London Fashion Week inevitably starts with the red-eye flight from Dublin. When the alarm goes off at 5am, I vow to fly out a day earlier next season. Fog at Heathrow causes a slight delay, so there’s no time to freshen up at the hotel, it’s straight to the shows. First up is Teatum Jones and bespoke fabrics are applied to modern silhouettes to stunning effect. I pop backstage and see the hair and make-up teams frantically working against the clock as a choir rehearses in the corner. They will later provide the backing track to the models gliding down the catwalk.
A quick stop-off in the Maybelline Lounge helps restore some much-needed energy. They even provide a little make-up touch-up to hide the early morning flight. Brand ambassador Jourdan Dunn sweeps in and does a quick piece-to-camera for Maybelline’s in-house camera team. As she towers above me, I suddenly regret wearing flats.
Next up is the Shrimps Presentation. Backstage, I talk to Michelle Humphrey, the Maybelline nail technician, who explains the nails were inspired by the fur scarves, which are accentuated by a strong pearl detail. Small pearls are applied to the nail bed, just beside the cuticle. The attention to detail is impressive. We squeeze into a small show space for the presentation where ten or so models stand like mannequins displaying the clothes. It gets a bit overcrowded as more and more journalists push through, so I make a quick getaway.
A break between shows means time to recharge. As the sun is shining, it’s a joy to sit out in the courtyard with a sparkling water and absorb the crowd of style mavens mingling with tourists who happen upon the show space. This is people-watching like you’ve never seen it before. Many simply turn up to just get their picture taken. They don’t have tickets to the shows, but their main aim is to hit as many fashion blogs as they possibly can. Susie Bubble is filming for BBC Culture, but keeps getting interrupted by fellow bloggers wanting a selfie. Stay here long enough, and some of the biggest names in fashion might just stroll by. I spy Christian Louboutin walking along, largely unnoticed.
A quick stop at Christopher Raeburn closes the show schedule for day one. We pass Susie Bubble and her crew popping backstage as we leave (I swear, she’s following us). I also catch up with the designer’s PR, whom I met in Land Rover Discovery a few months earlier in Birmingham (but that’s a whole other story). His parents have a home in Ballycotton, so we bonded over summer holidays.
Finally arrive in St Martins Lane Hotel for a quick shower and change before dinner downstairs in Asia de Cuba with Aoife Murtagh, the PR for L’Oréal Paris, and Lisa Cannon, who has been hard at work covering the shows for TV3’s Xposé. After a delicious meal and fun conversation, we head out to the Maybelline party in Treadwell’s, hosted by Jourdan Dunn. Her favourite DJ, Dublin-born Annie Mac, is belting out the tunes as we arrive. The Moët is flowing and the crowd is enjoying a successful first day down.
The tiredness (nothing to do with the Moët) hits, but a protein-rich breakfast helps to ease the pain. First up is Lulu & Co and I meet Syd Hayes, who is doing the hair backstage for L’Oréal Paris. A total pro, he talks me through the look, which is a 1990s grunge-inspired knot. He undoes an intricate knot, while offering stellar soundbites, while also advising his team. I’m entranced by his multitasking, but then again that could have been the hairspray fumes. The look is fun and inspired by circuit boards. The shoes are specially commissioned Louboutins in matching fabrics, and tinsel-like earrings provide some eye-catching accents.
Julien Macdonald’s show is held in the Royal Opera House and the dramatic show space (and very high ceilings) mean there’s more room to breathe and things appear much calmer backstage. Seamstresses are adding finishing touches to one of the show-stopping wedding gowns, and the steamer’s working overtime to make sure every garment is show-ready. If Julien’s head is about to spin off his shoulders (as I imagine it must be), he certainly doesn’t show it. I’m also impressed with how he interacts with his team, directing them confidently, but also politely. I catch up with make-up artist extraordinaire Val Garland, who is sporting a badge that reads “Bossy Bitch”. She lives up to the moniker, but in a good way. She talks me through the make-up look, while barking orders at her team. Her experience and artistry allows her a little extra leeway. I note that her table is marked with Val Garland ticker tape and comment it looks like a crime scene, and she responds deadpan, “that’s because it usually is”. The models line up behind the black curtain and I get to watch in great detail what goes into the preparation for a show. Julien is front and centre, checking each of the models and changing the order to make it just right. The photographers backstage get a bit feisty as they climb over each other to get the same shot. I want to tell them to behave, but bite my tongue. When the models return from their finale, Julien makes a short but very sweet speech, thanking everyone for all their hard work.
One frantic taxi drive later, we end up at Seymour Leisure Centre for the Hunter show. As the creative director is Alasdhair Willis, Stella McCartney’s husband, the FROW is particularly impressive. Anna Wintour is seated beside Stella and Paul McCartney. Chrissie Hynde, Rita Ora and Jamie Campbell Bower are all well positioned too. While the celebs are impressive, I’m more fixated on the venue and set. We’re sitting over a swimming pool and before the show starts, I can hear the shrill of children splashing about. I fall hard for the lavender and khaki rainwear and dream of spring showers. Too early? Perhaps.
Next it’s on to the Farmiloe Building for Joseph and a quick catch-up with Sharon Dowsett, Maybelline’s lead make-up artist backstage. We’ve met many times over the years, and I’ve yet to see her flustered or even flushed. She could talk a purist into trying the wildest of make-up trends. Thankfully, Joseph’s look is quite clean and achievable. The clothes are a lesson in intricate simplicity, so Sharon matches that with a make-up look that looks easy but takes time to perfect. I leave her to it.
Whistles showcase their collection in one of the most unusual venues – King’s Cross Tunnel – a brand new Tube station. Security is tight and it’s a true case of if your name’s not down, you’re not coming in. Downstairs, you can see why. The space is tight and backstage is cramped. Olivia Palermo and Alexa Chung drop by to see the looks, which feature monochrome tailoring, laser-cut leathers, and holographic shift dresses.
After a long day on the circuit, dinner in Balthazar is a much-needed reprieve. Despite this being a competitive industry, the Irish contingency get on much better than some like to believe. I meet two of the girls from Irish Tatler for supper, who fill me in on their adventures. We might not share content or leads anytime soon, but we’re happy to share moules-frites and the most delicious raspberry soufflé. Despite being in the heart of Covent Garden, a hectic schedule means it’s an early night for all.
I curse the call time of 7am for Preen, but once I get to the location (City of Westminster College) and recharge with a Lavazza coffee that’s handed to me as I get into the lift (nice touch, BTW), I’m back in the fashion zone. Backstage is one of the calmest and most organised I’ve witnessed to date. The designers, Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi, look like they’re enjoying the build-up to show time. DJ Yasmina kicks off the tunes, which herald in what is soon to become my favourite show of the week. When it’s all over, I accost the buyers from Brown Thomas I’ve spotted across the catwalk, and beg them to buy it all.
As I leave Preen, a Russian model, with little English, urges me to explain to her irate chauffeur that she doesn’t know London and can he not just pull up outside. My maternal instincts kick in, and I take the phone ready to give him a piece of my mind when he explains he’s 50 yards away but can’t get over to her because of the traffic. He flashes his lights so we can see him and she skips away happy. Posing for fashion fans on the way. My own driver arrives on time and ushers me to One Great George Street for the Matthew Williamson show. I meet Charlotte Tilbury, who talks me through the look, using all Benefit products. She is overly generous with her time, and I spot my UK counterparts seething at the length of time I get with her. All’s fair in love and fashion, dahlings. I also get to catch up with Matthew Williamson himself, who oozes calmness, but confesses he’s feeling anything but. When I take my seat for the show, I realise why: this is a big one. The photographers scramble for space on the podium, and I’m pretty sure someone’s about to lose an eye. Cat Deeley’s hair is lit up by a spotlight, and I can’t help thinking she’s earned that lucrative hair product contract. Poppy Delevingne and Lady Mary Charteris cause a stir, but the guest of honour is Marie Helvin, whose photographs inspired the collection. Nicole Scherzinger arrives last minute, leaving camera flashes in her wake. Finally, the show can start. I make a mental note to pre-order a teal green silk shirt that’s expertly teamed with a bright lemon lace skirt. It shouldn’t work, but it does. I instantly feel like I need more colour in my life. That’s the beauty of Williamson’s work.
A quick dash into David Koma sees some gorgeous geometric shapes and see-through panels provide a collection that’s sporty yet sophisticated. A crystal embellished crop top is the stuff that fashion dreams are made of. Unfortunately, I have to catch a flight home to get back to the day job. I lament missing Simone Rocha’s hotly anticipated show on the closing day, but if I don’t take my leave now, the October issue may never hit the shelves. Besides, there’s always next season …
Rosaleen McMeel, editor, IMAGE Magazine @rosiemcmeel