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Aaron Esh reflects on London’s emerging designer landscape and fashion week support systems

By Rachel Douglass


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People |Interview

Aaron Esh for BFC's NewGen announcement. Credits: British Fashion Council and Rankin Archive

Earlier this year, Aaron Esh took to the London Fashion Week runway for the second time in his career. The collection, made up of elevated autumn/winter staples for London’s elite, at first appeared as a direct exploration of the city’s mundane life, mirrored in a subdued colour palette and architectural shapes. Yet, on closer inspection, it becomes clear that Paris in the 50s was actually at the core.

“A lot of the fashion that I love references that era of Parisian couture,” the young British designer said in a conversation with FashionUnited. “It was much more about looking at the mood and the construction of the clothes, rather than taking direct references from that era – mainly the silhouette, the finishing of the clothes, the fabrics, etc. It was much more in line as a wider brand point of view of mixing this idea of city and chic.”

He elaborated: “I don't think there's anything new about being inspired by 50’s Paris. It was much more about how Aaron Esh is as a brand and where that wardrobe came from.” And with that came a glimpse into the evolution of Esh’s relatively new namesake label, launched on the back of his 2022 graduation from Central Saint Martins with an MA in Fashion.

Aaron Esh AW24, LFW. Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight
Aaron Esh AW24, LFW. Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight

Supportive partners allow space for brand growth

Since then, Esh has catapulted into the fashion-sphere. Prior to his initial participation in LFW for SS24, the designer, who hails from the English capital, had already made quite a name for himself as an LVMH Prize finalist and British Fashion Council (BFC) NewGen award recipient. The latter provided him with short-term support from the organisation and a prime spot on the LFW schedule. Such backing continued into the most recent season, with the Sarabande Foundation, a charitable body for young creatives founded by the late Lee Alexander McQueen, stepping in to provide Esh with a solid base, housing both his studio and incidentally his AW24 show in its own home on Hertford Road.

“I’m a young entrepreneur as much as I am a fashion designer.”

Aaron Esh, designer

Looking back, Esh reflected on the foundation’s “supportive community” and valuable mentorship, which he said “massively helped” in the run up to the show. It has been just one part of his journey from student to brand owner, which has been filled with learning curves in and of itself. When asked about this process, he said: “I’ve employed two people so it’s very different because now I’ve got responsibility, I have to pay the wages and do my taxes. I’m running a business. I’m a young entrepreneur as much as I am a fashion designer. You don’t learn much of that at school. I was learning on the job.”

Despite being fully submerged in industry aid, Esh also recognised the struggles that similarly new designers face, particularly in an economy as unfavourable as the UK’s. Following LFW, in an interview with Sarabande, he spoke on how, without the foundation’s support, a show this season may not have been possible for a small business like his own. Financial obstacles were also highlighted in his conversation with FashionUnited, in which Esh noted that funding was currently a “huge issue” for emerging designers.

He found further backing from LFW’s principal partner, beer brand 1664 Blanc, which had also hosted a series of “design-led” experiences at Selfridges London over the course of the fashion week itself. Alongside fellow NewGen designers Tolu Coker and Saul Nash, Esh held his own talk at the location where he additionally exhibited a limited-edition ‘Blanc cobalt blue’ merino wool scarf designed as part of his partnership with the beverage company to be later sold at Selfridges alongside the purchase of a beer.

Blanc 1664 x Selfridges pop-up. Credits: Blanc 1664.

While a collaboration that combines such distinctly different sectors seems at first unconventional, to Esh establishing these relationships is imperative to the growth of a brand. He added: “Part of growing a business is getting partnerships with brands, and sometimes not the most obvious collaboration gets the most amount of awareness. 1664 Blanc and I have worked really well because actually the point of views were not that different in terms of the marriage of something with a twist, right? There was some synergy there with the points of view, which meant it wasn’t too difficult.”

Esh extends this open mindset into his relationship with retailers, for which he had already garnered strong foundations, with buyers from the likes of Ssense and Selfridges quickly snapping up his looks early on in the brand’s lifespan. When asked how he approaches such partnerships in retail, the designer said: “It’s about working with a partner and treating them as a person. Selfridges is a long-term institution and has a long-term reputation, and that’s my real support. My brand is growing [via] a long-term partnership much rather than simply getting stocked into their shop floor and selling.”

“I think that fashion comes first and whether people buy it or not, is what it is.”

Aaron Esh, designer

This of course corresponds to the behaviour of the Aaron Esh consumer, typically thought of as those among London’s trendy elite. Yet, when it comes to design, Esh himself thinks of the wearer as more of an elusive being, instead putting the fashion element to the forefront. “Part of my job is creating a world around the brand, which includes the imagery, the slower concept, the clothes, the categories of the clothes, the accessories and how they are all accepted by the consumer, not a specific genre,” he noted. “I think that fashion comes first and whether people buy it or not, is what it is.”

London as a breeding ground for emerging talent

Though this may be his viewpoint in terms of design values, Esh does show evidence of still being perceptive to the needs of his consumer. His venture into womenswear, for example, which was only strengthened the past season with the category almost outweighing his mens’ designs, came as a response to how they were interacting with the brand. “The reason we expanded into womenswear is just to add to the brand,” Esh noted, before continuing: “We had such a big amount of women buying our clothes, so we wanted to add some women’s specific clothing.”

Aaron Esh SS24, LFW. Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight
Aaron Esh SS24, LFW. Credits: ©Launchmetrics/spotlight

Esh is one of the lucky few who has managed to grasp a spot on the LFW schedule at a time when the obstacles faced by up and coming designers make achieving such a feat rather difficult. The BFC itself is even aware of these challenges, and has begun putting the work in to address this. Last year, the organisation entered into a “transition period”, shifting its mission towards that of “responsible growth” via a more commercial spin on its position. Plans revolved around introducing more educational, advisory and networking opportunities for members, in the hope of supporting local emerging talent in furthering their business.

An additionally large part of the strategy also centred on a restructured London Fashion Week itself, with changes already being evident last season from the removal of the men’s dedicated fashion week that used to take place shortly before the main event. Prior to this, the fashion week had been chastised by industry critics for an apparent lack of young designer support, despite much of this being due to an absence in governmental funding for the UK's creative sector as a whole.

Tunes changed, however, for the AW24 season, and critics began to recognise that despite facing financial uncertainties, emerging names in London were standing strong against their Milanese, Parisian and New Yorker counterparts. A similar positive sentiment was shared by Esh, who said that he actually recognised London as the place to receive support as a young designer. He added: “We’re very lucky that people come from all over the world to London for young designers. I hope that keeps continuing to happen so we can showcase people with less opportunities than others to their work and talent.”

With that in mind, Esh himself also has no plans to slow down, though did not divulge exact plans and details. When asked what to expect from his brand in the coming year, Esh said: “I don’t like to pre-empt things. I’m enjoying the moment and enjoying doing my work today. I’m not really looking ahead too much. I want to continue the trajectory that I have.”

Aaron Esh imagery. Credits: Blanc 1664 x Aaron Esh, Mitchell O'Neill.
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