Edinburgh International Fashion Festival 2015: What's On and What's Next

As Edinburgh International Fashion Festival returns to showcase the best in Scottish and international fashion, co-founder Jonathan Freemantle discusses the festival's whys, wherefores and what's next

Feature by Mona Lisa MacLean | 03 Jul 2015

Returning for its fourth installment, the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival (EIFF) is back. Although growing constantly, the Scottish creative scene can lack the kind of grandiose events typical of our extremely London-centric fashion world – the kind of event that might display what we have all known to be true within Scotland for years: that we really are an exciting and innovative creative hub with talent rivaling any nation. In the extremely capable hands of its creators, husband-and-wife creative powerhouses Anna and Jonathan Freemantle, the 2015 theme is 'sustainability and education'. Featuring runway shows, exhibitions, workshops and talks in some of the most beautiful venues in Edinburgh, with events like the EIFF Scotland can truly stand up and be recognised as one of Europe’s top fashion destinations. The event will take place from 23-26 July in various locations in Edinburgh. We caught up with Jonathan Freemantle to hear more.

The Skinny: How would you sum up the fundamentals of the EIFF?

Jonathan Freemantle: "We launched in 2012 and are heading into our fourth festival this July. The Festival was conceived as a place where fashion engages with other art forms and its environment, as a place where they cross-pollinate and share ideas. We want to explore the original creative idea, the spark behind the creative impulse. So the festival gives a platform for the industry's great contemporary thinkers, mavericks and innovators to have a voice outside of the commercial humdrum of the industry. We are a non-profit organisation that has been structured solely to cover costs and much of the ethos of the festival reflects this. We are not exclusive; the majority of our events are created with the intention of being accessible to all.To quote Coco Chanel, 'Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.' So the festival is very much a changing, evolving creature. We want it to speak a truth that is universal and yet inspire a kind of creative brilliance that is rare and to be protected."

The festival has come on leaps and bounds since its inception. What else would you like to achieve?

"This year marks the start of our deeper look at the issue of sustainability. The fashion industry is beginning to find a conscience, to look at issues of excessive waste, fast fashion, disposable culture and has shown signs that it wants to return to a more bespoke, conscious attitude. But this process is very much at the beginning and there is a long way to go. We would like to play a part in helping this evolution along. We can't go on as we are."

It's been said that EIFF looks at fashion as art, prioritising the creative ideas rather than brands. How difficult is that to maintain in what can be an extremely commercial/brand focused industry?

"We look at the people behind the brands, the great thinkers and makers, the creatives. Behind even the biggest brands are artists and philosophers from whom all the best work comes, even if it ultimately ends up in a major fashion house or high street brand as a product. One of the fashion industry's greatest strengths actually lies in its commerciality. It is accessible on many levels to almost everyone – so we don't turn our back on this, just look behind the curtain to see who's actually behind it all and then create a platform for these people to speak, exhibit or share their knowledge."

Your 2015 program is yet to be announced. Can you give us an insight into what we can expect?

"This year's festival is heavily focused on looking for a sustainable future for the fashion industry. Our 2015 theme is 'sustainability and education'. To this end we have partnered with Zero Waste Scotland on two key events, both looking deeply at the challenge of sustainability and working towards immediate and long-term solutions. Speakers from industry leaders (H&M, IKEA) as well as academics and mavericks.  We also take a moment to celebrate the work of the late Louise Wilson with a conversation chaired by Sarah Mower, celebrating her significant contribution in shaping contemporary fashion. As one of the foremost educators of her generation her legacy continues through the many designers whose careers began under her visionary guidance. Her tough, no nonsense approach and sharp wit produced a generation of brilliant designers. What made her approach so effective? Former students (Jonathan Saunders) and colleagues at Central St Martins discuss the impact that she made on their lives and the ripple she caused throughout the industry."

Anna once said that the EIFF aims to celebrate wonder and fearlessness within the industries of fashion and art. Is that an ethos you still subscribe to?

"Absolutely. This is our forever-mantra."

The festival has events from talks to shows, exhibitions, symposiums and workshops – what was behind the decision to have such varied events?

"It's more about giving an open enough platform to show the full spectrum of creativity, to look in greater depth and from different angles. We want to be accessible on many levels, and keep changing the format so it isn't predictable."

Although it's growing all the time, what else would you like to see happen within the Scottish creative scene?

"I don't have an idea of what I'd like to see in particular – just for the expansion to continue. There's always more potential for growth. I'd like to see more focus on Scotland being part of an international fashion market, in the same way that it is beginning to be seen in the global art community. I think there's too much focus on 'branding' Scottish output and not enough focus on nurturing the actual content. We need more funding for venues, and for events (like us). This is crucial. Ultimately it comes down to content – and that means talented young designers. In this sense there is lots to be excited about."

Not that the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival isn’t enough, but what else do you both have planned for the rest of the year?

"This is a massive year on many fronts. Anna is launching a big project in South Africa as well as developing the festival in Edinburgh. I have just launched my own gallery in Johannesburg, HAZARD, which is a natural extension of the festival. HAZARD is a contemporary art, fashion and lifestyle space that encompasses an art gallery and vibrant cultural hub in the heart of Johannesburg's CBD. I'll be bringing a small, curated selection of the gallery's best artists to the festival this year."

For more information about attending events at the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival, keep an eye on their website for programme announcements very soon. Expect runway shows, exhibitions, gala parties, interactive workshops and talks in some of the most stunning venues in Edinburgh.

23-26 Jul @edinfashion www.facebook.com/EdinburghInternationalFashionFestival www.hzrd.co.za http://edinburghinternationalfashionfestival.com