Fashion activist, philanthropist and former editor of ID magazine, Caryn Franklin became a household name in 1986 when she began presenting StyleNest favourite The Clothes Show Live on BBC One.
StyleNest caught up Caryn to chat about her role as Educational Ambassador for the upcoming Clothes Show Live, where we discovered her love for Vivienne Westwood, the importance of individuality and of course, her weakness for chocolate cake!
Caryn, you are the Clothes Show Live’s Educational Ambassador? Can you explain your role?
Increasingly, we realised that schools wanted to come to the Clothes Show. Of course, part of the fun is shopping and seeing the catwalk shows, but what I want to give our visiting students is concrete and educational guidance and information on the fashion industry. I chair a variety of talks for our visitors, where we have professionals talking about skills needed to work and the broad range of jobs available in fashion.
Fashion is a difficult industry to get into. Do you think that, given there are more roles available that it is still as competitive?
Yes it is, because like all industries that have a lot of attention, all the enjoyable bits are played up. We talk about the glamour, the parties, the shows and the clothes so it does attract a lot of people going for the same job, and there will be lots of people who want that job just as badly as you do. Working in fashion requires long hours and a lot of hard work to get the position you want.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to break into the industry?
You have to take all opportunities, sometimes having to do things that you really do not want to do, in order to get the experience and to get a bit closer to the thing that you do want to do. It’s as much about your ability to use your initiative, be part of a team, have good people skills, be polite and charming, being really tenacious and really applying yourself and to deliver over and above on hours. People in fashion week very long hours.
What has your experience in the industry taught you about style?
I have been in the fashion industry for 34 years and over that time, I feel more and more strongly about the importance of individuality; for people to dress the way they want to and buy the way they want to. For that reason, I buy a lot more clothes from sustainable sources and with up-cycled elements to them.
We witnessed another incredible Fashion week in London in September. What designers caught your eye?
I am a big fan of Sadie Clayton who graduated from Kingston a few seasons ago; I have been watching her keenly. I tend to watch younger and upcoming designers now and buy their clothes. I have always liked Jean-Pierre Braganza, and Osman Yousefzada.
What do you think about the trends for SS15?
The trends treadmill has become something that becomes an industry tool for selling more. Many designers themselves say “I resent the fact that I cant keep on working on something that I think is a really great idea and my customers like, because the press wont feature it because they want new stories and new ideas all the time and if I am not getting the press, then I am deemed by the retailers to have the same cache, I am not making a big splash each season. Retailers will be questioning whether they should still stock me.”
At StyleNest, we love the Great British High Street, and marvel at how quickly we see the trends go from catwalk to clothes hanger so quickly! Are we consuming fashion differently nowadays?
The high street does an amazing job and it has democratised style. When I started out in fashion, there was no such thing as a high street where catwalk would be in our stores and furthermore we didn’t get to see what was on the catwalk because magazines did not feature catwalk models. That began to change in the mid eighties and programmes like the Clothes Show. The Clothes Show Live started because people would see the fashion show on TV and would say “we want to watch a fashion show, where can we see one?” Designer Jeff Banks came up with the idea of making the Clothes Show Live for all of the viewers to engage in it and that is a testament to how popular it is, it is still going!
Who is your all time favourite British designer?
Vivienne Westwood has been my long time favourite. I love her as an individual, I think that she is an amazing spirit who will speak up. I also love her design aesthetic, she is individual and you can recognise it as a “Vivienne”. It is about flattering the body so she uses historical referencing, tailoring the fit, the cut, the drape – a subversive creative. Plus, she appears in her own advertising and doesn’t have post production (Photoshop) done on her face, she looks like a 70-year-old lady, which she is. She isn’t trying to change who she is to look like someone 40 years younger and it is really important that we have people like her in our media, I think young women need to see where they are going and it is not good for self esteem and mental health to feel like the minute you get over 28, you need to start worrying about your wrinkles. I have long gray hair which I really like and I don’t feel I that should dye it. I am happy to be 56 and not intending to try and look younger.
Fashion can give us all the tools to be our best selves and who we want to be. Body confidence is something that we recognise is an increasingly important issue that affects young women as well as young men too. Having the confidence to be your best self.
What is your top beauty tip?
Smile and love your life, we are all attracted to people who are confident and spread the sunshine – smile and laughter and being able to enjoy who you are makes you beautiful. Exude your own individuality and enjoy being who you are. Enjoy your body shape, whether it be volumptious or very thin.
How would you describe your own style?
Androgynous, I love androgyny but I also like individuality – I love my style to say something about me, I like to be noticeable, I am not interested in trying to look like everyone else. I want to look like me. I love when young women come up to me and tell me that I look great!
What advice would you give to readers who want to experiment with their own style?
Think like a stylist if you want to experiment with your own style. Stylists are good at putting things together because they spend a lot of time working with clothes and looking at the properties of the clothes – from the fabrics to the way clothes fall. Sometimes, you should spend an evening getting to know your wardrobe.
If I buy anything new, I will take it home and do a lot of trying on, I don’t just expect it to work, so I try it on with existing clothes and ask myself “does it work with that length? Does it need a trouser underneath? Which shoes work? Can I layer it? What is the best coat to wear with it? Stylists do that because they love clothes. So if you want to look good when you step out of the house, don’t just leave it until the last 5 minutes.
Tell us about your work as a philanthropist
For 20 years, I have worked as a co-chair of Fashion Targets Breast Cancer and I am immensely proud of the work that Amanda Wakeley (Fashion Designer) and I have done with the charity. Fashion Targets Breast Cancer has always worked with the fashion industry and, along with Breast Cancer Now we have helped build and maintain Britain’s first dedicated breast cancer research centre. There have been amazing discoveries that have come out of that.
I have been working for the last 6 years (and just stepped away) “All Walks Beyond the Catwalk” as a director and co-founder alongside Debra Bourne and Erin O’Connor. It is an educational initiative to challenge the fashion industries dependency on unachievable and limited body and beauty ideals, working with lots of universities to change curriculums to help young creatives understand that they can be part of the solution, not the problem.
You’re a very busy woman, but what do you like to do to unwind?
I am a big reader, and because I am at university (Caryn is currently studying for a MSC in Applied Psychology in Fashion, at The London College of Fashion) I don’t have a lot of free time. I have to read about the things I am studying which is good because I am extremely interested in psychology.
If I need to really step away, I love gardening, I love baking and I love being out in the country. I delight in taking long walks in the country with my dog (mini schnauzer, Major Wendy Tigson -Tiggy for short). Of course, I love shopping with my daughters, Mateda, 22 and Roseby, 15. Roseby loves vintage shopping and we love going to Camden market. That, for me is my favourite day out- second hand shopping and eating huge chocolate cakes.
Sounds delicious! Where are your favourite places in London to eat and drink?
Dishoom in Kings Cross is a wonderful contemporary Indian restaurant. I love the Sketch for tea and cake – the rose tea is just the best!
Can you describe an average day?
There really is no average day, no two days are the same. I could be going to a lecture, attending The Clothes Show Live and meeting thousands of people. I’m currently working on a big campaign with my business partner called Sizing Up Britain- The Future of Fit. It is about bringing body mapping to the high street where ordinary women to experience better fit from their clothes. We are developing a personal body map which will appear as an app on your phone, allowing retailers to speak to the app and tell you where you can buy what you want, where you want and in what size you want.
What is your motto?
If it feels right, do it, and if it doesn’t change it!