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Mark Fast: fast by nature

Friday, Dec 3, 2010, 2:16 PM / London, United Kingdom

Life is a little slow on the outskirts of Winnipeg in Canada. For a boy of 12, the emerald forest is a magical kingdom, a place filled with exotic birds, butterflies and reptiles. The child’s inherent curiosity leads him to explore the trails of natural beauty, and as he grows older the mesmerising sounds and colours become etched in the labyrinth of teenage imagination. Most nature lovers would be content with Winnipeg’s slow-paced life unless, of course, you happen to be called Mark Fast.

Mark Fast has come a long way since leaving Winnipeg. Inspired by his mother, a local seamstress, and fashion programmes like CNN Style, the aspiring designer packed his bags at the age of 19 and moved to Toronto to study fashion design at Seneca College. A year later he crossed the Atlantic on the advice of his lecturer, Malcolm Pearcey, to do a foundation course in Fashion Design at London College of Fashion.
It was at London College of Fashion that Fast first began to experiment with knitwear. LCF tutor Jessica Bugg noticed the young Canadian’s research was very textural and suggested he apply for the knitwear course at the prestigious Central Saint Martins.

As luck would have it, Fast found a domestic knitting machine in a charity shop next to his house. He became fascinated with the machine and during his five years at Central St. Martins – where he completed his BA and MA – began to explore the endless possibilities of Lycra yarns, sculpting areas of tension and areas of volume over the body.

Fast’s career since leaving Central St. Martins in 2008 has been nothing short of stellar. The 29 year-old is fêted as one of the hottest London-based fashion designers, belonging to a small group of influential emerging talent that has made London Fashion Week relevant again. Buyers and journalists from all over the world come to London to see his show. His eponymous collection is now sold in twenty-two countries.

But how did Fast’s star rise so rapidly? His unique talent was first spotted when he showed his graduate collection at London Fashion Week and caught the attention of buyers from Browns Focus. The owner, Joan Burstein, was so impressed with the innovative knitwear that she asked the Canadian to work exclusively for the boutique. Fast started out making dresses in his kitchen. They were so popular that whenever he delivered them they would always sell out.

The following year, he showcased his spring/summer 2009 collection at On|Off. The stunning debut collection featured his signature super sexy, body-conscious knits with fringing in simple colours: red, white, blue and black.

Mark Fast left his mark at On|Off as one to watch in the future. He was awarded NEWGEN support in January 2009 for his autumn/winter 2009 catwalk show – as part of Topshop’s New Generation sponsorship programme that offers young designers between £5000 – £10000 towards their show costs, sponsored exhibition space, usage of the BFC Catwalk Show Space and mentoring.

Spring/summer 2010 will always be an unforgettable season for the Mark Fast team. It coincided with the 25th anniversary of London Fashion Week. The British Fashion Council had just relocated the event to a new stately home, Somerset House and the air was filled with optimism about the revival of the Cool Britannia spirit. Media interest in the event was at a record level. And the designers were pulling out all the stops.

Mark Fast sent shockwaves through the fashion world by sending three plus-size models down the catwalk. It caused a media storm. Many of his contemporaries expressed their incredulity and Fast’s own stylist, Erika Kurihara, walked out the night before the show. Kurihara maintained that Fast’s last minute decision to include size 12 – 14 models meant the clothes available did not fit well, and, in any case, the curvaceous trio “did not have the right walk for the show.”

While fashionista cynics dismiss Fast’s use of plus-size models as a clever PR stunt, other insiders believe the soft-spoken Canadian is a genuine supporter of curvy catwalk models. “I didn’t think it would get so much attention. I just thought, ‘They’re beautiful. Let’s do it. Let’s have fun,’” the knitwear designer told Style magazine.

The controversy grabbed headlines around the world. Overnight the Mark Fast brand went from zero recognition to a globally recognised high-end label representing women of all sizes and shapes. Browns reported a surge in demand for Mark Fast pieces after the show, particularly from plus-size women.

Buying a Mark Fast dress from the main line collection can cost up to £3,000. Each piece in the collection is intricately handmade and requires time. Faced with an expanding fashion-hungry customer base knocking on his atelier door, Fast decided to launch a diffusion line called Faster. The new range launched in spring includes unitards, leggings with hole detail on both sides, mini skirts and gloves, and costs between £35 and £540. The Faster line is made in a factory in Italy faster than the main line collection, hence the name.

Other Mark Fast projects include the launch of a Topshop capsule collection for his NEWGEN sponsor in July. The five-piece collection is designed to make the designer more accessible to high street shoppers who may only be able to afford to spend between £80 – £150 for his signature sexy figure hugging knitwear. He has also just unveiled a capsule collaboration for the Italian fashion house Pinko in Milan.

Fast is currently in full momentum. He is also slowing down. At least, according to the critics of his spring/summer 2011 show. The pieces for his first stand-alone catwalk show were beautiful crafted, however some believe that has signature cobweb design has not really evolved.

Winnipeger at heart, his latest collection reveals how strongly Fast is still inspired by nature. The show was based on an oil slick destroying animals underwater and began with girls wearing black dresses. As the coastline is restored bright coloured knitwear dresses begin to emerge, then the animals reappear in the form of adorned reptile skin-like Swarovski crystal studs. The show culminates with the white bridal dress of hope, naturally with Mark Fast fringing.

Fast’s other great childhood love is the cinema. His fascination with movies drives his creative process as he channels the energy of the characters who inspire him into his knits. He told the BBC earlier this year: “I felt like the defining moment in my career so far was when I was able to have my dresses on Tilda Swinton on the cover of AnOther magazine. I think I ran around my kitchen four times!”

Ian Morales | TribaSpace

Product Groups: Streetwear, Ready-to-Wear, Promotion, Buying
Markets: Women's

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