What’s London Fashion Week Really Like Behind The Scenes?

An honest look behind the mirage of London fashion week - from the beautiful, glossy exterior, to frantic, ugly scenes in the wings, Lotte Leseberg Smith learns how fantasy becomes reality.

Behind London Fashion Week

An honest look behind the mirage of London fashion week – from the beautiful, glossy exterior, to frantic, ugly scenes in the wings, Lottie Leseberg Smith learns how fantasy becomes reality.

A favourite fashion journalist technique is to flirt with their reader with titles like this one, promising to give you the coveted ‘behind the scenes’ angle. They promise to tell you what really happens by tearing down the glossy facade. But they never do. At best, they give you a list of celeb names they saw, as some kind of catnip. The doors are still closed, the barriers remain.

Opening his last ever show, Virgil Abloh’s voice was heard, ‘We are meant to share the codes. There is something wrong with the culture.’ So why is the industry so secretive? Why all the smoke and mirrors?

I went behind the scenes and I will now tell all. From the glorious highs to the anxious lows.

Behind London Fashion Week

I arrived for an 8am start at the mammoth warehouse ‘Magazine London’, to what’s essentially a film set complete with crane machinery for cameras, a green room for hair and make-up, and a vast stage ready for the spectacle of David Koma’s Autumn/Winter ‘22 show. I walked towards the stage to see people crouched over pods of grass set across the floor, manicuring and clipping, placing a little bit of mud here and there, on their hands and knees in devotion.

The precision and the energy of the entire production is astounding. The model choreographers, the casting, the lighting, the cameramen, the tech team, the chefs, the models, and David Koma himself made a cast of at least 60 people to finalise months of preparation.  

London Fashion Week

At Paul and Joe, I was assigned to a model. You usually get assigned to one, and today mine was Rasheikh, who’s done four shows this season, today being his last because he has college tomorrow. He watches TV on his phone whilst we wait for the show to begin, cool as a cucumber whilst I’m busy fretting whether his polo jumper is turned over enough. 

I’m starting to learn that fashion shows are Fordism at its very best: everyone has their own, very specific role to play that has to be done to exacting perfection to create a beautiful result. And it’s perfect.

When you watch a fashion show, you’re in a perfectly curated version of someone’s dream. They can even distort time on these sets, presenting collections in deep winter, but that make you feel like it’s summer: floating dresses, music and make-up.

In these moments throughout the week, I thought of Carrie Bradshaw’s line in Sex and the City, ‘Every spring the women of New York make the foolish choice to set their pasts behind and look to the future – this is known as fashion week.’ And whilst Carrie usually says little to nothing of note, this really sticks with me.

Though it was brilliant and joyful to play behind the scenes, there was something bizarre seeing the hidden machinery of a world that only ever looks perfect. I  wonder what my role is, if not simply an outsider.

This feeling goes into overdrive once I attend more shows and afterparties. The ‘foolish’ feeling is heightened and you realise being yourself isn’t an option. When the show starts the lights go down and a constellation of bright phone screens rise up, illuminate their owners’ faces, tracking the models walking past.

There’s no reflection, consideration, or time taken to joyfully contemplate the spectacle you had the pleasure of viewing.

People sip their complimentary champagne and look over their shoulders, shifting about in their heels, pulling at their skirts. Do they look happy? No. Worried? Yes. An underlying anxiety fills the room. We’re shown a perfected future: it’s not real and it’s not nourishing. We feel we’re not enough. The fashion industry’s greatest trick is to sell the dream – you are not enough, so buy this. 

Behind London Fashion Week

Another anxiety bubbles up then pops as you realise if you don’t post your ‘content’ immediately, your image’s worse than just late, it’s irrelevant. It’s a race to post a simple review, to flag that you attended. There’s no reflection, consideration, or time taken to joyfully contemplate the spectacle you had the pleasure of viewing.

But when all’s said and done and the flashbulb of alluring glamour’s worn out, what can I tell you? What did I learn? Is it worth it? Do I prefer sitting behind the glass door that says no entry, where it’s safe? After all, it is far easier to play the role of critic, sitting at the sidelines, than to bravely dive into the arena.

In a game of who’s who, The Devil Wears Prada edition, I’m decidedly stuck between Miranda and Andy. Do I point my nose in the air, and purr, ‘Don’t be ridiculous Andrea, everybody wants to be us’, or do I throw my phone in the fountain and walk away?

I think of my younger self who would’ve happily murdered someone to do what I did during LFW, and quite honestly I feel heartbroken. Within it all, I felt lost, and now my relationship with fashion and the industry is more complicated and confused than ever before. Rather than being part of something and feeling comfortable that everyone else around me loves the same things I do, I feel lost. I love the creation, the art, the clothes, the spectacle, and part of me loves being behind the scenes and watching it. The other half hates the crushing reality of seeing under the covers and being part of the posturing circus that accompanies a fashion show.

I now understand why the industry is so secretive. It actively thrives off hiding behind closed doors but letting just enough light in, just enough to intrigue. To think how many hours I spent pouring over Vogue when I was younger, but having had the chance to finally see it for myself, the spell’s been broken.

And maybe that’s why we don’t see behind the scenes. Parts are not manicured, parts are even ugly, parts are moving benches, screwing in light bulbs and putting models’ feet into shoes. Fashion is pure fantasy. Any element of reality’s a shocking contrast, and should remain hidden to keep the dream alive. Admittedly, I’m much more comfortable with the perfect, glossy version on the outside, the dream. 

Behind London Fashion Week

And I’m not ashamed to admit that I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. The highs were worth it, and I would lay my life on the line to breathe the same air as one of the fashion greats. David Koma asked me a question about when models will get their makeup touch ups, and I nearly passed out in excitement. 

The end result: eight minutes of pure fantasy, completely removed from your current state, is a wonder. To have a small part in, and even just observing, this form of living art was a dream come true, suspending reality for a moment. The crash was worth the high.

See you next fashion season.

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