12 September 2023

Catwalk confidential: Behind the scenes secrets from London Fashion Week

12 September 2023

For the A-listers who sit on the front row, fashion shows are a delight.

All they have to do is choose an outfit (usually provided by the designer), have their photo taken, watch the models parade down the runway and go to the after-party (if they want to).

For the professionals tasked with bringing a designer’s catwalk vision to life, it’s a different story.

Stylists, hair and make-up artists, producers, dressers and model agents spend months in planning, working together on the big day to create a (hopefully) flawless fashion spectacle.

Even for the editors and influencers attending a whole season of shows, fashion month (which spans New York, London, Milan and Paris) can be a gruelling endeavour – though you wouldn’t know it from all the glam Instagram posts and street style snaps.

Ahead of London Fashion Week (starting September 15), we asked four fashion week regulars to tell us what really goes on at the shows…

It’s not easy to secure an invite

Unless they’re one of the lucky few invited by a brand, attendees have to apply for tickets to catwalk shows and hope they make the cut.

“There’s a real hierarchy,” says celebrity fashion stylist Miranda Holder.

“It’s who you are and what you can offer the designer in terms of prestige, whether you’re a celebrity who’s going to sit on the front row, or whether you can place their designs on some really key players.”

And show spaces are getting smaller, says presenter and fashion and art producer Ryan Lanji: “After the pandemic, I think fashion realised it was an opportunity to actually cull the amount of people who saw the show.”

Backstage is stressful

“Chaos,” is how John Bruce, director of PRM model agency, describes the atmosphere backstage at a catwalk show.

“You’ve got hair and make-up, you’ve got dressers, you’ve got assistants of the dressers, you’ve got the designer checking up on everything…

“There are models going missing, models not answering their phone, clients screaming at us, ‘Where is she?'”

While it’s the clothes designers want to showcase, the whole show hinges on getting models runway-ready in time.

“You can have a model coming in two hours late and they have to be on the runway in, like, 20 minutes,” says fashion and film make-up artist Craig Hamilton.

“And they’ve come in with, let’s say, a black smoky eye, but the look that you’re meant to be creating is like ‘no make-up make-up’.”

It’s all about attention to detail

Because catwalk images are potentially going to be viewed by millions of people, models must look flawless from head to toe.

“If we’re doing a summer collection, we have to look at the whole body for bruises, cuts, discolouration on the legs, the arms, the neck – we have to cover all of that,” Hamilton says.

But when everything goes to plan, it’s a joy to behold.

“It’s honestly like a really crazy beehive kind of feel – like you’re watching all these people do exactly what they need to do, in order to support the larger picture,” Lanji says.

“It creates a beautiful harmony that is worth experiencing, even as an assistant or an intern.”

You’ve got to have a thick skin

Almost everything happens at the last minute in the fashion world, so you’ve got to be prepared for some lows alongside the highs.

“I’ve flown to Milan and been booked for shows, and then lost a few of them,” Hamilton says. “I ended up not making much money because I got dropped at the last minute, and that’s quite disheartening, but it’s just how the cookie crumbles.”

Another time, he had to cope with a dressing down from a designer who wasn’t happy with the lipstick he’d done on a model.

“He was like, ‘What the f**k is this lip? This is not it, Craig’. It was very stressful, because I couldn’t see what I’d done wrong, and that can be very frustrating.”

There are celebrities everywhere 

Even fashion industry folk get starstruck sometimes.

Holder recalls meeting actor Amy Adams at an after-party: “She just kind of glowed on the front row, and then at the party afterwards. She didn’t seem to have much make-up on or anything, but she was so polished, she seemed almost ethereal.”

Make-up artists in particular have to get up close and personal with major celebrities.

“If you do get starstruck, you have to really hide that,” Hamilton says. “I’ve been moisturising people’s legs and looked up and it’s been, like, Eva Longoria. I’m oiling her leg, like, ‘Hello, don’t mind me!'”

It’s not as glamorous as it looks

“I don’t know who told you it’s glamorous, but I don’t see that,” says Hamilton with a laugh.

Bruce agrees: “Sadly, no, there is no glamour. It’s months and months of hard work, boiled down to five minutes on the runway.”

…but it’s worth it in the end

“There is just nothing that beats the energy in that room, particularly when it’s a fantastic collection,” says Holder.

Even more so when it’s a show you’ve worked on, she adds: “It’s a real high. It is a theatre production, there’s no doubt about it.”

Whether you’re peeking from backstage or sitting in the audience, the atmosphere when the lights go down is electric, Lanji says: “Designers really go the whole nine yards to create a world – you feel like you’re transported to that world for a hot minute.”

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