Manchester fashion students get opportunity of a lifetime as Project Catwalk star Ben de Lisi judges their designs

By Kathryn Cummings

Debenhams are offering a prize of a lifetime to a lucky Manchester fashion student this month, as they begin their search for the star of the future.

Manchester Metropolitan University students will for the first time have the chance to showcase their designs to some of the leading names in fashion, and to have their collection branded and sold in store.

Final year students will be judged by fashion designer Ben de Lisi, Debenhams Design Director Karen Peacock, MEN fashion writer Deborah Linton, head of fashion at MMU Alison Welsh and senior Manchester store manager Peter Rodgers.

Ben de Lisi, who was a mentor and judge on the TV show Project Catwalk, will be looking for talent, hunger and perseverance from the students, three qualities he says that are vital to succeed in the fashion industry.

Speaking of why Manchester had been chosen to hold this talent search, he said: “Manchester has always been a hot bed of talent, not only in fashion but in the arts.  

“I’ve always found it to be a very vibrant and high octane city, where people strive to explore new roads and are not afraid of new challenges.”

Ben understands the difficulties faced by fashion graduates and the struggles they can face.

He said: “In the economic time we find ourselves living in, it’s very tough indeed for design students trying to make a start in the industry.  

“They need to be hungry and prepared to work hard for very little until the right door opens. Not everyone is cut out to be a designer, but there’s so much more to the fashion industry than just being a designer.   

“I advise students to keep their options open as there can be many other exciting opportunities in styling, buying, pattern cutting and merchandising which may be the perfect path for them.” 

The American designer has been working with Debenhams since 1992, won British Glamour Designer of the Year award twice and dressed actresses such as Kate Winslet and Helena Bonham Carter.

The fashion guru along with Karen Peacock, will be giving help and advice to the students as they produce their collections.

In May, a final shortlist of three designers will have their collections featured in Debenhams both online and in the window of the Market Street store so customers can vote for their favourite.

The shortlisted candidates will then pitch to the judging panel before a final decision is made on the winner.

The winner will be given a head start into the fashion industry and will enjoy a month of meeting senior buyers, sourcing experts, designers and business gurus to help them on their way.

Caroline Baldry, creative director Munkispanner clothing, based in Manchester is pleased to hear that students in the area are being given this kind of opportunity.

She said: “It’s very difficult to break into the fashion industry, especially if you are not living or working in London.

“I’ve had to put on my own fashion events to get noticed as it is very competitive, and as a designer you need to stand out from the rest to get noticed.

“I think the fashion press seem to forget that there is talent in places other than London, that’s why I think this opportunity that Debenhams is giving students is a really good step in the right direction for Manchester fashion, and will be invaluable to the lucky student who gets this opportunity.”

Debenhams Design Director, Karen Peacock, hopes the competition will shine a light on some of the brightest design stars of the future.

She said: “Manchester has always been a hot bed of creative talent and the homeland of many of our accomplished Debenhams designers.

“The competition is all about giving the best creative talent a leg up in the industry.”

TOP TALENT: The Project Catwalk judge will be reviewing the students’ designs

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