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Alfa Romeo Young Designer Award 2013: FS2013

Last month, I headed up to Scotland to check out the St Andrews Charity Fashion Show on behalf of LadyMPresents. Alfa Romeo very kindly invited Rachel up to judge for the second year running, and due to her crazy hectic LFW schedule, I stepped in.

Alfa Romeo Young Designer Award




L-R: Katya Encheva, Courtney Blades, Alexandra Heath, Matthew O’Brien, Luke Archer, George Jenkins


Alfa Romeo have been generously sponsoring the Young Designer Award for the past three years, supporting and nurturing young talent in the world of fashion design. Hundreds of hopefuls applied, and were whittled down to six wonderful finalists (technically five, including one duo). The Award is a fantastic springboard into a notoriously tricky industry to make a mark on, giving a showcase to the finalists as part of the St Andrews Charity Fashion Show. For example, the 2012 winner Janine Clark has been designing for clothing titans, Abercrombie & Fitch, in the US.

The Finalists

We met the finalists at the Fairmont Hotel, where the panel of judges got the chance to examine the finished garments up close, to see the clothes ‘in action’ in short video presentations, and to grill the designers about their collections. Each had produced five complete looks, so we had more of a coherent picture of their concept.

Courtney Blades

Courtney’s collection was fresh, folksy, and with a youthful verve. Strong motifs were hand finished and painted leather, clever pleating, and a clean palette of white fabric, which stood out in an afternoon dominated by reds and blacks. Each garment represented a different fairy tale, ultimately providing a whimsical and surprisingly delicate collection.

Courtney Blades - Photography by Mike De Paoli

Alexandra Heath

Alexandra’s garments were uniquely structured, contrasting skin tight jumpsuits with billowing charcoal cloaks and plump petticoated skirts. The standout piece was a diaphanous gossamer gown, restrained by a laser cut leather belt. A confident collection, showcasing some extremely difficult techniques.

Alexandra Heath - Photography by Jessica Biggs 6

Luke Archer & George Jenkins

Eye-catching from the very first glimpse, design duo Luke (clothing) and George (millinery) injecting a healthy dose of the avant-garde into their collection. Striking a balance between the futuristic and the retrograde, the young duo produced a comprehensive series of looks with huge attention to detail. The boys explained to us their exhaustive process of designing from two separate locations, and how they’d often completely remake items which didn’t meet their high standards.

George Jenkins & Luke Archer - Photography by Mike De Paoli

Katya Encheva

Katya enchanted us in her interview by describing what Alfa Romeo represented to her as a brand as she grew up, drawing us all in with a tale of the woman she visualised sliding into one of the cars in a glamorous dress, off around the town. Her collection was bold, challenging, sexy, and extremely daring. Filmy fabrics sat alongside plastics, representing the windscreens of the car and the life within. Katya knew her collection inside out, and had clearly put her heart and soul into it.

 Katya Encheva - Photography by Mike de Paoli

Matthew O’Brien

Some designers have the ability to provoke a huge reaction with their clothing – of awe, of humour, of fascination. Matthew intrigued us all with the technical wizardry with which he embellished his clothes, including an independently moving dress. Other pieces featured neon lighting inside the garments, allowing the wearer to quite literally light up a room. The technical aspect did nothing to detract from the quality and aesthetic of the garments, giving us a collection that I scribbled down as being ‘like Victoria Beckham on acid’. Later on at the show, the crowd went wild. One to watch.

Matthew O'Brien - Photography by Benoit Grogan-Avigon

And the winner is….

After all five presentations, we dissected our notes. We re-examined the garments, we looked at the quality of the sewing, the concept, the link with Alfa Romeo. We marked the designers on a selection of criteria out of ten, as opposed to simply debating our favourite – and a good job too, because the wealth of talent would have made decision making almost impossible. The judges were still in the dark about who the winner would be as the announcement started, and ultimately the outrageously talented duo Luke Archer and George Jenkins took the top accolade. And worthy winners they were too – a visually enthralling and beautifully finished collection that thrilled both the judges and eventually the crowd at the St Andrews Charity Fashion Show later on that evening.


It was an extremely tight competition, and I feel privileged to have seen such an array of young design talent. Alfa Romeo are encouraging a new generation of designers to produce fantastic work, and to showcase it along with the incredible St Andrews Fashion Show. My thanks go to the team at Alfa, and congratulations to the finalists, the winners, and the organising committee of FS2013.

Photos courtesy of Stuart McClay, Jessica Biggs, Mike de Paoli, Benoit Grogan Avigon, Janet Finalyson.

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