vauxhall Fashion Scout is helping young people in their chosen fields – one of Freemasonry’s founding principles. Hand in hand they are offering young designers a space. Sam and Jen agree. ‘We couldn’t do this without their support,’ the pair say. ‘It means that as designers we can grow. We’ve learnt so much since last year.’ And what do they think of the building? ‘It’s intense! Even though we have permission to be here, it’s so awe-inspiring it makes us want to run around here at night!’
As Freemasons' Hall plays host once again to events at London Fashion Week, Lucinda Weston talks to up-and-coming fashion designer Kirsty Ward
A feeling of serenity prevails as you walk through the Great Queen Street doors of Freemasons’ Hall in Covent Garden. With its sweeping marble staircases and ornate ceilings, this stunning Art Deco building has a refined elegance. Explore a little further, however, and you might be surprised to find a fashion show in full swing, with models marching down a catwalk to the accompaniment of a thousand flash bulbs.
A flurry of fashion darlings regularly descend upon the Grand Lodge in February to promote both new and seasoned designers to a global audience of media buyers, celebrities and style leaders as part of London Fashion Week. This year’s show saw Kirsty Ward showing her second collection from her own label. Kirsty is one of thirty designers to have taken part in the week-long Vauxhall Fashion Scout Autumn/Winter 2011 event, which showcases new and upcoming designers and runs alongside the main London Fashion Week events. Hosted at Freemasons’ Hall since 2006, the independent showcase also off ers support to new designers both through funding and mentoring, and has been described as a talent goldmine, launching the careers of Peter Pilotto, William Tempest and BodyAmr.
The Grand Lodge’s Old Board Room has been converted into the backstage area for the show and Kirsty is crouched in a corner, surrounded by rails of clothes hung next to the grandiose portraits on the walls. She is helping a model into monstrously high shoes, her petite frame cloaked in an azure kaftan and she looks calm despite the chaos around her. As makeup and hair artists speedily get to work on the models, assistants make last-minute adjustments to the clothes so that they will fit slender frames.
From over two hundred designers to apply, Kirsty was selected by a panel of industry insiders to be one of four womenswear designers to take part in the Ones to Watch show. This is a stage for new designers to gain exposure, with experts on hand to off er help at every step of the way – from creative input to production and promotion of the event.
Front of house, the Prince Regent Room is a vision in white – a long catwalk runs the length of the room with models making their entrance to pulsing music as an army of photographers clamber to get the best shot. Kirsty is the first to show her collection and the four hundred strong audience look on largely expressionless as they furiously scribble down notes.
Kirsty’s collection is a combination of sculptured sheer dresses constructed in voluminous layers to frame and flatter the female form, and statement jewellery made from plumbing materials. A selfconfessed B&Q addict, Kirsty sees jewellery as an extension of the clothes, and her pieces combine bright Perspex, copper hardware and beading in striking designs.
‘While I like to use a lot of volume and be bold, I also want my clothes to be wearable,’ explains Kirsty, believing that clothes should be approachable. ‘This season I experimented with putting jewellery in between the layers of fabric, as well as with the pattern cutting. I used a muted brown and yellow colour pallete and a lot of Aertex and mohair.’
As the Ones to Watch show comes to an end, Kirsty and her fellow designers walk hand in hand down the catwalk to rapturous applause, before rushing back stage. Catching her quickly she is in a state of elation, beaming at how well the show went, despite ‘a few shoe issues’. The journalists dash back to the media room to file copy, while the buyers are able to get up close to the collection and place orders in the Exhibition Room – Freemasons’ Hall’s very own temporary boutique for the week. The collection is a hit, getting a fantastic response from buyers.
Kirsty honed her style – or what’s known as ‘design handwriting’ in the industry – at London’s Central St Martins. This was followed by an internship at Preen London, which paid nothing but taught everything, and fifteen months designing for eminent designer Alberta Ferrettiin Rimini, Italy. Back in England and collaborating with boyfriend designer David Longshaw on a jewellery collection to much acclaim, Kirsty then decided to go it alone – for the first time giving herself completely free rein.
Despite having her own window at Selfridges’ flagship Oxford Street store in January, Kirsty is refreshingly down to earth and speaks of the many challenges in starting out in fashion: ‘I love what I do so much I would work for 24 hours a day if my body would let me, but being an up-and-coming designer there are always struggles, especially on the money side of things. My time costs nothing, but buying fabrics and producing the garments does.’
Kirsty has a family friend who sponsors her, as well as the funding she received from Vauxhall Fashion Scout, but admits she has the odd moment of doubt when she thinks about chucking it all in and running a sweet shop instead. However, spurred on by an overwhelming desire to make things and a passion for fashion design, Kirsty could be fast approaching a tipping point in her career where she is not just the one to watch but the one to wear.