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London Fashion Week: the reality behind the glamour

Backstage at London Fashion Week. Picture: Stuart Wilson/Getty

Backstage at London Fashion Week. Picture: Stuart Wilson/Getty

  • by RUTH WALKER
 

IT’S the most glamorous event in the fashion calendar but, from the freebies to the sore feet to the front row star-spotting, this is what really goes on behind the scenes

T HE fash pack has left London in a haze of hairspray and Marlboro Lights, following a week in which Stella McCartney returned to her home patch, naked models took to the runway and British fashion proved it wasn’t just a home for quirky talent but could compete on the world style map.

London Fashion Week is a piece of theatre that takes place twice a year and, back in September 2011, I was there, queuing patiently outside a shopping centre near King's Cross. Kanye West had been ushered through security. So had Anna Wintour. The rest of us proles – and a pug – were waiting to be allotted standing space at Christopher Kane’s spring/summer 2012 runway show. It was one of the hottest tickets of week.

But all this waiting is part of the experience too. Standing around. Hoping your unique sense of style might be noticed by someone. Anyone. Perhaps a blogger. A stylist. Or LFW’s newspaper, The Daily. After the waiting comes the rushing. Off to the next show, on the other side of town. Fighting your way through the traffic to the Tube. Feet hurting. Sweating slightly. Stomach rumbling, but you don’t have time to eat. You’re already running late and you don’t really know where you’re going.

Glamorous? Yes, it can be. And exciting and fun and a constant buzz. But it’s also exhausting. Infuriating. Confusing. Expensive.

Day one starts with me picking up my registration pack at Somerset House, LFW HQ. Then I have to find my way to Vivienne Westwood’s Red Label show, held at a meat market somewhere in east London. I give myself plenty of time so, for the first and only time this week, I actually arrive early and position myself in a café to watch the comings and goings. Oooh! Sadie Frost. Pamela Anderson. Paloma Faith. How exciting. And who’s that? Oh, it’s a drunken tramp, hurling abuse at the arriving throng. Talk about beauty and the beast.

I have a backstage pass, but it’s a mob of make-up artists, hairdressers, photographers, journalists ... there’s no room to move. Models with towering cone hairpieces and a dazzling mix of turquoise eyes and bright pink cheeks hover between rails of clothing and banks of lit mirrors while last-minute adjustments are made.

A tattooed hairdresser – a Scot – is getting visibly peeved. “We’ve got to get the press out of here,” he yells. I back up quietly. Then a hush falls as Dame Vivienne appears, wearing two coats and with that unmistakeable mop of Tango hair pulled back messily atop her head. The crowd parts. She checks the models. The show can go on.

But I can’t stay. I have a date with Jonathan Saunders somewhere in Paddington. I manage to catch a Tube but have a ten-minute walk at the other end (which turns into a five-minute sprint), so by the time I get there I am red-faced, breathing heavily and have missed all the backstage action. And since I am supposed to be shadowing Lynsey Alexander – a Scottish make-up artist who plays a senior role in the Mac Pro team, travelling the world to ensure the beautiful people stay that way – that is kind of missing the point.

But if I feel rushed off my Lanvin pumps, I’m not the only one. “On average, I work on two to three shows a day, and each show has a three or four-hour call time,” says Alexander whose fashion week circuit begins in New York, followed by London then, immediately afterwards, Milan and Paris. A working day can start at 5am and not finish until 1am, “which doesn’t leave much time for eating, sleeping or resting”, she says. “Hence, when it comes to the end of Paris, everyone is sick.”

I stay for the Saunders show. The clothes are beautiful, the models glacial. The look features dramatic, Amy Winehouse-esque eyes, gleaming cheeks and matt lips. Afterwards, I overhear Mary Portas raving about her make-up to my new best friends at Mac but I’m too tired to sidle up and find out exactly which lipstick she can’t live without. I catch a cab to my hotel and sleep the sleep of the dead.

It’s an early start next day, with Mulberry’s show reimagining Claridge’s hotel as an old-fashioned seaside resort (the ticket is a cardboard ice-cream wafer that plays plinky-plonky music every time you open it). Outside, a van is serving pink lemonade and ice-cream sundaes; inside, balloons of zebras, giraffes and tigers fill the space, and even the visiting pooches are carrying Mulberry bags. Brix Smith-Start is here with her pug – which gets almost as much attention as the clothes on the catwalk (there are dogs there too, by the way). Kate Moss is in double denim and a black fedora, and Kristen Stewart is loyally wearing Mulberry. I pick up a goodie bag on the way out – inside is a press release and a pair of cardboard glasses spelling out: “Ooooooh!”

Holly Fulton next, mercifully held in the catwalk space at Somerset House. I know how to get there. Fleetwood Mac is playing backstage. A large fridge is filled with Vitamin Water. The make-up is “chic but trashy”, with traces of last night’s rubbed-in mascara and neutral lips. Someone calls out, “Where’s Holly?” I snigger, and picture the designer in a beanie hat and red striped jumper.

Out front, venerable fashion writers Suzy Menkes and Hilary Alexander take their seats, the latter in a full-length monochrome, unmistakeably Fulton creation. This is surely when you know you’ve arrived as a designer.

I manage to pick up a last-minute ticket for Marios Schwab, whose show is up next in the same venue, but it’s running 45 minutes late so I only just make it back to the hotel in time for dinner, followed by a couple of the bar’s famed martinis. They are so successful, in fact, that when it comes time to head out to the Mulberry party back at Claridge’s, even the promise of sherbet prosecco on tap and male models brandishing trays of prawn cocktails, mini burgers and fish and chips isn’t enough to tempt me from my bed.

Pringle is my first stop next morning. I dash across town to the venue but needn’t have bothered. We’re waiting for Tilda. And waiting. When the show eventually gets going, it’s standing-room only and, even on my tip-toess, I can only see the very tops of the models’ heads. And I’m already very, very late for Christopher Kane.

I jump in a cab, but it turns out Kane is running late too (every show runs fashionably late) and, by the time they usher the masses in, the show has started without us. It’s glorious, of course, though I suspect Vogue’s claim that it reduced some of the audience to tears is a little exaggerated.

And so to Erdem, at the Savoy. It’s all terribly civilised backstage, with silver urns carrying tea and coffee, plus trays of sandwiches (at last we can eat). Even Menkes is filing her copy from the ladies’ loo. The make-up is all scarlet lips, boyish brows and bold eyes.

It’s a key look for the season, according to Alexander. “Experiment with bright-coloured lip pencils such as oranges or reds in matt finish to create a bold, almost neon finish,” she advises. “Androgynous, brushed-up brows à la Brooke Shields were another really big focus. If you’re not brave enough to let yours grow in fuller, brush them up and set them with brow set to create a boyish finish.”

Samantha Cameron is in attendance at Erdem ... and is that the back of Anna Wintour’s helmet-head I spot over there? She’s looking a bit dominatrix in a black leather coat.

As I rush off afterwards – clutching my goody bag, containing Charles Worthington hair products – I almost knock Erin O’Connor off her platforms. She’s a vision in a full-length, tribal-print frock, stunningly beautiful and about ten feet tall. She smiles as I pass. I try to smile back, but end up yawning instead.

 

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