As London Fashion Week kick starts, we delve into the world of backstage. If you think it's all glitz and glamour, think again…
It's mayhem before it starts
"We had 70 models fly into London for AW19," says model booker Daniel Robson. "So we start arranging flights, accommodation and visas months in advance."
But the creative process for hair, make-up and nails starts days or even the night before a show. "I receive references in advance but during the 'test' – a sort of trying on session with a model – we work up ideas with the designer and conceive a look that will complement the collection and help set a new tone for the season," explains Val.
Preparation for leading nail artists, like Sabrina Gayle, who worked on Bora Aksu and Roberta Einer’s AW19 shows, is painstaking: "If there are 25 to 30 models in a show, I will prep 350 nail tips. But you never know exactly what a designer wants until a few days before."
And hairstylist Tina Outen, whose team worked on 440 models over 14 London shows, explains that even when hair pieces are prepared and approved at the test, they still have to be cut and colour matched to the models backstage.
"This was the case at Izzue [who showed at LFW for the first time this season]. Luckily I had a big team with me!"
The days are long
If a fashion show starts at 9am, the call-time for the hair, make-up and nail teams to convene backstage is usually quite uncivilised. "My earliest this season was 5.45am, which was brutal," says Val. "But I am used to an early call-time on the Saturday and then, at the other end of the day, Gareth Pugh wouldn’t normally start until 8pm. After that I would have to get across town to do a fitting for Erdem at 10pm, followed by a 6am call-time on Sunday. It’s tough but you always knew it would be, you just get on with it."
It’s no wonder 20,000 cups of espresso were downed during LFW this year. "There's a frenetic energy backstage in London," according to Val. "I suppose so much of it is done on a shoestring, we squeeze every drop out of everything. You get invited to all the parties, yes – but you can’t go. You’ve got to be ready for the next day. My assistants might go – not that they would ever tell me."
And while most beauty pros get from one venue to another using the tube, or by car or taxi, when you have back-to-back shows like Val, a motorbike is your best bet: "I love to have the wind in my hair for ten to 20 minutes between shows – it’s like, 'And breathe'."
You have to fuel up
Expect a plethora of Pret's finest backstage at most shows – but some designers go the extra mile. "Vivienne Westwood always has a good spread," says Val. "It feels like a relation has done the cooking – everything is organic and vegetarian. Chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, that sort of thing."
And nail artist Sabrina Gayle gives Bora Aksu a special mention for its gourmet salad pots: "They’re so good! Japanese and Mediterranean flavours."
You need to be fit
'Fashion week flu' is a thing, but the backstage stalwarts know how to boost their immunity and energy levels. "I take vitamins B12 and D," says Nella. And Sabrina depends on vitamin C and echinacea to keep her going: "Although, for the past year I’ve been taking Perfectil supplements," she tells us. "Which have everything I need and they maintain the strength of my nails."
Val admits to drinking "gallons" of tea. "I have to bring my own tea bags with me when we move on to Milan and Paris, but it never tastes the same – it’s the water. But if I’m run down I sometimes drink bicarbonate of soda and hot water. I also take Lumity supplements and I carry crystals around with me – rose quartz, fool's gold, pewter and amethyst. It might sound silly, but a little protection at fashion week is a good idea.”