On the Runway: Mother of Pearl and Palmer Harding Win British Fashion Award

by admin April 5, 2017 at 2:16 am
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From left: Matthew Harding and Levi Palmer of Palmer Harding; Caroline Rush and Alexandra Shulman of the British Fashion Council/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund; and Amy Powney and Maia Norman of Mother of Pearl.

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David M. Benett/Getty Images

LONDON — Mother of Pearl and Palmer Harding were announced as the winners of the 2017 British Fashion Council/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund prize on Tuesday night, the first to win the award jointly since it was restructured earlier this year to broaden its support of fledgling fashion houses.

Founded in 2008, the fund shares some hallmarks with its American counterpart, the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, which Anna Wintour helped establish in 2003, and the LVMH Prize, founded by the LVMH scion Delphine Arnault and now in its fourth year. This year the British Fashion Council/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund allowed up to three recipients to share the prize of 200,000 pounds, with much of the cash earmarked for hiring experienced consultants to guide the recipients in areas like merchandising, e-commerce, accounting and international expansion.

The shift suggested that organizers of the award are conscious of an ever more volatile retail climate for small fashion brands and behemoths alike. Winning industry prizes has become increasingly important for nascent designers, many of whom have struggled to transform early media attention into sustainable long-term growth.

“We didn’t want any one-splash wonders,” said Alexandra Shulman, the departing editor of British Vogue and the chair of the fund. Too often, she added, small businesses hire senior executives they can’t afford, who in turn start strategies out of the companies’ financial reach.

“So the changes this year take into account what happened to past winners but also the effects of Brexit,” she said. “And we realized we wanted to earmark this prize money so that the winners could hire in expertise that could really help them grow.”

This year’s prize winners, announced at a cocktail party at the Hotel Café Royal here, beat a strong short list of London-based labels, including Huishan Zhang, Osman, Shrimps, Sophie Hulme and Toogood. Previous winners include Christopher Kane, Erdem, Mary Katrantzou and the shoe designer Sophia Webster.

“Mother of Pearl and Palmer Harding are very different in terms of the clothes they offer and the way they operate,” Ms. Shulman said. “But both convinced us that we were backing brands with strong potential who understood how they could grow and who had an exciting vision.”

Mother of Pearl, founded in 2002 by Maia Norman, the designer and the former partner of the artist Damien Hirst, has grown rapidly under its creative director, Amy Powney, who joined the company as an intern in 2006 and worked her way up to its top spot by 2015. Ms. Powney has found fans among celebrities and discerning shoppers with her faux domestic prints and 1980s- and ’90s-infused collections, which often draw on references from her childhood in northern England.

“I truly and honestly believe that the process of applying for this award, alongside now winning it, has made our business so much stronger,” Ms. Powney said as she collected her prize, before thanking the judges and whooping with delight.

Levi Palmer and Matthew Harding, graduates of Central Saint Martins, founded Palmer Harding in 2012. They use the shirt as an axis from which to explore silhouette, volume and ideas of contemporary tailoring. Now stocked by the likes of Matches and Opening Ceremony, the company recently collaborated on a collection of six shirts for John Lewis’s Modern Rarity line, with Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain wearing one in September at a Downing Street reception celebrating British fashion.

“This is just amazing,” Mr. Harding said, with Mr. Palmer by his side. “It’s been a mental year for us already. Now it’s going to get a lot more crazy.”

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