Giles Deacon, one of London's leading lights, doesn't have a financial backer — and he's in no hurry to find one. Matthew Williamson waited nine years before taking an outside partner, and he's only given up a minority stake. Footwear designer Rupert Sanderson recently agreed to join forces with a backer, but only because that person happened to be a mentor.
They may be running small businesses, but a growing number of London-based designers are choosing to forgo the security and big bucks of a large fashion house or financial backer, and remain independent and free to run their businesses their own ways.
"I know plenty of people who've been acquired by large houses, and they've lost their freedom, creative control and direction," said Deacon. "At the same time, they have nice salaries."
Deacon is talking all the time to potential investors, but so far he's been happy to grow his business organically: He has 35 wholesale accounts worldwide, including Barneys New York, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus; he's launched pre-collections, and he plans to unveil full accessories and men's wear lines next year. He also keeps his war chest filled with design consultancies: He works for the British luxury label Daks and does a collection for the high street chain New Look.
"It's never a question of an investor saying, 'Here's a million quid. Do what you want,'" said Deacon. "It depends on who is giving you the money and what their vision is. The partnership has to be absolutely right and have what everyone wants."
By now, everyone knows the story of Roland Mouret: How he fell out with his banker backers Sharai and Andre Meyers, lost the rights to his name and then came back — in spectacular style — in a new partnership with entertainment mogul Simon Fuller.
But the catwalks of London — and so many other fashion cities — are littered with stories like Mouret's. Elizabeth Emanuel, who rocketed to fame designing Lady Diana Spencer's wedding gown with her former husband and business partner, David Emanuel, lost her name to an investor in the Nineties. She's been fighting to reclaim her name and trademark for the past 10 years.
A Stella McCartney sketch of a custom dress made from protein-based silk in partnership with biotech lab Bolt Threads. The dress will be displayed at The Museum of Modern Art's upcoming design exhibition, "Items: Is Fashion Modern?"