Behind the scenes at London Fashion Week

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Do you really know what goes on backstage before a catwalk show, do you think that it’s all about popping open bottles of expensive champagne, having a few laughs and simply experiencing the high life? Well for starters, what you see on ‘FTV’ (Fashion TV) and other fashion related programmes is a cut version, i.e. you only get to see the glamorous parts minus all the preparations, stress and chaos prior to an LFW (London Fashion Week) catwalk show.
In order to get across to you the readers a vivid picture of what goes on backstage at LFW, I interviewed hair stylist Dominic Aloe from last year’s Paul Costelloe show and I myself worked backstage at the Preen show during this year’s LFW to get the answers Dominic couldn’t or shall I say wouldn’t provide me with.
According to Dominic, an experienced hair stylist who has been working at LFW shows for the past ten years, ‘To be involved in such high profile events is one of life’s greatest sensations.’ After all, LFW has got to be one of the most prestigious events on the calendar and to be able to work with professionals such as British designer Paul Costelloe, elite photographers and the likes of supermodel Jodie Kidd must be a dream for any aspiring hairdresser. ‘I mean it’s not just any fashion show, it’s London Fashion Week!’
Dominic tells me of all the madness one has to undergo before the actual show and that’s not just backstage. Hairdressers, make up artists and the designer all meet up two months before the actual date of the show in order to thoroughly plan out the event, they have to leave enough time for mistakes as on the day there are no allowances. Hair stylists start off with a storyboard of their ideas, and they liase with the designer in order to find a complementary look for the day. They make adjustments along the way and must create a minimum of six looks and choose just one of them at the end, these looks must be tried, tested and approved by everyone so that on the day everyone knows exactly what they’re doing.
I ask Dominic what it’s like backstage and the first word that comes out of his mouth is ‘Manic!’ He goes on to tell me how the whole thing is choreographed backstage and that even though it’s all planned out to the last detail, it’s still very chaotic. An onlooker would think that the team is very calm and professional, but the truth is that every minute of Dominic’s job is painful, the word ‘calm’ does not exist backstage. ‘The overall feeling is electrifying, it’s mad, everyone is anxious till the end of the show, there’s an incredible amount of energy in the work zone and the adrenalin is constantly pumping. It’s almost like a jigsaw puzzle, putting all the pieces together; the hairdressing pieces, the styling pieces, make up pieces… but the end result is truly satisfying’. He also adds that amongst the whole team, the designer and the models have by far the toughest jobs, the designer for one as it’s his/her reputation at stake, and secondly the models, it’s like a tug of war as they are constantly being pulled around in all kinds of directions; styling, make up, fittings etc. For those of you always wanting that job as a model or thinking it would be a world full of glamour might want to think again, ‘It’s very hard work for the models. It’s a lifestyle surrounded by attractive and exciting qualities but it’s like any other job at the end of the day. The models are deprived of any privacy as there isn’t enough time for it, they have to be in and out of outfits within seconds’, but I am certain that this adds to the excitement for male hairdressers like Dominic who are full of testosterone! ‘I love working with beautiful models, even though I work with them all year round, the novelty never wears off, each time is as exciting as any other’.
Okay, so it’s true, models do walk around naked but everyone is so wrapped up in their own work that nobody seems to notice, and I didn’t see any of them stressed out, in fact they were very chilled, waiting patiently for their turn for hair and make up, puffing away on their cigarettes and taking baby bites out of their fat free bagels. I was surprised to see that they hadn’t been provided with Diet Coke but none other than normal coke.
The part about ‘manic’ is spot on, there are far too many people helping on set, tell me, do you really need 30 PR people walking around with walkie-talkies and headsets, 20 people working on the production team and 30 extra helpless students like myself doing silly jobs like manning lifts? Please, I’m more than perfectly sure that guests are capable of reading their invites to know that the show is on the 29th floor without having ten people telling them that. And did you know that all cable wires have to be taped down with silver tape? I didn’t know, I don’t think I’ve even ever looked for cable wire at a fashion show. And then of course there was that tragedy when one model was about to go on the runway but her hair fell out of place and was struggling to get her boots on, I recall ten people running to the rescue.
I then went on to ask Dominic how London Fashion Week shows differed to those of Milan, Paris and New York, his response was rather intriguing. ‘Shows in Paris and Milan are far more glamorous where as in New York it’s all American glam, it’s fake! Italy and Paris have a lot of class and sophistication of which London lacks’. London shows will never be the same as the ones in Italy and France as we Brits aren’t as flash with our money where as for Italian designers, money isn’t an issue and therefore produce better shows. ‘Depending on the budget of the designer, each individual show will comprise of several high profile models and several not so high profile, nevertheless all professionals. Italians invest more money in shows, for models and locations and as a result a lot of British designers are defecting.’
The highlight of my day at the Preen show was spotting the whole array of fashion disasters, some people were ridiculously over-dressed as though they were on their way to a cabaret with their bright orange tights and fluorescent green leggings, they ought to put dress codes on future invites to prevent people looking like complete fools. What struck me the most was that guests were arriving with their four year old children, what interest would a four year old have in a catwalk show starring skinny models? The show started an hour late as models had yet to arrive and PRs were deliberately holding back the not so important people in order to let in the more important people with the gold star tickets. The world of Fashion has its flaws too!

Copyright © Sheeva Moshiri February 2004