As you might have guessed, the fashion industry is far from what Gossip Girl, Lipstick Jungle & co are trying to convince us to believe. When it comes to fashion shows, it is not all about glitz and glam, so at least what happens behind the scenes. What is, thanks to social media, nowadays going viral in a matter of minutes in reality involves months of hard work, sleepless nights and endless commitment. So, just in time for the upcoming Autumn/Winter ’17 fashion month, I am breaking the silence and turning the spotlight on the models, designer gowns, and the chaos going on behind the catwalks of London Fashion Week, one of the 4 biggest fashion events in the world, from a perspective we rarely get to see.
As I was starting my Master’s degree in September, jumping right into the highly competitive fashion industry without any prior educational fashion background, I thought some volunteer experience at London Fashion Week which, twice a year, showcases some of the world’s biggest designers’ work, not only to look good on my CV, but also to help me break into the industry by gaining some first-hand experience.
When I first sent my applications, I had no idea what to expect. I have since had the opportunity of working for nameworthy designers at both women’s and men’s Fashion Week, gaining front and back of the house insights.
Since high-profile clients mostly make their buying decisions during and after a fashion show, and a lot of press is involved, a lot of thought goes into every single detail. On the day of the fashion show, backstage begins hours before the actual show does, with set-ups being done and all helping hands arriving at minutely timed intervals. And long before fashion editors, buyers, bloggers, social influencers, and famous people queue outside the venues, countless people are running behind the scenes, bringing a chaotic vibe into the backstage area. It’s a very controlled kind of chaos, and mostly everyone knows precisely what they have to do at all times, but depending on how everything is running, the backstage area can get really tight.
Unlike most of the people attending the shows, no one wears pretty dresses or heavy makeup backstage. Most designers want their teams to wear all-black, comfortable being the key of dressing for day backstage, as everyone will be standing and running around a lot, not to mention the rest of the sweat-inducing physical activity that has to be done, by which I mean climbing up ladders to assist the set up team, running last minute errands, heavy lifting and cleaning, to only name a few. Sorry, no time to look cute..
“No time to look cute” is what models might think as well when arriving backstage, sometimes in their sweatpants and mostly with greasy hair from previous shows, their days being no less busy running from shows to castings, living a lifecycle of rushing from one fashion week to the next, in cities they might not be familiar with. Some of the highly requested models arriving last minute find themselves with a team of hair, makeup and nail techs working on them at the same time in an unbelievable pace, while you will find others sitting around either reading, eating catered food – Coconut water, anyone? – or being glued to their smartphones, most of them being rather mute instead of chatting with their pals.
Backstage at Palmer//Harding SS17. Photo credits: Ambra Vernuccio.
While media and A-listers get access to the backstage area and designer interviews are being held, hair and makeup gets the final touch up, and dressers ensure everything is ready for the models to get into their outfits, precisely as per designer’s request. Clothes are to be steamed, shoe problems are to be sorted. The models don’t dress themselves; instead, their dressers help them squeeze into their clothing, and – more often than not discussion topic n°1 prior to the show as too uncomfortable, small, large or due to blisters from prior shows not wearable – designer shoes, making sure the fabric does not get in the way of the hair and makeup, or vice versa, the gowns becoming the top priority. Trust me, while keeping a cool head themselves, dressers often become moral supporters to their models, who sometimes come with temperamental personalities.
In an age where social media tends to be the first place for news to be published, capturing those moments for your Snapchat story or Instagram feels like an indispensable thing. Well, forget about it when working backstage at a fashion show. Everything that happens prior to a show is top secret, and as far as most designer shows are concerned, smartphones are taboo, and taking photos is usually banned unless for the company’s social media platforms. Sometimes they do allow you to take some backstage snaps, but even then, don’t think about taking a picture with designers or celebrities.. Sometimes they might even put the team on phone deprivation, with the PR reps – The ones clutching their clipboards, giving orders and communicating via headset only – confiscating all phones until after the show.
The first backstage experience at a London Fashion Week show can be overwhelming, with everything happening so fast. Taking a peek behind the curtains you’ll find a lot more – controlled – chaos than you’d expect, with stylists, make-up artists, models, assistants and other people running backstage trying to bring the designer’s vision to life down to the very details. But it’s a beautiful chaos once everything is put in place and the show is ready to start, and, after all, it’s a great experience being backstage.