What it's really like to go to London Fashion Week
Ah, London Fashion Week – a twice-yearly stretch when the sartorial glitterati descend on London, in the past to Somerset House, now to a car park in the West End. It's a week (five days, to be precise) of fashion shows and presentations, showcasing the creme de la creme of British fashion, with the odd Irish import (Paul Costello, Simone Rocha, Orla Kiely and J.W. Anderson are all on the LFW schedule).
From the outside, it seems, well, amazing, right? Hundreds of fashionable people checking out the newest of the new catwalk creations, chilling out, sipping Prosecco and attending incredible parties... But y'know what? That's the Instagram view of LFW. That's the filtered, carefully curated, cropped photograph that's showing you the best parts of a totally manic, overwhelming and frankly exhausting business conference.
How do I know this? I've been four times. I've sat second row at Mulberry (right behind Michelle Williams, and a little to the right, wearing glasses and looking v shiny, above); I've been front row at Paul Costello, John Rocha and Simone Rocha (before she was big). I've been asked to move to make room for Pixie Geldof, I've seen Kate Moss in the flesh, rubbed shoulders with Alexandra Shulman, asked Olivia Palermo for a photo and been ignored by Scott Schuman.
And honestly? I would honestly prefer to never, ever, ever in my life go to London Fashion Week again. But let's start at the beginning, shall we?
First and foremost, London Fashion Week is big business. It's about getting eyeballs on product – the product that will be on sale in a mere three or four months' time – and those eyeballs belong to the industry's big hitters. So we're talking buyers (that's the people who buy the designer goods to put in shops and then sell 'em to us), fashion forecasters, media and, oh yeah, bloggers.
Attendees are split in two: there are those who automatically get their invitations, and those who apply for them. (No prizes for guessing which category I was in.) If you're a big buyer or a big-time fashion mag editor, you're on list #1. Everyone else? That's list #2, and applying for shows is no picnic.
How does it work?
You'll wanna start as soon as the show schedule goes up on the LFW website – from there, you send email requests for each show, stating who you're representing and asking nicely for them to send you a ticket. "I'm a journalist from Dublin, writing for The Irish Times and I would love to attend the Bora Aksu show," I'd write, approximately 100 times – obviously changing out the designer and PR's names. Serious snore.
Then? You wait. You don't know until the week of the shows what tickets you've been granted, and they get sent to the address you're staying in London – so you really only know how busy or successful your trip is going to be once you get there. And that's only the beginning of the LFW stressathon.
Where does it all take place?
As I said above, it used to be based around Somerset House, while now it's in, er, a West End car park (which is very Laaaandan, really) – but that's just the shows that are on-site. The bigger the designer, the more likely they are to host their shows in specially selected, fancy locations (the Mulberry show takes place at Claridge's, for example).
From a practical point of view, that means that, if you have four shows per day (and you can often have up to seven), you'll be hoofing it from show to show by hook or by crook. The ideal situation is to have a car on standby; the second best is to get taxis; the worst-case scenario is what I always did, go by foot or by Underground.
One day – which, I swear, was the only time a photographer even glanced in my direction – I wore my Miu Miu booties with a vintage tomato-red pencil skirt suit I'd bought in Oxfam. I thought I was the shit; by 11am, I was sweating profusely and my feet had approx 35 blisters. It wasn't pretty. (Needless to say, I didn't end up on any street-style sites that day, either.)
Will I get my photo taken?
This, in my experience, would be a negative. I truly believe that the only people who get their photos taken at London Fashion Week look: like models / ridiculous / like famous people (or, y'know, are genuinely famous).
This is the most disheartening part of London Fashion Week, because no matter how legitimately you're there – I was a journalist, for crying out loud, reporting for The Irish Times, for the love of God! – when you walk up towards a show and you see a bank of photographers, you can't help but think, please snap me. It's a feeling much like being the chubby girl at school when teams are being picked for basketball (I'd imagine – that's never been me, clearly).
If you really want to get your photograph taken by a street style pap, there are loads of guides online – some serious, some less serious. But bear in mind: even if you do get snapped, there's no guarantee you'll make the cut on to their site, and that's an even more embarrassing let-down.
By season three, I was wearing jeans, jumpers and runners and pretending that I didn't care. (But crying into my pillow at night.)
Are the shows amazing?
Yes – some of them. Some of them are more amazing than others. Mulberry was an incredible production, for example, and the A-listers were second to none, while the Topshop Unique shows are always a deadly spectacle. There will always be designers who are a little more pedestrian and a little less avant-garde, and while there's a huge – perhaps bigger than the kooky "fashion" brands – market for those, the shows themselves can be a little underwhelming.
The Irish shows (like Simone Rocha, above, whose shoes always make my heart skip a beat) are always the best, in my opinion, because you see loads of people you know at them. There's a feeling of pride and patriotism that's kind of inexplicable (I don't even like Amhrán na bhFiann, for crying out loud). And afterwards, you might even have a coffee and discuss the mayhem with other human people.
What nobody tells you about fashion shows is that they are short – oh, so short. They last 10 minutes, max – and after you've spent 30 minutes battling London traffic / the Underground system to get there, another 20 minutes queuing, another 15 trying to find a suitable seat (and being booted off for Pixie Geldof, the brat), it can feel like a bit of a disappointment.
Is it worth it?
Again, yes – and no. For me, I went to report for The Irish Times, for whom I was writing at the time – and it was a tough slog. I had four-plus shows to go to every day; as a freelancer, I had to cover all of my own expenses (think flights, accommodation and transport); the schedule is so tight that there's very little time for breaks (think lunch, coffee breaks) or any down time, which means it's really exhausting.
But it was also an incredible experience; aside from the celeb-spotting (Michelle Williams is the tiniest person I have ever seen), it was amazing to see all of these incredible shows up close and personal and, for a fashion enthusiast, even being outside the shows is a spectacle of gargantuan proportions.
I would definitely go again – if I had a bigger budget, a less taxing timetable and a slave to carry my bag and coat. (So, y'know, maybe next year, when I've become the Irish Chiara Ferragni.)
PS I was going to give this some caveats – you know, "what it's really like to go to London Fashion Week if you're not a model / Anna Wintour / an uber-blogger" – but seeing as you already know I'm not any of those things, it seems superfluous. It's safe to say the LFW experience is very different for those three categories of people. (And millionaires, obvs.)