Passion for fashion
Brighton Fashion Week founder Lizzy Bishop talks clothes, innovation and exciting opportunities with Alex Jenkins.
Brighton Fashion Week (BFW) has made a name for itself in recent years.
Showcasing ‘out-there’ designs, up-and-coming talent, and controversial garments it draws a crowd – not just from Sussex but nationally and internationally.
Yet it has a lot to compete with.
London Fashion Week is regarded as ‘the’ event and with so many cities and towns holding their own ‘fashion events’ founder Lizzy Bishop has a big task to make sure BFW does not get lost in the oh-so-stylish crowd.
And then there is the matter of expense.
Hosting a fashion week is not cheap – not by any stretch of the imagination. And it needs to make a profit to ensure it can grow and support those who work tirelessly in the background.
For 35-year-old Lizzy it is certainly a juggling act and with so many ‘hats’ to wear it is hard to imagine how she copes.
Yet when you meet the vivacious design enthusiast you start to get an idea what is needed to succeed in such a challenging field. The words inexhaustible energy, creativity and passion spring to mind.
But the world of fashion is a far cry from her childhood.
Brought up by her mum and dad in a small village near Banbury, Oxfordshire, Lizzy is a farmer’s daughter.
Her upbringing was one of welly boots, agriculture and fields rather than catwalk fashion, models and bright lights.
However a country life was not quite enough for the energetic woman and at 18 she set off to America to become an au pair.
After that she decided to go to university in Southampton but, following young love, transferred courses and made her home in Brighton.
“I always felt a bit weird,” she confesses to me as we discuss her childhood. “But then I met my first boyfriend in Southampton and he was from Brighton and I’d never seen anything like it.
“I loved it and I was like ‘wow a place like this exists’ and I felt accepted.”
Lizzy wanted to get in the music industry and was making some big decisions in her life before she was hit by a bombshell at the age of 24.
While she thought she had mumps it turned out it was cancer. Hodgkin’s lymphoma to be exact.
Keen to gloss over this part of her life – “I don’t want this to be a ‘poor me’ story,” Lizzy explains – all she will say is that ‘life was put on hold’ while she underwent chemotherapy.
“It is an aggressive form of cancer but luckily for me a most curable form of cancer,” she says, adding that her work colleagues at Lloyds TSB bank, where she was working as a debt collector, were incredibly supportive.
And the silver lining was that because she had taken out life insurance when she purchased her flat her mortgage was paid off entirely, meaning she was in a great position to evaluate what she wanted to do when she was well.
This led to her travelling the world to ‘find herself’. So she packed her bags and set off for India for a year before then settling in Portugal where she sold healing crystals and lived with an eclectic mix of creatives.
It was here she discovered her interest in design and, with a previous interest in organising events, Lizzy was the perfect candidate for friend and designer Emma Lou Hodges to approach when she returned to England at the age of 26.
“It was my friend Emma who said there was nowhere to show her work,” Lizzy explains. “She was having a hard time. I knew I wanted to get into events so we decided to do a fashion show.”
Lust for Life ended up being a show attached to the Brighton Fringe. That was ten years ago and was the launch pad for what is now Brighton Fashion Week.
“It was just going to be a one off,” Lizzy insists when discussing that first show, “and it was
a free event. It was really raw,” she adds
with a laugh.
Yet it stirred interest and people’s imagination.
“This one girl stopped me in the street and said ‘that show – it was amazing’,” she recalls.
Over the years Brighton Fashion Week has developed and progressed and now boasts a core team of seven, an extended team of 60 and, during the shows, the team swells to 100 people.
One of its charms is that each year it is held in a different location, whether it be Old Market Hove, St George’s Church Kemp Town, the Corn Exchange, or numerous other places.
Currently the hard task in front of Lizzy is not only to maintain its high reputation but to make it a commercial success, resulting in the event being postponed from its usual summer showing and pushed back to October 8-12.
As yet the location has not been revealed but a few key designers have been named.
Taking part in ShowReel will be Freya Von Bulow, a German born designer who creates detailed and delicate outfits from tissue paper.
The Zeitgeist catwalk includes work by Elizabeth Connor and Paul Perez.
Meanwhile the Sustain show will see clothes from ThriftQueened and GetKinged.
As I listen to Lizzy’s passion for fashion it is hard not to be swept along by her enthusiasm.
As I am about to leave I have to ask what her parents think of their daughter helping put Brighton on the fashion map.
“My mum and dad come to the show every year,” Lizzy says with a grin.
“They are really good role models. They are just real – they empower me.”
For more information and to buy tickets, visit www.brightonfashionweek.com
Pictures by Alexander Thirlwell and Malcolm Tam