Edinburgh International Fashion Festival director Anna Freemantle speaks to us about her capital takeover

Edinburgh International Fashion Festival director Anna Freemantle speaks to us about her capital takeover

Ahead of August’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Scottish capital will experience a fashion takeover. From this Friday, the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival (EIFF) returns to the city for its third installment. The mostly free public event will see some of Edinburgh’s most impressive historic buildings commandeered to host a rich tapestry of symposiums and runway shows led by renowned industry personalities.

Festival director Anna Freemantle has once again taken the curatorial reigns, revealing an engaging week-long programme ranging from an intimate talk by Lady Amanda Harlech and her daughter Tallulah about the role of storytelling throughout the ages at the National Museum of Scotland, to ’In Fine Style’, a conversation with fashion designer Gareth Pugh reflecting on Tudor and Stuart period dress at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Other event highlights include Dutch model Saskia de Brauw’s exhibition, ’The Accidental Fold’, which serves to validate discarded ephemera from her daily life and travels, and an opening night runway gala hosted by Chinese cashmere brand 1436 Erdos. The latter stems from creative director Graeme Black’s recent reinvigoration of Scottish-Chinese relations in the 200-year textile trade, bringing superfine Chinese yarns to be hand-knitted in Scotland.

Another new endeavour launching in tandem with EIFF is the inaugural edition of the Retina Scottish International Photography Festival, for which Freemantle is a principal curator. At the concurrent happening, Freeman will present two exhibitions: photographer Rankin’s ’Portraits of Men’; and Helena Christensen’s latest series for Rika magazine.

In the run-up to this weekend’s festivities, we spoke to the founder about the multi-disciplinary mix of events, her strongest industry supporters and greatest challenges to date…

Wallpaper*: Now that you’re in your third year, you must feel like you’ve come leaps and bounds since the festival’s 2012 inception.
Anna Freemantle: Absolutely. The journey has been challenging and exciting in so many different ways. We leapt into the unknown with our first festival and we’re still doing that. The content is constantly evolving and that’s what makes it worth doing for me, the thrill of doing something new each year.

What was the biggest lesson you learned from the first two years?
Learning to say ’no’ sometimes. It’s not easy, but a change that needed to happen. Our first year was very much about selling an idea that didn’t yet exist. Now it is more about curating and working with like-minded people who want to take the same risks in their work as we do. In many ways the programme is driven by the people we bring to the festival, rather than by us.

This year’s schedule has an abundance of talks, exhibitions, shows and workshops. How important is this mix and what usually works best, in your experience?
It’s very important. Fashion and art are so diverse but they come from the same creative impulse and run through many people’s lives - often without them being aware of it. We like to open people’s eyes and ears to inspire them to find the same creative impulse in their own lives. We want to connect artist and audience in a dynamic way and break down the wall between them. They need one another and we hope to encourage this dialogue with all our events.

What have you found the public responds to most when it comes to fashion festivals? 
We have to accept that for most people fashion is about the fame and glamour and the final product. So we try and make the content meaty, but wrap it in some of the glamour. I’ve learned that that’s when it really hits home. That said, our audience is so diverse, some just come for the symposium, others just the shows. There have been so many highlights already where people come expecting something and leave with the thrill of experiencing something completely new and inspiring. We aren’t a commercial festival, so we have the freedom to bend the form a bit.

The programme inhabits some of the city’s grandest historical buildings and institutions. What sort of awareness do you hope to promote of Edinburgh?
Edinburgh is a beautiful grand dame of a city, however still a little reticent. We try and activate the various grand buildings by bringing high-quality events to them, things that wouldn’t normally happen in these magnificent spaces, so the local audience will be able to experience their city in a completely different way.

From Gareth Pugh to Amanda Harlech, whose support were you most taken aback by this year?
Amanda has always been so supportive and over the years has become an incredible, loyal and trustworthy friend. Saskia de Brauw has been rather wonderful too - she’s cut from the same cloth as Amanda. Helena Christensen has been so lovely to work with. They are all very busy people and have given their time so generously. It is a real affirmation to know that they get what we’re about. It’s why I keep doing it.

What makes you the proudest to date? 
That we’re still here working on festival number three. Funding the festival is a big struggle and doesn’t get any easier, so to have managed to pull off a bigger and better programme each year makes me very proud.

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