He wasn’t about to let the crisis of soaring rents get in the way of celebrating and showing off the capital’s great talent. “You can see that design and creativity is getting pushed out of the city; it’s at risk through rising rents,” he explains. “And it’s challenging the dream that people had in the past: come up with a brilliant idea, create beautiful things, then find a space. It’s become harder and harder. People say that when times are hard, creativity blooms, but I actually strongly disagree with that.”
Just as the statistic for the average age of a homeowner seems to get pushed back further and further, young designers, too, find themselves stuck in the ‘emerging’ category for far longer than planned.
“It’s been a long time [coming]. We need this sort of initiative, to have a better relationship with how we sell our clothes,” says designer Faustine Steinmetz, a graduate of the renowned Central Saint Martins fashion school, and part of the store’s initial 10-designer/brand launch line-up (the others are Bethany Williams, Daniel W. Fletcher, Ka Wa Key, Kepler, Laundry Service, Luke Anthony Rooney, Markus Wernitznig, Räthel & Wolf and Ryan Lo. Further brands, such as Léon Bara, Al e Douglas and Minki, have now been added).
Known for her artisanal, reconstruction- deconstruction approach mostly to denim, Steinmetz set up her label in 2013 and has since garnered significant praise and attention – she was shortlisted for the prestigious industry accolade, the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers, in 2015. But even with all of that under her belt, it’s not been plain sailing. Because there comes a good dose of grit with any perceived glamour when it comes to being a fashion designer. Especially a new one.
TAKING BACK CONTROL
Located in what was formerly a garage, a stone’s throw away from the commuter and tourist bustle of Victoria train station, tucked away down a bloom-filled street, 50m is a typically white-walled and concrete building. Jewellery in glass cases greets you upon arrival and magazine-lined shelves guide you into the belly of the 50 metres of rail space. Appropriately, this is where the name comes from.
“We feel that emerging designers aren’t able to have their own agency in the industry and we want them to be able to take things into their own hands,” says Tracey Suen, project lead of the store, where a designer now gets the chance to be the retailer. Which is perhaps a surprisingly overlooked luxury – certainly for designers at this stage who, once their designs have gone from pen to paper to catwalk, wave them goodbye as buyers make the orders, merchandisers do their thing and it’s all in the hands of the store: someone else.
Pictured above (L-R): AW18 pieces by Faustine Steinmetz and portrait of the designer.
“Here I make the decisions,” says Ryan Lo, who graduated from London College of Fashion in 2011 and is known for his pop culture-infused collections that play on kitsch nostalgia. “It makes such a difference because sometimes the buyers want to tell a different story. For me, I just want to have different bits for everyone.” On his rail, you’ll nd the latest autumn/winter 2018 collection as well as remakes of a few archive pieces and cocktail dresses.
Lo no longer considers himself as ‘emerging’. “You have to remember that I’m the same generation as Craig Green,” he chuckles of the London menswear designer who has gone on to achieve huge success. But such is the loop that fashion gets stuck in – a non-sustainable hype mill that so often besets a new brand – that it takes an idea like this one to enable Lo and others to break free from it and ourish: to reach a new audience and play ‘shop’ without having to take on the responsibility that comes with it.
“London is a funny place because every square-foot we stand on is part of an international property market that elevates the cost of that,” points out Smyth. It is an intimidating prospect – and one that Belgravia is central to. “What can you do that is useful and within the realms of creativity and design with a place that is in the centre of old money and power? If you can combine someone who is fresh out of university with a super-wealthy audience, can that be used as a force for good? Being in this location, that seemed like a really natural fit.” Smyth describes 50m as a hybrid and a response to those who are more conscious about what they consume.
Pictured above: AW18 collection by Ryan Lo.
TOUCH AND TRY
The premise, then, is that for an affordable monthly fee, the designers receive their 24 dedicated rail space, have access to the retail community that comes with it (there is also mentoring and workshops) and get to use the spot as a mobile studio-office for meetings. There’s also a café.
“Here, we’ve got 25 styles from my spring/summer 2018 collection and if you go into most stores, quite often they don’t. It’s 10, and it can be a really specific thing,” says Daniel W. Fletcher, a leading name on the menswear scene thanks to his relaxed and louche designs. “And that doesn’t tell the full story. Here, all the things that went into production, we’ll have.” Which from a shopping perspective is a real plus, as is the fact that in an increasingly online world, you can become familiar with the hottest new designers in real life rst, see what they and their designs are about, touch the pieces and try them on – all in one space.
“I think people still want to try on things and see the fit,” says Fletcher. Physical retail space is still important, and as a brand that’s only three years old, he’s all too aware that he’s asking his potential customer to spend a significant amount of money on him and he needs to prove why. “You want to see the quality before you invest in something like that,” he adds.
Pictured above (L–R): David Pollard wears a t-shirt and suit by Daniel W. Fletcher; Coat and shirt by Daniel W. Fletcher; Jumper by Ka Wa Key.
It’s the same for Steinmetz, whose hand-woven, highly crafted pieces really do need to be seen in person, rather than on Instagram or on an e-commerce shop. “If you came across my collection online, you might wonder why it is so expensive. You need to be intrigued by the material,” says the designer.
Concept stores, traditionally, play too much into the hands of ‘the concept’ and leave designers and customers feeling cold. They’re also more likely to be found in east London and as more of a pop-up scenario. Not here. A 10-year lease means much-needed stability is nally being given to an emerging category of designers who right now need this support more than ever.
Photographer: Holly Farrier ° Stylist: Ashley Conor ° Model: David Pollard
50m, Unit 14-15, Eccleston Yards, SW1W 9AZ. 50-m.com