Fashion is a life line. Fashion is a statement of self. Fashion is Art. My love of fashion is wrapped up in fantasy and imagination, but my first plunge down the rabbit hole, into the inner workings was a real shock to the system. Anyone can have an Idea, but getting it to walk down the runway is something else entirely. It's bloody hard work. And that's just dealing with the models. Or rather trying to make sense of why they didn't show up...
It all began at NYFW in the spring of 2012. I managed to wrangle my way into a few shows at the tents, thanks to my lovely publicist Jane, and I took some of my own pieces to wear. One of the perks of NYFW for an actor, is that you get to wear the designers clothes if they invite you to sit front row at their show. Pinch me. Of course you have to give them back the next day, unless the designer is Nannette Lepore, an angel sent down from the fashion heavens, but that's another story.
While I was in town, I went to the EMERGE! show, an event supporting up and coming designers, Andre Leon Talley was in attendance, as was my mum, and a few hundred industry faces. I wore my own design, a dramatic tulle skirt, and patterned coat, which now looking back was not my finest hour, but it did the trick.
A few months go by. The phone rings. It's Jane, my aforementioned lovely publicist. Apparently EMERGE! remembered my ensemble, heard it was my own and asked me to come back, this time with a few more. An entire collection.
And that's when I said it. YES.
I sketched. I shopped for fabric. I sketched. I shopped for more fabric. I fell in love with each yard. And then I'd throw it out. I draped, I constructed, I hand sewed, machine sewed, and then I unpicked the stitches. It took me and my Bernina two months to design and make 15 pieces that made up 10 looks. My good friend Tatiana helped me finish many of the pieces, her skill far superior to mine, and her patience unrivaled.
I worked every day from 8am to 8pm. My mum came to stay with me to keep me fed and watered and to make sure I set down tools at an appropriate hour. She also kept the Tivo stocked with the Golden Girls. Life Saver.
Somewhere in the middle of the madness I was making the yellow coat in the picture above. The fabric is pure silk, temperamental and delicate. The smallest droplet of water would have been a catastrophe, so you can imagine how distraught I was to find a black greasy foot print smack bam in the middle of the skirt. I remember, crazed and unkempt, frantically demanding to see the bottom of everyones shoes...
After a tiny meltdown my embarrassment was piqued and my apologies many. Where would we be without unconditional love.
The coat you see above used to be fuller and floor length. Divine intervention?
Gosh it was satisfying each time a piece was finished, A mini celebration. A step closer. It was entirely creative, and consuming, and fantastic. It was hard, but it was an invaluable education.
We lost HOW MANY MODELS?!?
My 1st time showing at NYFW
My mum, my boyfriends mum and me, off to see Nanette Lepores spring collection. Nanette is lovely. She was kind to my mum, she personally handled my fitting, and it was BY FAR my favorite look of the week. I was giddy when I found out I could keep it. It's still one of my most prized pieces.
Its incredible. It's a moving breathing thing. The brave make bold colorful statements, the chic make accessorizing an art form, and the bloggers push and shove to get the best shot of it all. And that's just outside. Inside, backstage, it's vibrant. A well oiled machine building to the long awaited moment when the lights go down and the music goes up.
I'd love to say that the rumors are false. That there is kindness and equality in fashion, but Its a who's who inside the tents. You are a number, a value, and you're made to feel it. You wear your seat allocation like a badge of honor. There were often times when my mum and I were pushed aside or forgotten. The poor behavior of one young reality star comes to mind. My mum and I have a Liverpool meets London way about us. Tough, secure, and able to laugh. Perhaps if the aforementioned young starlet were a little more humorous, she'd have been a little more well mannered.
The show itself is like the eye of the storm. Everyone is silent. Thoughtful. The second the designer leaves the stage, it's bags up, cameras out, and a mad dash for the door before the next show moves in. Every show I saw was inspiring, some more than others, but I saw it all differently this time. The last time I came to fashion week I oooh'd and ahhh'd at the pieces I loved, and nodded along to the music, happily enjoying the full experience. Now that I had made my own collection, I took note of every shoe, how many different kinds of shoe they used, the music, the styling, the make up choice, the number of models, the type of model... I was breaking it all down, rather than seeing the whole picture. I had a new understanding of the reality of it all. I also couldn't help but wonder if I was way out of my depth.
Prior to arriving in NY I had arranged to borrow shoes from a designer, we discovered they didn't have the stock last minute, so my mum and I spent the week shopping between shows. The day of the casting, we crammed 10 pairs of boots, sewing tools, accessories, and my entire collection into a mini van. We drove to lower Manhattan to cast and fit the girls. A good friend, one of the best seamstresses in the business, had flown in from London for three days just to help me out. Thank you CC.
It was two days before the show. We were crammed into a tiny NY studio, and there were a hundred or so girls in a line down the hall. As an actor this was a fascinating experience. I knew exactly how they felt, and it was odd to be the one on the other side of it. One by one they came in, I knew instantly which girls fit with my aesthetic and which didn't. All I could do was pray they could walk. I ended up casting 8 girls, some green, some experienced, all very sweet and kind.
We fit them there and then. The boots were the wrong size. Some of the girls needed wigs. We spent the next two days altering the clothes, buying new boots, new wigs, AND going to shows. I now know the layout of every TJ Maxx in Manhattan.
Its been months in the making, my hands are shredded. CC has spent the last two days altering, morning and night, jet lagged and exhausted. My mum has been a saint. Jane has worked her butt off, and my boyfriend and his mum have been a tremendous support. We are tired. But we are here. And ready to kick some arse.
My mum has been in the entertainment industry her entire life, in front of and behind the camera. She knows how to pull it together, and as a team we all go to work.
Noon We set up our space back stage. A safe spot for the girls to change, and for us to make last minute adjustments. A few girls arrive and go straight into hair and make up. I give the team images of the looks I'd like, I give them the wigs to style and I leave them to it.
1pm We begin setting up the dress rehearsal. I had shot some images of alleyways that I wanted to use as a back drop and I had cut together some music for sound, and created a logo on Photoshop. I'm just starting out, so I did what I could by myself. Most designers hire someone to handle it. And there's a reason for that. My logo wouldn't work and the music wouldn't play. First crisis. The team at EMERGE! worked tirelessly to help. They were wonderful.
2pm I realize we still only have a few girls. CC is doing some last minute alterations, I am running around like a mad hatter.
3pm I find out one of the girls won't be coming. And then another. And then another. Panic mode. The clothes are tailored to the models we cast. The show is in three hours. Emerge! find me a couple of girls on the spot, we fit them, and alterations begin that had previously taken two days. Its safe to say I am only just about holding it together.
3:30pm The wigs are ruined. The hair team have incorrectly glued the lace wigs to the girls hair. We have to remove the wigs, cut the lace, and remove as much glue as possible. One of the wigs doesn't make it. Luckily it's a wig that would have been used on the first girl that didn't show. I want to be clear about the hair team - they were the kindest most hard working people, they were mortified and they tried so so hard to help me, and I only mention this hiccup to give you a full idea of the workings of the day. Lace wigs are a complicated thing to handle, and not something every stylist is taught to use.
4pm The last girl to arrive isn't coming. Breakdown. It's the strangest feeling. I remember thinking " I really don't know how my body is going to react to this". Its like a wave passes over you and you lose awareness for a few seconds. I slowly walk to our backstage area, completely dazed, CC is fitting another girl who needs to have her entire outfit altered in two hours, and I face the corner, embarrassed, and my face starts leaking. Literally can't hold back the tears.
The shoes. New models. New Feet. New shoes. Frantic phone calls ensue. My boyfriend and my publicist quickly dash out to TJ Maxx AGAIN. A store we have all come to know too well.
4:05pm We now have four new models, to replace the four we lost. Someone sticks their head around the corner of the door and says "dress run 5 minutes". We rally. Music starts working. Backdrop is working. Hair and make up is done. We get the girls changed and we get out there. Wait. Where is J? The first girl that's supposed to walk is gone. The building is searched. Her name is announced on the loud speakers. She's not in the restroom. She's gone. 5 minutes go by. 10. 15. 30 minutes go by, and she walks through the front door. I grab her hand so fast and rush her backstage and the rehearsal begins. I never even asked where she was. The girls go down the runway pinned into the clothes, some bare foot, some not even dressed.
During this time I hear some of the other designers abruptly instructing their models, there is a line for them. Me designer. You model. A line we didn't have. My mum and I bought our girls lunch and coffee. Made sure they had a place to change without the male models seeing them undress. We've been in their shoes, we know how it feels. That's the only part that makes me sad. When the girls didn't show, it kinda hurt. We had gotten along great at the casting, we treated them well, which is sadly not the norm, and to have them not show, some of them not even call, was saddening. Even more saddening was the behavior of one or two girls on the day. They wouldn't wear make up, they complained about having to walk up stairs, they wouldn't carry a bag down the runway. When I am hired to do a job, I do my job. I have worked in 40 degree temperatures, in the rain, in a pair of leather hot pants. I have walked in heels, feet blistered, vomited during a work day and kept going. I know professionalism, and this was far from it. Most of the girls were an absolute dream. No complaints, worked hard and stayed late to do press. Did whatever they could to help. And to those girls I am truly thankful.
6pm By some miracle the girls are clothed. The clothes fit. The shoes fit. The wigs are on and the make up is touched up. We did it. The crowds arrive and my friends are seated. I do a last minute make-up fix, throw on my own dress, and boots (which are too big because I gave my boots to one of the models) and I give a last minute "be fierce" speech to my girls. The lights go down, the music goes up, and my first collection walks out onto the runway at New York Fashion Week. One by one the girls go out, and finally I join them. A wave of emotion hits me as I step onto the runway but I push it back down. Its time to be a pro. Light bulb. Flash. Flash. Applause. Its over.
I slept for two weeks straight. It was momentous. It was life changing. It was soul lifting and soul destroying all at the same time. When I watch the video back I start to think that I should have have done things differently. I should have made different clothes, simpler clothes, I should have cued the girls differently, maybe changed the music, and then I think, no. It was a moment in time. I did what I did. And I'm proud of it.
Backstage my friend, Fashion desinger Ann Yee came to support
My mum does it all.