SIMON LOCK defied the naysayers to create Australian Fashion Week and guide it from its humble beginnings to the success it is today.
I was born with an innate interest in fashion. But anyone who knows me would attest that skiing really is my first love. My father is one of the original founders of the ski club scene at Mount Buller in Victoria. As I got more and more into it, I became more and more passionate about it and the passion seems to have continued and grown.
The first business I started was a ski retail and ski-touring company. And I really love teaching [skiing]. Hopefully more of my energy will go into that area as I become more balanced in my professional life.
It was really skiing and ski journalism that led to my interest in marketing and PR and events, and that’s how Fashion Week came into being. I had quite a meteoric rise in PR – in a space of about 18 months I went from never having worked in PR to being managing director of Saatchi & Saatchi’s PR company in Australia.
Then in 1989 I decided I didn’t want to work for other people any more. The first company I established was a PR company which ultimately became known as Spin, through which I started to work directly with the Australian fashion industry.
It was a frustrating time in every part of the Australian fashion industry. The retailers, the consumers and the designers had a sense that more could happen. But as I dug deeper, I wondered why couldn’t the industry be more developed and why couldn’t it say more about Australians?
I’d grown up a lot overseas, travelling with my parents, and the impression that I was left with of who we were as Australians when I travelled internationally was not one that sat comfortably with me. The whole Paul Hogan “Toss the shrimp on the barbie” might have been successful in terms of brand awareness, but in terms of brand positioning in my mind it was so detrimental. And so I asked the question, “Why couldn’t we have a fashion week in Australia?” And that met with great laughter at first because there were so many barriers, [including] who in the hell is going to come to an event on the other side of the world to see designers who are unheard of?
But also people started saying, “Who the hell are you?” And, “That idea’s impossible”. Well, for me, that was like, “OK, game on”.
The industry didn’t believe it could happen, the media didn’t, the retailers certainly didn’t and the designers themselves weren’t convinced. So I had to get a momentum going where I could get them to believe it was possible.
There was a Labor government at the time. I was fortunate enough to get some time with senator John Button, who just recently passed away. He was a great Australian and a great visionary and he was able to create a connection for me with Austrade.
Through him I was introduced to the Keatings and specifically Annita Keating, who was very gracious in coming on board to become a patron of an idea, which was all it was at that stage. Annita was great in allowing me to have luncheons at Kirribilli House. So people started to accept my invitations to talk.
I started to [travel to] learn more about the international fashion week circuit. I bribed security guards to get into London Fashion Week or sneak in the back door of New York Fashion Week, and I started to learn about what these other fashion weeks were doing right but, more importantly, what we could do better.
In 1996 we had the first event with 13 designers and it was hugely successful and a huge disaster at the same time. When we all came together and looked at each other after four days at Fox Studios, everyone said, “Well you know what, we can do this if we come together. This is pretty powerful stuff.”
Now 13 years later every retail centre is full of Australian designers’ stand-alone boutiques, and [department stores] are full of Australian designers and we all wear Australian designers. I would like to think that we prefer them.
It was great being a well-meaning entrepreneur owning the event and operating the event as I saw fit, but it didn’t really enable us to get connected globally as I wanted. So the ultimate for me was that our organisation, Australian Fashion Innovators, had become an aquisition target for [US company] International Management Group to complete their global footprint of fashion weeks by bringing in the Asia Pacific region. When it was explained to me the value that IMG Fashion could add to the Australian fashion industry it was a no-brainer to sell the company.
Am I sad that I don’t own Fashion Week any more? Well, yeah, of course, it was my baby. But this event no longer needs to rely on my personal passion, my personal dedication or my personal funding – thank God – which it did for 11 years.
More recently with being based out of Hong Kong in my new global role with IMG, while I’m still teaching skiing at Mount Buller as much as I can during the season, I now ski a lot in Japan and I’ve started to do mountaineering. After two attempts I was able to climb Mount Yotei, which I did two weeks ago with my brother Richard, which we were pretty pleased about.
My children Jules, 12, Hannah, 14, and David, 19, have all grown up at Fashion Week. Jules is the absolutely creative one. If you sit down with him he’ll tell you who are the new, cool designers on the schedule. Hannah has worked at Fashion Week now for three years behind the scenes, learning the business. And David is at university learning event management, of all things, and he’s working at Fashion Week this year as an assistant producer.
All the companies the children have grown up with, so I haven’t delineated between my business life, my skiing life or my family life. And also it enables me to explain to my children now why I’m having to spend so much time away from home. They’ve grown up with it so they understand it. It doesn’t necessarily mean they like it, but they understand it.
I think the reason for the public’s current obsession with fashion is something I’ve always known and relied on: fashion is absolutely brilliant content. It is fascinating, it is big business, it is small business, it’s against all odds, it’s rich versus poor, it’s supermodel, super bitch, super gossipy, it is visionary, moving, it’s got intrigue, it’s got love affairs, it’s got break-ups, it’s got court cases, it’s aspirational, it’s disgusting – it’s perfect. If it was a novel it’s got everything you want and it’s a bestseller. And in this day of fast-moving content and information it’s the perfect storm. And the reason why people want to associate themselves with the fashion industry is because fashion is the ultimate form of freedom of expression. And everyone wants a bit of that in some way.