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An Interview With Clara Mercer

Published by Annabel Arrowsmith on 13-May-2013 Industry, Conversations, Fashion
Tags: British Fashion Council, Clara Mercer, Fashion, London Fashion Week, Harpers Bazaar

Clothes are designed, constructed, shown on runways then worn on nights of adventure, living our memories right alongside us. And that’s all there is to them, right? Wrong. What we so often don’t think about is how we come across the garments and fashion that we love. From the ad campaigns we don’t even realise we are watching, to the magazines we read with no thought to the collaboration, we forget about the people not captured by the camera and not written about in the magazine who are the actual driving force behind the fashion industry. I sat down with the British Fashion Council’s Head of Marketing, Clara Mercer to learn more about her role in cultivating British fashion. She talked me through from her years as an 18 year old intern at London Fashion Week, to her stint at Harper’s Bazaar New York, to the coveted role she’s held here in London for the last seven years.

The fashion industry is so competitive, how did you manage to get into it?

I developed an interest in fashion when I was at art school.  I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do work experience at London Fashion Week when I was 19 which I loved.  It was this that helped me make the decision to study Fashion Marketing at University.  During my degree I was able to do various work placements including a design assistant at Selina Blow, accessories Editor at Harper’s Bazaar and then went on to work on the British Fashion Awards 2005 with Talk PR.  I have always worked hard and made the most of opportunities that have come my way. I enjoy it.

What are the most important tasks that you have in your role as Head of Marketing at the BFC?

The British Fashion Council represents the whole of the British Fashion industry and promotes design talent to a global audience.  London has some of the world’s most creative talent and our role is to promote the designers in whatever stage of business from emerging to the established to a global market.  We do this across multi channels including social media, online, print, and experiential.  I manage the creative direction, the online and print marketing to the international audiences. 

What is the most exciting part of the job?

The fashion industry is one of the most creative and constantly at the forefront of innovation, which for me is the most exciting part. We work with big companies and big brands to make sure we’ve got the sponsorship and tools available, allowing us to drive the fashion industry forward through creative leadership. We work with British designers and support them to build their brand globally, giving them the correct tools to do so for their business. London Fashion Week represents the best British designers and provides a platform to showcase them to an international audience, so we continue to ensure that fashion design is a fundamental part of the government’s agenda.

What are the most important tools for you to be able to do your job?

The internet is the most important marketing tool to reach a global audience instantly. We get a huge return on all our social media platforms and we work with film and moving image a lot. Photography has remained up there as one of our most important tools and as a practice so often associated with fashion, it continually provides striking imagery for advertising campaigns. It’s important to work with such a diverse variety of industries from film to music, emerging to established designers, and being able to work with commercial businesses. London is internationally recognised a cultural capital with unprecedented creative talent, so it’s great that here at the BFC we are in a position to work across the board with all industries and many brilliant people.

How have you seen the British Fashion Council change since you’ve been with it?

In 2009 The British Fashion Council moved to Somerset House to coincide with the 25th anniversary of London Fashion Week under the joint leadership of Caroline Rush and Simon Ward. From the launch of our first website we’ve continued to see digital development with the launch of our digital strategy in 2009 - the first of its kind internationally which pioneered live streaming amongst a host of digital initiatives that have allowed us to become the most innovative fashion showcase in the world. We have increased designer support with dedicated initiatives such as the BFC Rock Vault supporting emerging fine jewellery talent and last year we launched the Fash/On Film initiative, sponsored by River Island, which fosters relationships between film makers and fashion designers. And the showcasing opportunities for British designers have increased too, from launching our international initiative LONDON show ROOMS in 2008, we now show to audiences in territories including Paris, New York, Hong Kong and LA.

How do you find work in the lead up to London Fashion Week?

We have amazing teams in place in delivering our remit of events and initiatives. It’s always very busy and as a leading fashion capital we are constantly striving to do things better and differently - London Fashion Week is now just one of many showcases we organise. In January we hosted London Collections: Men, followed by international showcasing events in Paris and in April we’re taking some of the leading British design talents to audiences in LA and New York, so nowadays it’s pretty constant. There are a lot of deadlines and continuous planning that goes into place year round. Everyone works incredibly hard and there are long hours involved, but we love it.

How will the British Fashion Council be changing over the next five years?

Our new chairman, Natalie Massenet started in January 2013 and put in place a three-year strategy which we launched at London Fashion Week in February this year. We’ve always been known as the most creative city but now we’re looking to reinforce this message through greater investment and to be recognised as a business capital, enhancing opportunities for businesses to develop here. From an innovation and digital point of view we’re aligning ourselves with new technologies and driving London forward as a leader in digital and industry engagement. Our main focus is to build stronger and more competitive businesses by leading the fashion industry through creative influence and ensuring we provide the best we can for British design talent.

What advice would you give to someone trying to enter the fashion industry?

I think the best things to do are be nice to people, say “yes” to opportunities and to work hard. It’s a competitive industry and it can be hard but you’ve got to keep trying and enjoy it! 

And Clara certainly seems to practise what she preaches. With every day as hectic as the last, and a job as high pressure the one she’s got, there is no doubting that Clara works hard, and it’s clear she loves what she does. As a fashion industry hopeful, the advice was not lost on me and after hearing first hand of her success, I see that it can be done. All I ask from you is that next time you see a product in an ad campaign, or sit down at the next London Fashion Week, spare a moment to remember who could be behind it or how you actually got to be there.

For more information on the British Fashion Council, click 
Fresh from university, Annabel Arrowsmith writes for two online fashion magazines and her own fashion blog.

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