'HOW would you feel," wonders Anna Freemantle, "about wearing a G-string?" This is the sort of question you can ask when you are running a catwalk show, especially one which combines fashion with art and all kinds of edginess.
"Let me show you my tan marks first," says Danni Menzies. "You don't want a white arse on the runway, do you?"
This is the sort of reply you give when you are a model in the show and daundering around in the smallest of smalls is second nature.
It's Friday evening and we are backstage at Noir! in Hawke and Hunter, a nightclub in Edinburgh. Noir! is a fashion show/live gig/art happening modelled loosely on Andy Warhol's Factory in the sense that it's a coming together of artists, musicians, beautiful people, freaks and uncategorisable undiscovered geniuses to drink, stay up late, create and present their work. And even though Noir! is run by the Dutch model Anna Freemantle and her husband Jonathan, a South African painter, little flashes of true Edinburghness keep peeping through. When Edie Sedgwick asked the Factory crowd how her hair looked, I'm guessing that Candy Darling never once replied, "Barrie!"
The Freemantles started Noir! as a showcase for local talent and because they feel that the excitement and energy of the Edinburgh Festival is sadly absent from the city at other times of the year. Anna is 30, over six feet in heels, her blonde hair cropped close at the sides, androgynous and ice-maideny in that Tilda Swinton sort of way. She has had a very successful modelling career, working the international circuit beside the likes of Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. "Because I started later than a lot of girls, I was able to keep my head screwed on," she says. "I could rationalise it and look at it from a distance and say, 'Okay, I'm having lunch with Tom Cruise now, but tomorrow I'll be back in my flat'." She and her husband have a two year old son, Maximillian. Tonight's event is the sixth Noir! and has attracted around 300 people.
Few of the paying punters look like they are about to storm the fashion barricades. Other than one woman wearing a splendid Homburg, it seems very much the little-black-dress and cocktails-after-work crowd. A few of the men, like myself, seem to have attempted a Mad Men look, but most, again like me, have ended up more Con-Dem. We aim for Don Draper, but have to settle for George Osborne. Such is life.
Backstage is much more interesting from a people-watching point of view. There are seven models in the show, including Anna, getting ready in a couple of small rooms and a narrow corridor. One room is dedicated to hair and make-up. It's the place to go if you enjoy breathing hairspray and listening to loud dance music.
Freddy Antabi, the hair stylist, is an espresso of a man – small and intense. It's fascinating to watch him work. He has such a clear focus on the models and makes tiny adjustments to their hair with his fingers, satisfying himself that he has achieved perfection before moving on to the next person. He seems more artist than barber.
The tiny upstairs room is where most people are hanging out. There's a shoogly table, a toilet that doesn't work, and loads of models sitting around on stools in various degrees of readiness. Hair-nets are de rigueur, as is nipping out the back for a fag. The stylist Ian Tod, who has a unicorn tattooed on his right arm, is busy winding shiny black bondage-tape round limbs, breasts and throats. At the last Noir! event, gaffer tape was applied to nipples in a thick X, but this was rather unpleasant on the skin, and so bondage-tape, which has no adhesive, is now preferred. Yesterday, Anna Freemantle was being photographed in wedding dresses; today she has her legs wrapped tightly in a fetish accessory. This is the life of a model.
It's a life that involves a great deal of waiting around. Lots of preparation goes into shows which pass in a flash, and the models get used to filling the empty hours. It's not particularly glamorous or sexy. "Oh," moans Danni Menzies, wearer of the G-string, "I'm full of Red Bull and crisps."
"Typical model diet," says Emma Wilson, examining her bright green fingernails.
"I always mean to bring salad or fruit or nuts," says Danni, "but it never happens."
A young man walks into the room. He's wearing a top hat, a golden cape with a collar of Arctic fox fur, and a cravat fastened with a brooch made from a stuffed hummingbird. He has an urgent query. "Have all the sandwiches gone?"
This is James Faulkner, a star in the making. He calls himself a "rogue milliner" and this is his first catwalk show; the shoogly table is covered in his creations – 33 spectacular hats decorated with feathers, fur, bits of tweed, lace, silk, and military buttons. The twist is that all the materials are vintage or found. The further twist is that in the case of the feathers and fur, Faulkner sometimes uses roadkill. Attached to the front of one hat, made from a military gator, is a starling that he found by the A835 near Ullapool. Another hat, featuring no less than four vulpine heads, was not completed in time for this show. Its working title is For Fox Sake.
As well as from the sides of the nation's highways, Faulkner sources his pelts and feathers from George Bower, a butcher and poulterer in Stockbridge, from old stoles, and from friends who hunt. None of his materials, he stresses, come from animals that were killed to order.
The 27-year-old has enjoyed a lot of coverage recently from the US media. "It's funny having all this attention," he says, "and I don't even have a studio space yet. I keep thinking, 'But I'm still making hats in my bedroom!' My flatmates are very understanding. In our freezer just now there's a pheasant, two crows, a rabbit, a fox, a loaf of bread, a pizza and a box of peas."
A former child model for the Freemans catalogue, Faulkner is a graduate in fine art and art history. As a child growing up in Bradford, he loved to play with his great-grandfather's bowler hats and pop-up opera topper. "Life is so much better in fancy dress," he says, an attitude that has never left him. He is flamboyant and funny, and carries in his pocket an antique wallet made from the claw of an alligator which frightens old ladies in the Post Office when he goes in to buy stamps.
Yet Faulkner has his moments of darkness. "I suffer from depression and anxiety," he says, "but when I'm being creative I'm not plagued by my thoughts or how I feel. My emotions get put on hold and before I know it I've spent eight hours of my day making something. I suddenly realise, 'Oh, I've not had a dark thought today.' The work gives me a purpose."
Noir! is full of interesting folk. The prop-maker Kevin Thornton, for instance, whose sinister kinetic puppets made from cardboard, bubble-wrap and rawl-plugs are on either side of the stage. And then there's the artist Rachel Maclean whose video piece – featuring herself as Lady Gaga and Paris Hilton – plays above the DJ booth. I also meet Asta Petkunaite, singer with the band Top Hat, who are making their live debut. Though she is half Lithuanian and half Russian, Asta has a knack of channelling Barbara Windsor. When I compliment her enormous fake eyelashes, she replies, in broad Cockney, "Summink for the boys, innit?"
As showtime approaches, the tension builds. There isn't much space in which to work, and there's some jockeying for position. Freddy Antabi wants access to the corridor leading to the stage in order to make last-minute adjustments to hair. But Ian Tod wants to keep this space clear for quick changes. "We're not allowed in the corridor?" Antabi asks his assistant, incredulously. "Yes, we are! Bring the hairspray!"
Meanwhile, Tod is checking the girls are wearing the correct clothes in the correct way. "Oh," he says to one. "You've got your pants on backwards."
As well as Faulkner's hats, the models are wearing cashmere pieces from Belinda Robertson's new collection. Roadkill hats, cashmere knickers, and bondage-tape is a surprisingly winning look. You wouldn't wear it to the Post Office, even if you had your alligator-claw purse to hand, but it's very dramatic on stage. The models strut down the runway, their coltish silhouettes striking in the dry ice and camera flash, to whoops and applause from the crowd. A few of those George Osborne types howl baboonishly at the flesh on display and hoist their pints aloft. At the end, Faulkner processes in triumph down the catwalk, hand in hand with Anna Freemantle, topper cocked and cape swishing.
Backstage, minutes after the end of the show, the floor is littered with bondage-tape and the models are dressing to go. James Faulkner, thoroughly modern milliner, is putting his hats back in their boxes. "I got carried away," he says of his appearance on the stage. "It really is a long time since I modelled for Freemans."