Confessions of a London Fashion Week First Timer
Updated: Nov 11, 2018
With gas fumes fogging the air and sun in my eyes, I waited for the delayed opening of Xu Zhi’s London Fashion Week presentation. I stood somewhere in the middle of the press line, a Brazilian freelancer in front of me and two English writers behind me. From what I could see, I was at least ten years younger than the women (and the occasional man) in the queue. On the other side of the grand iron gate began the guest line. The bright colours and mix of patterns were marvellous compared to the muted neutrals and heavy fabrics the press line was flaunting. Aside from the different sub-clicks and styles, the distinction between the press (both writers and photographers included) and the influencers getting paparazzi-ed could not have been more polarised. However, unlike the strategic seating arrangements of the fashion shows, none of that mattered once inside Two Temple Place.
After just two months of freelancing as fashion journalist and just two weeks of living in London, I was invited with a press pass to Friday of London Fashion Week. To me, this was a milestone, albeit a symbolic one, but still a milestone in my fresh, new career. While it was less of a networking events than I anticipated, I still learned a lot. And in true writer-fashion, I wanted to share my experience with those curious about what goes on at this coveted event. I have just reached the very fringe of the fashion industry, but I am hoping my experiences can help demystify London Fashion Week a bit.
My first takeaway: the fashion industry is a lot nicer than the myths surrounding it make it seem. Opposed to the Devil-Wears-Prada-Stereotype, the professionals I spoke to were all approachable and helpful. They asked questions about my interests as a MA student and gave me tips on which designers I should look out for. They made jokes about their recent scuffles with security guards and gushed over celebrities they saw at other fashion shows. And most importantly, they gave me tips on fashion show etiquette and answered my burning questions. In fact, they were just as much excited for me as I was about being there. This is of course nothing groundbreaking as we all had the shared interest in fashion, but it did make me feel more at ease while there. It did require me strike up conversations with strangers, but the press line is definitely a place can see myself in.
This leads me to my next point, designer presentations might be the most relaxing part of Fashion Week. Opposed to the sought-after front row of fashion shows, fashion presentations allow everyone (who has an invite) to interact equally with the collection. Of course the occasional professional photographer will demand the attention of particular models, but the layout of the sets allow for everyone to have an equal view of the scene. For me, this was a chance to slow down, taken in the environment and photograph at my own pace, making mental notes of the particular features that stoond out to me. Part editorial photoshoot part still-life, Xu Zhi’s presentation, for example, which stretched over two stories of a late Victorian mansion on the Thames, created Romantic sets with stain glass windows and tasselled femininity. I think the prolonged interactions between the garments and the viewer only enhanced the strength of Xu Zhi’s poetic construction of his fashionable, fictive world.
Along a similar notion, London Fashion Week also taught me how to shuffle through a crowd. This seems a bit arbitrary and a little ridiculous, but the many fashion writer will advocate its importance during a full week of queues and tight schedules. Whether outside waiting to get in or inside at a particularly busy presentation (they are all busy, mind you), the shuffle gets you where you need to be in a polite and docile manner. It is not a concert or a football pitch, stealthy manuring is vital if you want to get the best shot, even if it means crouching in front of an eager clique of fashionistas. And as a ad hoc motion, I must also suggest to wear comfortable shoes. If you are at Fashion Week to do more than get a staged photo of you leaving the fashion show that everyone who is anyone is going to, leave the stilettos at home. There is a reason everyone advises against them and after a full day on my feet in Dr Martens I fully back this clause.
It feels a bit silly now to admit it, but I also worried way too much about what I was wearing. In hindsight, I could have spared me the mini-meltdown. In the end, I wore a second-hand plissé chiffon Ganni dress I cut into a shirt, Issa London tropical sheer trousers I found at an outlet, an oversized jeans jacket I had for years and a Calvin Klein bag with an And Other Stories removable strap. If you know me, you know I am a sucker for a statement pant, so it wasn’t much of an upgrade from what I normally wear. Instead, I felt comfortable and true to myself. While my appearance does reflect my own quasi-brand image as a young writer, I want my writing to make me stand out and not my it bag. While I respect the growing importance of influencers in the fashion industry, I don’t think that’s my niche in the fashion industry and am happy working as press. So with my wallflower-like trousers on, I felt both genuine to myself and my work while also fitting in with press line cloaked in black.
My last point, but possible the most important, is to drink plenty of water. Very simple, but I failed to do so while I got wrapped up in the buzz. London during Fashion Week and the Design Biennale is inspiring and sweeps you up, if you don’t feel healthy you won’t be able to enjoy that much. I unfortunate fell ill Friday morning and after just a few hours of walking around, was completely exhausted and extremely dehydrated. Even if I wanted to, I never would have made it to the grand after parties of London Fashion Week. Spare yourself and bring a water bottle. You will be schlepping around so much press information, camera equipment, and free handouts that a bottle won’t make that much of a difference.
Overall, my experience with a press pass has given me a lot to consider about the size and intensity of the fashion industry. In London, around 46,400 people are employed in the field and is estimated to be worth £32 billion. It is huge and, therefore, makes it one of the biggest industries in the United Kingdom. But from what I experienced, the network is very tight and difficult to break into to. Like I said, I am still very much at the beginning of my writing career and far from understanding everything there is to know about the fashion industry. So, if I want to advance with my fashion writing, I will need to commit fully to it with all the ups and downs it may bring. Now the only question that remains is: Is fashion what I really want to do?
Love & Rockets,