In her black cap, oversized Vetements hoodie, track pants and Nike trainers, 35 year old PR doyenne, Ella Dror has been a commanding presence on London Fashion Week catwalks over the past decade.
Yet, this weekend, she won’t be directing the guests to their seats or giving the go-ahead via a headset for the show to begin, as London Fashion Week Men’s morphs into a digital platform, thanks to the devastating effects of Covid-19: social distancing, financial drubbing and more.
According to Dror, she will miss seeing a designer’s vision become reality. “I guess you can see it digitally but there is something about being present and in the same space as this thing is happening that is always going to feel different,” she says, while working from her Hornsey home in lockdown with her Israeli-born mother.
Dubbed by British Vogue one of the top ten women shaping British menswear, Dror runs fashion PR agency, The Lobby, with best friend and business partner, Ashley Smith, alongside four currently furloughed employees. Other clients include womenswear designers as well as Danish audio design company, AIAIAI.
Known for nurturing emerging designers, some of Dror’s clients have become hot-ticket shows. Take Edward Crutchley whose artisanal textiles contributed to his two International Woolmark Prizes in 2019 for menswear and innovation.
Then there’s the three-year-old non-binary, queerluxury label, Art School, run by Eden Loweth and Tom Barrett, who have previously opened the seasonal menswear showcase. They collaborated with artist Maggi Hambling, on their last (autumn/winter 2020) collection, using layers of black fabric like pale paint.
The new fashion talent niche was unplanned, she says. “We slot into a place in the industry where it is unique, a smaller place that was missing and I guess that has helped us. It’s a part of the industry that doesn’t get much support,” she says. Crutchley, who would usually have shown his collection this weekend but is now unveiling it in September, says there is a clear system at the shows. “Anything behind the curtain is my responsibility. Anything front-of-house is Ella’s,” he says, remembering his Spring 2019 show when Dror ran backstage, shouting “stop the show” just as the first model was to step on the runway. His long-time mentor and ongoing boss at Dior menswear, Kim Jones, had arrived as the lights dimmed so she needed time to rearrange the front row to accommodate him.
“I had to pull out an influencer unfortunately from his seat… as that was the only person I was able to move,” she says. She’s wearing Crutchley’s quirky green crocodile-shaped slippers with a tee and track pants.
Front row seating can be a political minefield. Dror’s front rows include people with influence, personal friends and higher profile fans. “It’s a mix of my network, Ash’s network and the designer’s network and we bring it all together,” she says.
Even when chaos strikes, Dror remains pragmatic. Take the presentation of four Hong Kong designers at September’s London Fashion Week, when one of the designers set off the fire alarm with a smoke machine as the event started. Restaging the collections outside the venue in a narrow Covent Garden street among invitees, bemused passersby and tooting traffic until the London Fire Brigade gave the all clear, she says, “you have to think quickly and find a solution.”
Growing up around Hampstead and Golders Green, being Jewish is “part of who I am,” she says. Style-conscious and unconventional even as a schoolgirl, she opted for Parliament Hill School, rather than JFS as, she says, “I didn’t want to wear a uniform.”
Wanting to be a stylist, Dror studied at the London College of Fashion but a chance visit to a public relations agency steered her in this direction — and her working relationship with Smith.
When their roles with young talent at the Soho boutique, Machine-A, ended as the boutique temporarily closed, they set up Ella Dror PR in 2011 to support their designers’ upcoming shows. Danish designer, Astrid Andersen, who put lace into tracksuits, remains a client. In 2017, they renamed the agency, The Lobby, as, she says, “the business was never about me.”
Hard work is how Dror and Smith have grown the business, sacrificing other aspects of life —and chutzpah, she says. “I’m not scared about what people think of me. I just do what I think,” she explains.
Crutchley, who has been working with Dror since his first season in 2014, values her businesslike approach. “You always get the truth and you know exactly what she thinks. We can disagree and that’s healthy. It makes me question what I think is the best way forward”.
Business acumen as well as their skill and talent is what Dror looks for in a client. “A fashion designer could be a fantastic designer, but if they want to have a brand — that’s a business,” says Dror. For “if they are not able to understand the basics of running a business then they are going to struggle.”
Currently, her young talent is particularly at risk as, she says, “stores are reluctant to take on new brands at the moment so there can’t be any growth — as it’s a risk.”
Two of Ella Dror’s clients are among the first 37 recipients of the £1million BFC (British Fashion Council) Foundation Fashion Fund — an emergency fund that supports creative fashion businesses and individuals to survive the Covid-19 crisis — Art School, and social enterprise designer Bethany Williams, who won the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design in 2019.
“The need for support is immense,” says the British Fashion Council’s chief executive, Caroline Rush, to “ensure the future growth and success of the British fashion industry.”
Dror believes that live shows will be back — but with adaptations. Her preference is for “one main catwalk season and smaller collections that are extensions of that collection that drop throughout the year,” she says; with more accessibility to consumers, who, are essentially keeping these businesses going by buying the clothes.
She is hoping to be back in the office by September: “I just feel like we are in a moment in time where everyone has to re-evaluate and look at what is happening and how we can make it better”.