I often sense a special buzz around London in mid September and February. It lasts about a week in both months. I suddenly notice the tall girls walk around with their portfolios on their way to various appointments, especially as I work near Shoreditch or I might be hanging about town. It brings back memories. It makes me wonder how these girls are doing in their careers. The feeling of London Fashion Week actually gives me butterflies.
My first taste of London Fashion Week was during University. As a single parent, my mum worked really hard so my big brother and I could go to university in London. One day I was out shopping with my Didi (AKA my cousin who’s like my big sis) when we were stopped by a stylist in Covent Garden.
The stylist asked me if I would like to be part of the Red or Dead show. Remember Red or Dead? Since Red or Dead days, Wayne Hemingway who has since done some amazing work to promote design and small British brands.
We couldn’t quite understand what the stylist was talking about. She said she was street casting for models of South Asian origin and I fit the bill.We soon realised she was asking me to model in their Spring/Summer catwalk show for London Fashion Week. I looked at my cousin for some reassurance and said yes.
I had a little idea of what to expect from London Fashion Week. I knew of one other model through a friend. So being a geeky student I researched how London Fashion Week worked and what I could expect. Turning up at the Natural History Museum on the day of the show was pretty exciting. I was asked to get there in the morning although the show was taking place in the afternoon. I entered the backstage part of the museum through a big white marquee. I walked into the room rammed with clothes rails. It was bustling already even though I turned up on time. Down one side of the room sat the make up artists with all of their kit laid out.
To my surprise there were also lots of older ladies hanging around (I’m talking your typical grandma age). I was introduced to the backstage manager and she then allocated my dresser. This old lady was in charge of dressing me! She would pass me the clothes in the right order as I’d have to change outfits like Wonder Woman does her superhero twirl. We chatted for a bit and I remember her being lovely.
I looked around. Were there other normal people like me? As I started chatting to a few of the other ‘models’ I realised they were a mix of normal people and professionals. I looked around and spotted one really big London model. Then I spotted another Asian model who was a Bollywood star (you just knew!) It was cool how we were from all kinds of backgrounds.
I flicked through my clothes rail and the buzzing started. Not my mobile phone (we didn’t really have them in those days!) but the butterflies in my tummy. I was actually going to be walking down the catwalk in these clothes and alongside proper models. My favourite outfit was a navy long shorts set with a sailor feel. Thank goodness we didn’t have to wear stiletto heels. Just a pair of flat Indian leather sandals from Brick Lane and then some low block heels.
Rehearsals soon began. First we queued up and walked down in order. The lights were bright. The room was huge with hundreds of empty seats. At the end of the catwalk, I could see the set up for the cameras. This was really happening. Would they change their mind and ask me to go home? Who would be sitting on all of those seats? Would I trip up?
As we sometimes walked down in pairs you had to walk in time. I kind of had a walk figured out but wondered how others mastered their walk. The backstage manager talked to us about the feel of the show. No Christy Turlington 80s supermodel walk required. Wayne Hemingway wanted us to walk slow in a laid back way. Think cowboy mixed with Bollywood mixed with street wear. We were told that we could smile if we wanted.
All of the girls walked down on their own or in twos. Luckily I was paired up with a proper model for my first appearance so I could follow her steady pace down the catwalk. I soon realised there was one walk I’d be doing on my own. Yikes.
It was time to get ready. We then had our make up and hair done. I don’t remember there being much food around. Luckily I brought some food with me. I of course loved having my make up done. All of the girls, apart from the Bollywood model, had their hair slicked up in a Sikh style bun accessorised with really long plaits. I wasn’t too sure about the hair do though.
Everything had to run to schedule, no messing around. I had to concentrate. I kept myself to myself as I loved looking around. There were lots of people rushing around, everyone in charge of something. Although everyone seemed friendly, it wasn’t a place to hang out. I was here to do a job.
Time for the show to start. We all put on our first outfits. One of the songs they played was Brimful of Asia by Cornershop. A nice happy go lucky song. The butterflies were still there but I was also excited. I knew I could do this. No one out there would know that I was really a student.
It was soon my turn. I turned around the corner and there I was on the catwalk. Gliding along with a bouncy little walk. I wanted to see everything out there. I couldn’t help but look around as I walked down the catwalk. I loved taking it all in. The marquee was jam packed, the music was super loud and there were lots of camera flashes as we made our way to the bottom of the catwalk for a quick pause. I loved that pause.
I did it. My first walk. Now time to get changed into the next outfit. I had a few more walks to do and loved that I’d get out there again. This was the shy school girl who was picked on a lot at secondary school for how she looked (I was quite skinny as a kid).
I didn’t realise at the time but Red or Dead were being quite radical with this London Fashion Week show. Write ups in the national press talked about the use of real models from the South Asian descent. This show was also mentioned in a book Dangerous Designs: Asian Women Fashion the Diaspora Economies. Looking back, I was actually part of something important to my youth culture as a British born Asian.
One of the best things about being part of the Red or Dead show was that it gave me some great material to write about. My first proper piece of journalism for the London Student newspaper (apart from my work experience for Just Seventeen!) I was so chuffed when it was published. I couldn’t find my copy of this article, but it’s somewhere at my Mum’s. I can’t wait to show Big Munch the picture one day. Who knows what she will say.
I’ll be honest, I was hesitant about writing this post. I can be a but shy about talking about my fashion days. I don’t want people to think I’m all about looks, working for designers and modelling. There’s way more to me than that (but if you’ve explored Lucky Things you already know that).
During Uni I ended up doing more work in fashion. It became one of my first careers. Along with our IVF journey, I know I should feel proud that my time in fashion is part of me. It gave me confidence as one of the geeks at school. Best of all, a few years later, a friend from my fashion days introduced me to my future husband Mr H. I learned so much from my time in fashion, but hey, maybe that’s for another post.
What a better time to share this part of me as London Fashion Week comes to a close this weekend. Thanks to JustSayingMum who inspired me this week to write this post (she wrote a beautiful post on seeing her daughter’s first London Fashion Week show and I wish her the very best with it all).
Thanks for taking a look. Leave a comment below, I’d love to know what you think of this post.