Saturday, 14 April 2012

Manchester Fashion Week: Where to go now?

The first MCRFW is now over, but will there be another?

True to this blog's name, I've got a real ramble for you. However, should you want the jist without the gibberish scroll to the bottom for a list of my personal opinion on what was good and areas of improvement for the initiative.

I have never found it so hard to form an opinion on an event. I feel that as the general discussion surrounding the week has splintered into so many fractions, I have found it hard to establish where I fit on the scale.

I should begin by saying that from day one I was a supporter. Any initiative that attempts to place Manchester on the map as a prime shopping destination is a plus in my book. However, the message Manchester Fashion Week has been broadcasting seems to have forgotten those strengths it should be playing to. Allow me to elaborate...

Way back when the initiative was in its infancy there was a little bit of a debate about the platform being inaccessible to small independent boutiques, fashion businesses and designers. Whilst I understand the perspective of a small business looking for a promotion, it isn't Jonathan Sassen's job to promote a business for nothing. He, like everyone else, has his own mortgage to pay and MCRFW was inevitably going to incur an outlay. 

Whilst the ideal would have been a schedule littered with major (budget paying) retailers and brands alongside a plethora of (subsidised) independent design talent and unique boutiques, that format was not immediately feasible for an event in its inaugural year. Similarly, MCRFW is not a government funded initiative but a business that needs to make a profit.

Added to this, MCRFW did actually manage to support local independent talent in the form of Flannels, the luxury retail group founded and based in Manchester,, the fast-fashion online retailer based in the city, Alex Christopher, the retailer/designer based out of Sheffield with his flagship in Manchester and Nadine Merabi, who also showcased following her debut off-schedule during London Fashion Week this season. These businesses paid for the privilege of a platform as all business must fund its own endeavours.

Still, and this is where the issue gets cloudy, an event that takes Manchester Fashion Week as its name has a certain responsibility to the Mancunian fashion community to represent them on the national scale in a way that they can be proud of. 

The whole reason for this blog and for some of the discussion surrounding MCRFW is because it is called Manchester Fashion Week. There is never negative comment on how The Spring Fashion Show represents Manchester because it doesn't have a regionally-specific name, it has no responsibility to the city. Similarly, this is why The Clothes Show doesn't upset Birmingham's indie boutiques.

So, where could MCRFW improve in its attempts to represent the city's fashion business? 

Firstly, MCRFW was perhaps a little too ambitious. Jonathan Sassen promised, in the MCRFW promotional video (see below), that he was bringing a theatrical fashion theatre to Manchester. With out-takes from The Clothes Show Live 'fashion theatre' shows and snippets from the Channel M archive featuring Gok Wan and Matthew Williamson, Sassen was positioning his brand among the biggest fashion events and names in the country. MCRFW could not and did not deliver this level of event. But no one expected it to, it is its first year after all!

In the same vein, the dialogue perpetrated by the MCRFW PR machine was that Manchester was a force in fashion big enough to rival London. It was deemed that as Matthew Williamson, Vivienne Westwood, Henry Holland and Fred Perry all originated from Manchester (or nearby), the city was somehow bestowed a fashionable kudos. I don't need to tell readers that Manchester is a true hub for fashion - but we all know where the limits lay. Whilst the city's strength is in retail, the region also plays host to many designers, manufacturers, brands and product distributors. These businesses may work out of Manchester but it is London where the national fashion scene is based. Pretending Manchester can rival this does the city's merits a dis-justice because the city is stronger than London in other ways.

The strongest day on the MCRFW schedule was by far Thursday. Booked up with the high-end retailers from The Avenue, each show was packed with VIPs, customers and press with the added benefit of controversy by way of fur protestors to give the day a certain air of excitement. 

I understand that it is easy for me to sit comfortably in my flat and type my issues with the event, and I understand my benefit of hindsight. All I want is Manchester to be reflected in a realistic and positive light. MCRFW should only reach for the stars when a strong foundation has been built

How to improve on those foundations:

Calling it Manchester Fashion Week gives the event an immediate cause of responsibility to the city, a responsibility it need not have had. Go, do your fashionable thing and call it something else and everyone will leave you alone.

Whilst a single site has its benefits, perhaps shows hosted in the boutiques around Manchester would have given the event a bit more scope and kicked the whole city into gear. It would have also been a cheaper endeavour to run.

The catwalk surface was never replaced and meant dirty marks by day two.

The organisation of the press schedule and seating arrangements made it difficult to report and photograph.

The step onto the catwalk was too high can caused many a photo-ruining wobble. 

Leading guests over the catwalks to their seats is just not on.

The bar wasn't free. Understandable, but surely there should have been at least a drink on arrival for paying guests?

Congratulations on filling a week long schedule! However, whilst it was filled, the ticket payer was overwhelmed and the show space was often mostly empty. Start small, grow organically.

Claiming to be the next Clothes Show Live when there isn't a dry ice machine or a DJ that can keep up with the models doesn't represent the capabilities of the event. 

What did you think of the week? Tell me on Twitter, @jordanjmcdowell