Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Backstage Pass

You might remember the competition I entered and won a couple of months ago. My prize was being assigned writer for Brighton Fashion Weekend (backstage access and all). Whilst it's yet to be published on the Brighton Frocks website, for which I wrote the article, I've been given the go ahead to publish it right here just for you friendly folks. More of my photos from the weekend can be found here (though you'll probably agree that I squeezed quite enough in here).

“There’s quite a buzz here, isn’t there?” called out Carlo Ricciardi (AKA Robbie, model co-ordinator), referring to the bustling backstage area of Brighton‘s Hilton Metropole Hotel. I felt like telling him what a massive understatement I thought that to be but, in truth, I can’t even be certain that the surely rhetorical question was directed at me as, at the time, the industrious fellow was simultaneously mid-conversation on his headset, almost sprinting across the room and giving orders to a number of helpers. Such was the atmosphere behind the scenes at Brighton Fashion Weekend.

I stood in the middle of the room, laughing and blushing profusely over having just, thinking he was going to greet me with a kiss, lunged at a co-ordinator. In reality, he was trying to get past me. I was sweating like a fat kid in dance class and my boyfriend had to keep prying my hands from my mouth to stop me chewing off all my fingers. I also really needed to pee. Again. The latter symptom might also have had something to do with the five cans of Red Bull I had had that day, but mostly it was the fact that I’d never interviewed anyone before. I’d heard my boyfriend interview super-cool bands with tremendous ease dozens of times, but me? I’m usually the one in the next room playing with my ceramic owls, singing about bird flu to the tune of Bad Boys and giggling whenever I hear said band’s name. Suffice to say, I was freaking the fuck out.

After some deep breathing and highly technical meditation (leaning on my boyfriend’s shoulder and crying a little), I eventually struck up the courage to approach a beautiful sky-scraper and ask her a few questions. We sat in nearby seats and chatted whilst around us other amateur models practiced sashaying up and down the room. Afterwards, the jittery model asked me whether she had been okay. “I’m so nervous!” she exclaimed. The words calmed me like a good old sedative; at least I wasn’t the only one biting my nails.

When banded together, the words fashion and weekend often conjure ideas of superficiality, catty models and enough black to clothe a thousand crows. The folks at Brighton Fashion Weekend, however, deserve a high five for managing to completely break away from such stereotypes. Samantha Moyo, the exceptionally calm backstage co-ordinator, explained how the organisation has kept from disappearing up its own arse. “It’s a humble cause, because not everyone has quite made it. There’s a really laid back feel and it’s all about togetherness and team work. We all walk around in baggy trousers.” Indeed, as I looked around (namely, at Samantha’s trousers) I couldn’t disagree, it was certainly a low-key organisation. She continued, “And there are people from all different places. We’re like the United Nations a bit.” While Brighton Frocks aren’t exactly endorsed by Winston Churchill or Franklin Roosevelt, they’ve got Red Bull on their side and, though my bladder would beg to differ, that’s very nearly as good. As if to reinforce, in case anyone had any doubts, that pretentiousness really isn’t the norm at Brighton Fashion Weekend, the Jobeeny stall at the Fashion Emporium (part of the weekend’s itinerary) were selling woven bags, amongst which sat a sign that purposefully sidestepped all manner of ’eco’ words, and proudly stated that the bags were not endorsed by a trendy celebrity designer. Very likely the first brand to apologise for using the word ‘bio-degradable’ in describing a product.

To the untrained eye, things behind the curtains at Brighton Fashion Weekend seemed chaotic. Half-naked models dropped the flouncing in favour of running around as clothes were given a last-minute steam and hairspray fugged the atmosphere like the hole in the ozone layer never happened. At 7.45pm, 15 minutes after the doors had opened to the public, Robbie confided, as he ran down the stairs to meet and greet, that one of the designers had only just arrived. He assured me however, that, in relative terms, backstage was actually quite calm. “Everyone knows where to be and how to do it.” Certainly, far from being disorganised mayhem, it was exactly the atmosphere one would expect from behind the scenes at a fashion show and, honestly, I would have been disappointed had things been clin
ically calm. The unsurprisingly well groomed David Connal from Rush Hair attested that the staff thrived in such an environment. “It’s a bit panicky but it’s great. All the guys are absolutely flying at the moment. For an event like this, it’s 100%,” he told me when I spoke to him a few hours before the show; the period he described as “the mad rush” (pun entirely unintentional, I’m sure).

At showtime, as we took our positions and prepared for the main event, irritatingly noting that some chancer in the audience had delved into the goodie bags that were placed under our chairs and pinched all the goodies, which included some mineral make-up and blus
h courtesy of Maybelline, I practically melted into the seat. Maybe it had something to do with my caffeine high reaching its low point, or maybe it was Maybelline (get it?), but I was bloody exhausted. How did the talented folk at Brighton Frocks keep up with the extraordinary pace, all day? One of Samantha’s assistants had earlier revealed that some staff had been working for over twenty-four hours, sans breaks, preparing for the big show. Now, the moment had arrived and all the hard work would - hopefully - soon pay off. That afternoon, a model, Kirsty (pictured below), had confessed she was fighting a cold, “I’m worried that my nose matches my blush.” I assured her otherwise. She finished the catwalk show in a extravagant white gown by Renaissance, looking every bit the professional model. There wasn’t a person off or on stage not pulling their weight.

The crowd was still astir, nomadic amongst the more or less free-for-all seats, when the lights fell low and a man in a sequinned stovepipe tophat (imagine Abraham Lincoln if he were a flamboyant twenty-five-year-old) walked onto the catwalk and began to dramatically wave around a conductor’s baton. Immediately The Brighton and Hove Men’s Gay Chorus opened their lungs on the mezzanine. What followed was a fashion show diverse enough to have something for everyone.

The most innovative and overall impressive collection was that of Jessy.Lou, which opened with complete darkness. After straining my eyes sufficiently, I made out a silhouetted figure on the catwalk. Lights suddenly twinkled and what was revealed was a model wearing a string of fairy lights around her torso within a sheer oversized lampshade. This designer was inspired by your grandmother’s furnishings; light fixtures, fringe trimming, Austrian blinds and curtain drapery. Curtain tassels covered leggings, pom poms adorned a woollen dress and handbags were thrown away in exchange for little lampshades, tied with ribbon. Girls floated down the catwalk in thick black glasses with oversized mesh bows atop their pretty heads and fringing was taken to a new level with a dress made almost entirely of long tassels. However, while Jessy.Lou’s collection was quirky, original, avant garde and very Viktor & Rolf, she managed to strike the perfect balance: her pieces came across as surprisingly wearable. Okay, perhaps not the giant sheer lampshade, but, for the most part, her range was very covetable. She is definitely one to keep an eye on.

Verity Lamb’s beachwear collection, Splish Splash, held hints to the answer to swimwear that England is so sorely missing. Klaxons provided the soundtrack as ‘50s style halter tops were paired with high-waisted bikini bottoms and leggings. Models with giant geometric head pieces resembling out-of-shape curlers pranced around in fabulous swimsuits and metallic jumpsuits. The pieces cut flattering figures, made all the more excitable by fun prints inspired by the 80s.

A model in a tiered white dress strutted up the catwalk during Get Waisted, evoking oohs and aahs from the audience, at least in part due to her exquisite makeup. With dark eyes and pink lips, on her face was painted a Venitian Carnevale-style mask. Earlier in the evening, I had exchanged a few words with Zena McCarthy (below), freelance make-up artist, whose first time it was designing. She related to me the concepts behind the make-up in the show, describing some as renaissance, others as tribal and, of course, sprinklings of the 20s, 40s and 80s. Models’ hair seemed to hold similar inspirations, the 80s in particular. Some took to the catwalk with extravagant one-sided perms whilst others had hair severely pulled back into high pony tails or oversized buns.

Perhaps surprisingly, I found Lipoplondon’s debut men’s collection to be, on the whole, the most accessible. He presented a laid back slouchy early 80s, with big knits, low-cut fronts and unexpected (but very welcome) draping. Whilst I wasn’t
entirely convinced on his take on men in leggings, the models looked glorious in chain necklaces and tapered, pared down jodhpur-style pants, weighed down by untied black army boots. Proportion and sizing played a big part in the collection, resulting in the slim models looking ultra androgynous. Things were kept simple in terms of colour; while blues and lime greens peeked through, there were loads of neutrals. At first glance, a translucent vinyl raincoat wasn’t the best thing to happen to menswear but I’m certain, treated as women’s wear, it would pretty much be the best thing ever. Whilst there’s a serious lack of great designers that cater exclusively for men, and it’s fantastic that Lipoplondon is taking that direction, maybe the brand should consider offering their collection in smaller sizes for the lady folk amongst us. Or is that just being greedy?

Other highlights of the evening included Sarina Poppy’s collection in which beautiful and intricate parasols were twirled around and a gentleman (once again, in tophat) played the violin with great finesse. In the same collection, a model danced dow
n the catwalk in a dress from which hung leaves. Renaissance, who concluded the evening with a bang, offered extravagant handmade dresses. Overall trends of the night, included the 80s, satin, silk and sequins, glasses (both of the sunny kind and the nerdy kind), metallics and underwear worn as outerwear.

The fact that the show went as smoothly as it did and was such a success really shows the competency and passion of all involved with Brighton Fashion Weekend. For a fledgling event, and one whose staff consists primarily of volunteers, they certainly know what they’re doing.

On Saturday, the day after the main event, I wandered down to the Fashion Emporium at the same venue, where a few designers could be found selling their wares and there was another, smaller scale, fashion show on in the afternoon. Browsing the stalls, I was again impressed by the local talent Brighton holds. Handmade corsets, parasols and embellished antique dresses sat alongside cupcake rings, oversized pom pom headdresses and bulky cassette tape necklaces. Prangsta Costumes held a stall that could have easily been mistaken for a miniature gypsy circus complete with a unicycle, giant playing cards and a man juggling batons. In other areas of the Emporium, light bulbs hung from the ceiling, ‘Kuntface’ was printed across a wall (yes, apparently that is the name of a brand) and an exhibition of street style photography by Sam Hiscox adorned a corner of the suite. Zena McCarthy lamented that so often so many of these great designers get overlooked.

This year was the first time Brighton Frocks offered the Fashion Emporium, along with a bunch of fashion workshops in various suites around the Hilton. T
hough you mustn’t let the whole ’smaller scale’ or ‘first time’ thing mislead you into thinking that the staff had been any less busy. After the Emporium fashion show, as we were getting ready to leave, in front of me, Robbie collapsed in a heap on the floor. “Right, you want to interview me?“ Having just resigned to the fact that, with his hectic schedule, I would never get a word with him, I very happily collapsed opposite him. After catching his breath, he explained that he had actually been more worried about the Emporium show than the main show. I raised a dubious eyebrow. “I know that sounds a bit strange, but because the main show is way more extravagant, it’s organised to the second. With this, there was an element of winging it.” It was an element that hadn’t come across on stage. I asked Robbie about the designers, and whether the quality has improved since Brighton Frocks started. “When Frocks started, it was all up-and-coming designers and now it’s got to that level where you really have got top notch designers. It’s like a clip of a career in design. You can see what peoples first collections are like and later on you can see what a really established designer can produce and where people can go from having that first collection.” Earlier in the day, Danielle, model, had enthused to me what a great opportunity Brighton Fashion Weekend was to work with up and coming designers. “And it raises awareness of local talent. It makes a point of showcasing people from Brighton, for people from Brighton,” she went on. It was true, and over the length of the weekend I had heard the words ‘community’, ‘team’ and ‘family’ more times than I could count. Was it all just one big Brighton fashion love-in? According to Robbie, they were just a helpful lot. “If you want to get into PR, if you want to get into music, if you want to get into event management, if you want to get into fashion, whatever, there’s someone here at Brighton Frocks who can help you out, take you under their wing and give you the experience you need.”

I stepped out from backstage to a bustling room. It was obvious that the feelings of support were mutual and the Brighton community appreciates the work that Brighton Frocks are doing as much as Brighton Frocks appreciates and cradles the talent flourishing in the community. I wondered aloud whether the weekend had been anywhere near as busy the year before. Robbie looked at me wide eyed, “The show has about quadrupled in size since last year. It’s gone boom. It’s just a great event, why wouldn’t you want to come? It’s theatrical enough that anyone can enjoy it; the music is fantastic too. We might be doing some more things next year. You’ve got to keep your eyes peeled, check the website.”

In the words of compere Nick Ede, let’s Frock ‘n’ Roll.


Claudia said...

Amazing. Knew we picked the right gal for the job!

Isabel said...

All your backstage pictures are awesome! Looks like quite the stylish hustle and bustle. :)

trishhunterfinds said...

Awesome!! Amazing outfits!! Oh you must have had a ball!

Liz said...

Great review thanks hun xx

michellehendra said...

aww! that's a very interesting backstage moments! i really want to be there someday.. LOL. thanks for visiting my blog.. my honor :) hope to hear from you soon and be friends with you! btw, do you live in sydney? i'm moving to melbourne this october..!! :)


Robbie said...

Yo, what a great article! I was worried that I'd abandoned you backstage - I had plans to look after you all night but in reality I think I said something like 'Hi, nice to meet you - hold on one sec,' and then vanished into a throng of models and make-up artists.

Looks like you survived though! Wicked article - all the best for the future!


Anonymous said...

Your backstage pictures are excellent! Very fun to look at. You are one lucky girl.:)

Owl and the Grapes said...

Thank you everyone. Robbie, being abandoned in that big bustling room made for a story! So, I must thank you. Michelle, I do indeed normally live in Sydney. I'm sure you'll love love Australia. x

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