The haute ticket

After four years of a fashion degree in the creative laboratory that is art college, being thrust into the real world to live a post-graduation, pre-job existence is a daunting prospect. Whether you become the next Jonathan Saunders or Christopher Kane can turn out to be a lottery, based as much on luck as on creative endeavour.

What helps is a platform to show off those garments you've slaved over a hot sewing machine to create - with luck, you'll drum up enough interest to have the fashion pack clawing each other out of the way to get their manicured talons on your collection.

The fact remains that no matter how talented a fledgling designer is, success boils down to exposure, exposure and more exposure.

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One such opportunity for Edinburgh College of Art's alumni to induce a collective frisson of excitement from industry buyers and manufacturers is the annual New Edinburgh fashion show at Harvey Nichols. Now an established fixture on the Scottish fashion calendar, this year's event - the third - takes place on Wednesday.

Dedicated organiser and head of the fashion department at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA), Robert Gillan, has kept the shows evolving, but notes the particular interest generated by the high standard of work this time. Plans for next year's event, incorporating collaborative projects with Scottish industry, are already underway.

The aim of this year's showcase, as always, is to allow the strongest emerging fresh new talent to broaden their experience, strengthen their portfolios and enhance their employment prospects.

Last year's event, as part of the Edinburgh Fashion Festival 2006 in April, drew more than 600 people and showcased the collections of seven outstanding fashion graduates from ECA. This year the venue is the basement car park at Harvey Nichols - or, as Gillan describes it, "the subterranean fashion room". The venue accommodates 350 guests, with the front row set aside for select movers and shakers of the Scottish fashion industry. US Vogue editor Anna Wintour may not be expected to put in an appearance, but there may well be someone in attendance who could influence these young talents' future careers.

"We've had such strong graduates in the last few years and Edinburgh has been acknowledged as a hub of creativity for fashion and textiles graduates," says Gillan. "It's important to showcase the talent that's still in the city, to promote Scottish designers who've stayed in Edinburgh.

"Why nurture young Scots talents here and then send them away to reap the benefits? A lot of important people have been invited along in the hope that they'll pick up on the designers and will do collaborative projects with them here."

All the selected designers were chosen in conjunction with the supporters, Scottish Enterprise's Scottish Textiles team. Its manager, Kirsty Scott, says: "It is hugely encouraging to see such accomplished designers coming through. We hope Scottish companies will be able to use them to develop innovative collections and build their international profiles."

This year's chosen line-up are Totty Rocks, Chloe Patience, Keira Thorley, Kestin Hare and Elena Tsyplakova, with special guest designer Yong Hei Fong.

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Since graduating from ECA a few years ago, some of the graduates taking part in the show have managed to establish flourishing businesses in Scotland. One such success story is Totty Rocks, a label by local designers Lynsey Miller and Holly Campbell, who both graduated with BAs and postgraduate diplomas in Fashion six years ago, decamped to London but returned to Scotland to run their own successful boutique in Edinburgh. Even when you own a shop, however, a runway show is still prohibitively expensive to fund, so they are delighted to be involved in New Edinburgh where they will showcase their spring/summer 2007 collection.

"Once you've graduated it's really difficult to show your collections on the catwalk as it's so costly. This show is a great opportunity for us as the sponsorship makes it possible to get our work out there," says Campbell.

"We'll be showing menswear and womenswear, with lots of our macs, shirts and a new collection of bags - all classics with a twist."

If you visit their Grassmarket shop you may see another of the New Edinburgh talents working there, illustrating the synergy and cross pollination of many of the designers who remain in Scotland. Their design and sales assistant Keira Thorley, 27, graduated from the Fashion MA last year and now works in Miller and Campbell's shop, selling her own label in the downstairs store and creating her range in the upstairs design studio.

Thorley has definite plans to stay in Edinburgh, partly inspired by the success of Totty Rocks in the capital. "I've set up my own business with a grant and am hoping to work on selling my range in other places. It's amazing to be part of the New Edinburgh show; hopefully this year's event will generate lots of publicity and raise awareness about what's going on in Edinburgh," she says.

Her designs are sleek and subversively sexy, with inspiration "based on 1920s and 1950s cuts with influences including Agent Provocateur underwear and uniform".

Her friend Chloe Patience, 25, was also chosen to be part of this year's line-up; she graduated from her MA in Textiles at the same time as Thorley, although her work is very different.

Her mentor, Gillan, describes her collection as "really beautiful, with printed and embroidered cashmere and fabrics" and Patience says her eclectic inspirations are "superstition, gypsy folklore and 1940s silhouettes". Her potential has already been spotted by a few local companies, who have agreed to help with her whimsically romantic collection for the show. "I've been sponsored by Barrie Knitwear who have knitted pieces for me, Todd & Duncan have provided cashmere and Fab Hatrix have made me three incredible hats," she says. "I've embellished, embroidered and customised all the pieces I've been given as part of my collection."

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If all goes to plan Patience will soon be leaving for London, with ambitions to gain a couple of years of experience at a couture house such as Jean Paul Gaultier or Christian Lacroix. But her ties with Edinburgh won't be broken, as her ultimate career plan is to return here to start her own business and possibly open her own boutique.

Almost all of the line-up are from Scotland, apart from fashion graduate Elena Tsyplakova, 34, from Moscow. For her, Edinburgh is an adopted home. It wasn't until she'd completed a degree in linguistics in Russia that she realised she wanted to study fashion - making clothes had previously only been a hobby. After enquiring about fashion courses at the British Council in Moscow she saw a brochure for Edinburgh College of Art, and any idea of a career in linguistics was history, she says.

"Edinburgh looked amazing to me," she says. "When I came to study it was fantastic from the very beginning, every day I loved it more and more."

And what of her plans for the future?

"I'm going to stay in Scotland, I'm currently working as an alterations assistant at Harvey Nichols and I love to touch the fabrics and examine the cut of the clothes," she enthuses. Tsyplakova's own work is inspired by classically influenced Russian architecture and the domestic decoration of houses; a very individual collection with folded, pleated and draped fabrics creating amazing, highly intricate structures reminiscent of Issey Miyake or Yohji Yamamoto.

The only designer in the show who's not an Edinburgh College of Art graduate is 28-year-old Kestin Hare. His inclusion aims to open up the criteria for future New Edinburgh shows. "We're trying to be inclusive in the hope that next year we can bring in other designers," says Gillan. Says Hare: "I'll be the first non-graduate of ECA to be involved with moving the New Edinburgh show forward and teaming up with Scottish businesses."

"Robert has invited quite a few different manufacturers and it's an opportunity for them to meet the designers and talk about working together."

Hare was born in the capital and recently returned to Edinburgh to start a design consultancy and launch his own label after working as a menswear designer at Reiss and head designer for Nigel Cabourn for three years. As he's only just arrived he hasn't had time to pull together a collection and so will have a static display in Harvey Nichols, showcasing pieces from his own classic menswear line with influences derived from "vintage garments which I avidly collect and pieces from the Second World War" - so expect a strong masculine menswear collection.

Of course, the stellar son of the show will be Yong Hei Fong, an ECA graduate who's dazzled the fashion world with his talents honed at his aunt's dressmaking shop in Morningside. He won Lancme's Colour Design Award for Modern Femininity in 2002, as well as the American Express Innovation Award, which was presented by Alexander McQueen at Graduate Fashion Week in 2002. In 2004 he won the Harrods Design Initiative Award.

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Fresh from his presentation at London Fashion Week, he'll be showing his spring/summer and autumn/winter 2007 collections, which have, according to Fong, "lots of corsetry and detail, feminine and soft shapes and a mixture of day and evening wear".

His collection will be a must-see, although Fong, caught in the maelstrom of the life of a successful fashion designer, will be too busy to make it on the night. "It's a really great opportunity for the people of Edinburgh to see what the graduates of Edinburgh College of Art can do," he says. "I make it up to Edinburgh a few times a year and always stay in contact with Robert Gillan - it's a great fashion department."

As with all fashion events, the effort put into styling hair, and applying make-up will make New Edinburgh an incredibly sleek and well-groomed occasion.

The models will come from Stolen Model Agency, hair will be coiffed by the experts at Charlie Miller and cosmetics daubed by beauticians at Space NK. We need no other guarantee that this will be an expertly produced fashion show, especially with Gillan at the helm. As designer Keira Thorley says, "Robert is brilliant, it's really exciting, he's so experienced in the industry and it's always great to have him in charge of these shows."

So, the million dollar question for the organiser is - who are the ones to watch? "They're all really good and all extremely talented," is Gillan's decidedly diplomatic response.

They are all certainly cutting-edge, an important indicator of the future of fashion, as the late designer Oleg Cassini once said: "Fashion anticipates, and elegance is a state of mind ... a mirror of the time in which we live, a translation of the future, and should never be static."

It looks as if we will have to don our designer sunglasses, bag our front-row seats and make our own minds up.

The New Edinburgh show is on Wednesday 28 March at 7pm, Harvey Nichols, St Andrews Square, Edinburgh. Tickets cost 15, including a glass of sparkling wine, tel: 0131-524 8388.