Entertainment behind the scenes
Desperate Dan does the London catwalk
I’ve faced gun-toting rebels, driven through sand storms in Iraq and landed backwards on an aircraft carrier at 200 miles an hour, but had anything in my 16-year career as a Reuters correspondent really prepared me to face the withering stares and tight smiles in the hostile battleground of London Fashion Week?
Like any correspondent trained for war, I considered my protective body armour: an old Savile Row suit (bought on sale years ago), white double cuff shirt (still stain-free!), Hermes tie acquired nearly a decade ago and a worryingly scruffy pair of black shoes with flapping soles.
Not exactly haute couture for men, but then I was going to cover women’s fashion. Would they really care?
The pre-contact jitters began long before I pitched up on Monday at London’s Natural History Museum, where the British Fashion Council holds its twice-yearly festival of fashion labels, models, designers and buyers.
I had always imagined London Fashion Week as a riot of organza, silk, floating dresses and skinny girls with funny hairdos sashaying down the catwalk to the delight or disdain of a thousand Cruella De Vils determined to skin those deeeelicious puppies!
Would I melt in a puddle of perspiration when the Devil wearing Prada gave me that top-to-toe look that says: “Out of my way insolent worm”? What, it struck me, on God’s green Earth was organza anyway?
By the time I had registered and made my way to the press lounge past the legions of chic and I imagined haughty women, I was already desperate for a drink in a place where the tempting dangers of daytime champagne lurked everywhere. Water then.
I composed myself as best I could in order to ask the very nice women at the press desk if they could please point me to a technician who might help me log on to the event’s wireless network, so I could send out stories.
“Oh you mean the Geek Squad,” replied one of the three women behind the desk. “You can’t miss them, they’re all wearing white business shirts and a tie”.
I looked around the room at all the people dressed in designer labels or the young people in their own shabby chic creations, then down at my carefully selected suit, white shirt and tie and back at the ladies behind the press desk.
Then we all burst out laughing.
That was the turning point from fear to fun.
I trawled the halls for quotes from buyers on how the credit crunch was affecting their business, I pestered exhibitors and rang PR people for access.
They were all really friendly, helpful and like the slender, elegant Italian buyer Chicchi Ginepri, gently instructing me in the mysterious world of fashion whether they were haggling with a designer or dashing off to a show.
Then I went to a catwalk show and my growing confidence evaporated faster than a tear drop on a hot tank in the Iraqi desert.
“How do they describe them in such detail?” I wondered, before realising I had been sitting on the show notes handed out by the press office. NOTES! Thank goodness.
Could I see the designer and talk to Jaeger Chief Executive Belinda Earl, I timidly asked Jaeger press person Francesca, as I made my way to the front row to seek the opinions of the great and the good on the spring/summer 2009 collection. Could someone tell me what music they played?
I trawled the front row. Two of Mick Jagger’s daughters, Lizzie and Georgia, were bouncing with delight and model Erin O’Connor was friendly, relaxed and happy to be quoted, though I suspect they were all a bit bemused by my appearance in their world.
Backstage Jaeger Chief Earl cracked through the business numbers, the branding and designer Karen Boyd smiled sweetly when I mentioned that she came from the same part of England as my wife, before giving me a chaps-friendly description of her designs.
Maybe I just got lucky on the day. But no, the next day I saw Aquascutum and it was more of the same. Designer Michael Herz was patient with my inclination to ask absurdly ignorant questions and Aquascutum Chief Kim Winser even offered to show me round the store.
My notions of London Fashion Week had been transformed. The clothes at the stands, in the shows and on many of the people really were very lovely, the people expert at their jobs.
I want to come back for the autumn/winter shows in February, though this time I may ditch the suit and tie.