Pushing the Envelope With Sarabande's Trino Verkade

The Standard spoke with Trino Verkade on the early days of working with Alexander McQueen, Sarabande’s origins, and bringing the foundation to New York City.

The late designer Lee Alexander McQueen always knew that at some point he wanted to give back to the student population, particularly those in dire financial need. Hailing from a working class background, he understood very well that his fashion dreams could not be attained by way of university, Central Saint Martins to be exact, without adequate funding. It was through the financial support of his Aunt Renee that McQueen was able to enroll in their MA fashion course. 

The Sarabande Foundation, named for the designer’s Spring/Summer 2007 collection, was founded in memory by McQueen’s close friend and career-spanning collaborator, Trino Verkade in 2010. Since its inception, Sarabande has supported up-and-coming artists from across the globe and to date has nurtured more than 130 fashion artists and including Craig Green, Molly Goddard, Castro Smith and Bianca Saunders, with subsidized studio space, mentoring and scholarships. 

"It’s incredibly inclusive, so we don’t make any judgements on age, background, ethnicity or discipline,” says Verkade. “We base it on your attitude, your work, and where you want to take your work. It’s successful because that’s the slice of the world that we live in, in this creative environment. The only questions that really matter are what your work is based on, how much space do you need to create it, and how can we help you?”

In May, Sarabande will gather for an evening at The Standard, High Line that will include art installation by Andrew Davis, an American student studying at Central Saint Martins who's made eight fashion figures out of scotch tape and Rosie Gibbens, a performance artist whose work interrogates consumerism and commercialization. They will be joined by Verkade and a group of the city’s pioneering artists and designers.

We spoke to Trino about The Sarabande Foundation's present and future:

You have a very interesting history within the fashion industry. Tell me about your background and how you came to know and work with Lee (Alexander) McQueen.

So I was introduced to Lee through the stylist Katie England who I started to work with straight out of college. As I was graduating from my degree, I asked Katie if she wanted any help in assisting on any of the jobs that she had. She had been asked to do a couple of younger designers at the time, collections and runway shows, and one of them was Alexander McQueen’s third show from graduating and first show working with him. And I was like yes, if you do that show, I’d love to assist. We got on and I assisted Katie on a couple of more shows and then went straight to work with Lee when he needed somebody full-time, which is how a lot of fashion business start their team—they meet somebody that they get on with when you’re young and you learn the job together. 

I imagine your work at that time encapsulated a lot of things. What were you doing and why do you think Lee put so much trust in you?

You do everything, and I think that’s still what happens now. You learn the job on the go, you know? Nobody comes equipped with all the experience you need. Everyone is learning it and if you’ve got that attitude and you care about the job, you grow with the role and your grow together. One of the advantages that I did have was that I grew up with a mother that had her own business so I’d always seen that up close and saw what it took. Although my education was in fashion and in marketing, I think it was ultimately that young experience of being in a family that ran their own business and was able to adapt that for Lee. It was everything from helping with the collections, getting things together for runway shows, dealing with business meetings, doing the accounts. I had to do the accounts every quarter for the back return, I did  for the seating for the runway shows–eveything is encompassed along the way when you’re such a small team. 

At what point did Lee feel that it was time to establish The Sarabande Foundation? 

Lee had only been able to go to university because his Aunt Renee had supported him and paid the fees. Like many working class boys and girls who can’t afford to go to college, having that support in his MA was only because a relative managed to pay for him. And so it was always in his mind that he wanted to do that and he always said that he wanted to give scholarships. It actually was the only part of the foundation which I knew he wanted to do, because we never discussed it until after his passing, because it was never something that we expected to happen.

Who would be the perfect candidate for aid through the foundation, if the perfect candidate even exists?

If that’s a real thing! (laughs) I think there’s a mix that’s quite unique to the foundation. When it comes to scholarships, that is based on financial need because that's an opportunity that someone wouldn’t get, otherwise. The scholarships are given to The Slade School of Fine Arts and Central Saint Martins. We do art and fashion and we have a guest judge that chooses who will receive the award, which is always based on financial need. The studios here are really just based on a different disciplinary approach and bringing together a community of all different people from different backgrounds and different ages doing different things who can support each other and can be supported by the foundation. 

What types of things are set in place to ensure proper mentorship and support for the students?

We have formal mentors who come in. We have a digital mentor who's an expert in all the latest technology. He works with the artists on better technology they can be using, ways of using it etc. We have art mentors. We have business mentors. We have a bookkeeper who teaches them all how to do their books and their accounts—all the fun stuff that nobody talks about! We have an open door policy to help on anything that they're doing and we have an exhibition space here, where a lot of the artists work and we can help amplify their work through press or through collaborators that they might be looking for. We have started to go to Paris for Paris Fashion Week with the designers to help them with the showrooms so that they can actually present their collection on the international stage for sales. So all the top brands go there and that's massively helped the designers because now the able to sell internationally to stores that are not attending London.

Why has Sarabande decided to place roots in New York City?

So I think about the success of Sarabande–it is because of that multicultural, multidisciplinary community that exists in London. We have artists from 32 different countries that we’ve supported. You walk through the studios and it’s not full of British people, it’s people from all different countries. Even our scholars. In fact, we’re coming to New York to do our event in early May, and we’re bringing Andrew Davis who is an American fashion designer who’s been at Saint Martins. We’ve supported him through his MA and we’ve paid his fees and living and we’re bringing him and an installation to The Standard to show his work, which crosses over from art to fashion. He was picked by Daniel Roseberry. New York is a city that people flock to from all over the world and I think that’s really important. There’s a really strong art and fashion industry. You’ve got people working in within craft—jewelers, makers, it’s still  a strong part of the culture in New York. You’ve got people working in the digital sphere with businesses who are as interested in new ideas and innovation as anybody else, so it’s probably the most similar city, in all of those elements, to London. 

Can you elaborate on Sarabande’s partnership with The Standard and what it entails?

It started off in London, but now we’re gate-crashing America! We’re partnering on their other locations, too. It’s great because we have a similar audience, The Standard has always been a hotel and a venue for creatives and has always focused on that, being in the cities with the same audience as Sarabande. We’ve got a sure audience of the next generation of creatives from all different backgrounds and disciplines, so it’s the perfect fit for us. 

Sarabande's idea of luxury is not a traditional luxury because it's not it's not relatable to a lot of our audience, you know their concept. Their luxury is something that that feeds their soul as much as you know, expensive marble. So they want somewhere that they can be themselves and that presents their world with like-minded people so we it's been a great place to host all of our dinners. We've done some amazing really immersive dinners with all of our performance artists. So this particular event at The Standard, instead of doing a dinner which we very often do, we wanted to so something that was much more orientated to the emerging art scene and creatives who are at the stage where they are knocking at the door to their next steps and their next career. 

Photo Credits: 

Trino Verkade Portrait, Sølve Sundsbø
Rosie Gibbens Images, 
Darren Gerrish
Andrew Davis Images, taken + provided by the artist.


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