Tales from the second row: what it’s like attending Fashion Week as a 'normal' person
Outside of weddings and Christmas, there aren’t many occasions when it’s acceptable to drink champagne on a weekday morning.
But at 11.30am, I find myself in a dark basement in central London, a Babycham in one hand, the music of 60s pop star Raffaella Carra booming out of the speakers and a stream of models in giant ombre feathered ballgowns and beaded catsuits shimmies past me. Brexit? What Brexit? On Friday, British-Italian brand 16Arlington brought the party to London Fashion Week, and it didn’t stop until Tuesday, when the models, buyers, editors and influencers decamped to Milan for the next leg of fashion month.
Of course, fashion week isn’t all glamour and champagne. Without the car service provided to the top brass at each of the glossy magazines, I commuted on a scorching bus, sweat trickling down my back as I blotted my makeup every five minutes. All but the VIPs have to hang around outside for up to 45 mins, using our paper invitations as a fan in the mini-heatwave.
Many of the events were held in the centre of the city, but for added spectacle, some designers chose to stage their shows further afield. Simone Rocha presented her collection in Alexandra Palace, up a steep hill in north London. It was a bold move, inviting guests to travel for over an hour for a 15-minute show, but in this case, it was worth the trek.
The Irish ruled the week, starting with Rocha’s show, which was inspired by the wren boys: the dusty venue recalled the faded grandeur of old country houses, while Rocha drew on her Irish-Chinese heritage with embroidered dresses reminiscent of the blue china at Birr castle, a nod to the Earl of Rosse, who married the Chinese designer Anna Lin.
Over Anna Wintour’s immaculate bob, I watched an all-star cast including Jessie Buckley, Olwen Fourere and Charlene McKenna model Rocha’s exquisite pieces, illustrating how her girlish designs can be worn by all ages, shapes and sizes — a refreshing change from the usual procession of size-zero teenagers.
Derry-born designer JW Anderson was another highlight, from the beautiful draped dresses with crystal bras to the silver lamé capes to the thrillingly star-studded front row: I gasped when I realised it was Christina Aguilera hiding behind an enormous pair of sunglasses, sitting between Billy Porter and Maisie Williams. Another front row regular is the Irish writer and disability advocate Sinead Burke, who I spotted wearing custom Victoria Beckham.
Off the catwalk, the style pageant continues, somehow bigger and flashier each season. Many attendees — and chancers who turn up simply to pose outside the venues — dress to be seen (and snapped; in some cases, by their own photographers) but without the budget or the inclination, I stick to practical shirtdresses or a t-shirt and trousers with flat sandals.
On the final day, Extinction Rebellion took to the streets for a funeral march, while Vin + Omi unveiled a collection made using nettles from Prince Charles’s Highgrove garden. As the show opened — with the voice of Debbie Harry roaring, “Screw each other, but don’t f*** the planet!” — the mood was hopeful, with the design duo showcasing exciting new eco-textiles.
Sustainability was at the forefront at Richard Quinn, too, where the young designer, whose parents hail from Meath and Donegal, turned to digital printing techniques to eliminate waste in creating his signature florals, modelled by a show-stopping Erin O’Connor. In an old sport’s hall reeking of chlorine, I was transported by the breath-taking finale: a model strode onto the pink carpet in a white feather hood and floral dress, followed by a gaggle of schoolgirls wearing matching outfits, like little feathered ducklings. When the curtain behind them dropped to reveal a stage set with a leafy tableau of bridalwear, it felt like the ultimate fairytale ending. Now, back to Brexit…