TOM FORD hosted a cocktail party in Claridge’s last week to meet and greet the four finalists Colin McDowell and Tom Ford in Claridges on Fridayof the Fashion Fringe 2006 competition. Invited to act as honorary founder of the talent-finding initiative founded by Colin McDowell in 2004 – which has made stars of its two previous winners, Basso & Brooke and Erdem (Claudia Schiffer’s new favourite) – Ford will now advise and then judge the work of four new names who could take home the 2006 trophy (designed by Solange Azagury-Partridge): Gavin Douglas, Stephen Harper, Six and Seven-Eighths and Antonio Santana. So why has Texas’ most fashionable man taken new English design talent under his wing? “I love England, I live here for as much of my life as I can,” he said. “As soon as I started working at Gucci I moved my base over here. All the British people I have ever worked with have been great and really talented. I just feel right here. I usually spend alternate months here and in LA – though currently it’s one week in each as I’m working on something over there too.” And Ford’s famed workaholic lifestyle can only be a good thing for Britain’s most ambitious – though as-yet-unheard-of – new designers. “We’re working on plans to really support and nurture the new fashion talent in a big way,” he went on. “We can’t say anything yet, but it’s going to be really big.” So how did our newest fashion personalities feel on meeting one of the industry’s most powerful figures? “On a scale of one to 10 my nerves are at about 2,” said Gavin Douglas. “Tom has been really friendly and approachable and it’s going to be great working with him.”