If you've never been to a catwalk show, there are two truths to absorb: everything is going to be new and sparkly, and most of the time, you won’t have the faintest idea what’s going on.
Why are 200 photographers yelling 'uncross your legs'?
Should you accept another free tote bag?
What’s with front-row dogs?
But amid the confusion, there’s a redemptive undercurrent of anticipation, the thrill of the new. Here, some of our favourite fashion insiders remember their first fashion weeks.
Mandi Lennard, founder, Mandi’s Basement
'The first time I went to fashion week was around 1990, when I was a buyer at Browns. Hussein Chalayan shows were pretty intense, conceptual, and mind-blowing—they were a hot ticket. I remember one on Brick Lane, which was running really late with everyone just sat waiting and waiting. Rumour swept through the audience that it had already started! I was still recovering from the shock of a famous make-up artist sat next to me, who'd just shown me her fake invite.
I also remember Jerry Hall bringing her newborn baby down the Vivienne Westwood catwalk—it was Georgia May Jagger! …And there was an Alexander McQueen show sponsored by Tanqueray, so when you went in, there was a drinks reception before you took your seat in the show space. By the time everyone sat down, we were all drunk, and it was quite late at night—it was so exciting, and the audience went wild, when the models came out and walked through a catwalk filled with water. There were live butterflies and moths in cages forming part of the outfits. It was a true spectacle, and you knew you were at a historic show.”
Pernille Teisbaek, stylist/blogger at Look de Pernille
'My first fashion week was London Fashion Week some years ago, with my first job as Fashion Director for the Danish magazine Woman. The experience of going to the Burberry show was mind-blowing—Burberry is such a beautiful and grand show with a display of top models and a front-row packed with all the right people. The show was so spectacular… It definitely made me want to attend more fashion weeks, and I have done this for the past seven years now.'
Fashion Me Now blogger & stylist Lucy Williams
'It would have been February 2010... I was 23 and had just started my first full-time role as an editorial assistant and I remember going to the Matthew Williamson show and getting super excited to see model-of-the-moment Abbey Lee Kershaw walk past me. Despite only being six years ago, it was a totally different time back then... There was no Instagram or Snapchat and iPhones weren't commonplace, so it was very much more an exclusive, industry event. It felt like a big deal at the time to be there.
Then my first full fashion week was September 2010. It was a rollercoaster five days. We needed to be at every 9 A.M show and go right the way through to the parties in the evening. It was a constant adrenalin rush and had an amazing team spirit to it. I pretty much lived on Vitamin Water and scrambled eggs at midnight and learnt the art of nailing the essentials (Compeed plasters, jelly sweets) and throwing things on with 10 minutes to spare.'
Isa Arfen designer Serafina Sama
'I was an intern at Lanvin. It was the night before the show. Models had been coming in all day long for their castings and their fittings. We had finished everything, and suddenly, really late at night—maybe 1:00 in the morning or something—someone from the atelier came and said, ‘Oh, this dress is finished.’ The dress hadn’t been fitted on anyone and no more models were coming in. They asked me if I could put it on so they could take a Polaroid, so I did. And then the next day, in the running order, there was the Polaroid, of me in this dress, with my head chopped off and Isabeli Fontana’s head stuck on!
The dress was black velvet, with diamanté straps. I don’t even know if it made it into the show—I think they took it out in the end. But can you imagine? I think I took a photo. I need to find it.'
Look for photos from Isa Arfen’s AW16 collection online Saturday 20 February.
Publicist & DH-PR founder Daisy Hoppen
'My first time attending fashion week was when I was very young and we used to go en masse as a family to John Rocha’s shows each season. They were wonderfully child-friendly—we used to sit on the floor by the runway, all in a row.
My first time working at LFW was around 10 years ago… I remember being nervous about meeting lots of editors for the first time, and also using a walkie-talkie right. To this day, they just never stay on for me!'
Preen by Thornton Bregazzi co-designer Justin Thornton
'I was working for Helen Storey and we were backstage in the tents at the Natural History Museum. I remember that feeling of nerves and excitement backstage. The sheer volume of people working and speed of it all really shocked me. Until you’re in it you just have no idea. Even today I’m still surprised, every time I walk into our backstage, at the amount of people it takes, for just eight minutes of show.
That was the time of grunge, and the girls were Emma Balfour, Rosemary Ferguson and Cecilia Chancellor. They were so cool and real. I remember Jennifer Saunders doing a spoof backstage film with Cecilia, where Cecilia was acting up the stereotype of a model—"beautiful with no brain". Fashion was really changing and becoming so accessible and raw. It was all fresh and exciting.'
See elleuk.com for photos from Preen’s AW16 runway show on Sunday 21 February.
Shrimps designer Hannah Weiland
'My first fashion week was when I was 15 and I was interning for Betty Jackson. The team was so sweet and gave me lots of responsibility even though I was only 15 and had been interning for just two weeks. I had to show everyone on the front row to their seats. I absolutely loved being involved—it was much more fun than just going to watch.
Shrimps’ first fashion week in September 2014 is also something I’ll never forget. I was really nervous. It was such a big deal to me to be on the LFW schedule. I remember when the models were all in their positions and the lights and music went on, I was standing next to my best friend and we both cried! There was only a second to wipe away my (happy) tears, because the doors opened and Susie Bubble and the BBC film crew came in to interview me.'
Look for photos from Shrimps’ AW16 presentation online on Saturday 20 February.
'My first on-schedule show was September 2005. It was an intimate, couture-like show in the iconic Michelin Building. I was quite nervous showing my work for the first time, and I also felt incredibly excited because I had worked for years for that moment. During the final line-up, just minutes before the show was about to start, our main model who was meant to open and close the show unexpectedly decided to walk out. We didn’t have much time to swap the outfits, and considering we only had 13 dresses to show, that was quite a disaster!... [Later] I overheard one of the guests saying they couldn’t wait and wanted to wear the dresses immediately. That made me realise I was on the right track. I celebrated my tenth anniversary at the end of last year and it was such a great opportunity to look back and remember all those moments.”
Check the site for photos from Roksanda’s AW16 runway show on Monday 22 February.
I was a student interning with Rodnik. They did a collaboration with Topshop and as part of it they put on a concert at the shop on Oxford Street. At the last minute one of the back-up singers dropped out and they asked me to fill in. So I put on one of the dresses I worked on the day before and mouthed most of the lyrics. It was so embarrassing but lots of fun.'
Barbara Casasola will present her AW16 collection on Saturday 20 February at LFW.
Words: Emily Cronin