Cultural Experience | London

10 Things You Probably Don’t Know About London Fashion Week

First-Hand Experience at LFW

As you might already know, I got to work at (and attend, obviously) London Fashion Week a couple of weeks back. Getting that first-hand experience, for me, was a real eye-opener. Of course, we’re used to seeing glamorous paparazzi pics splashed all over the papers from fashion weeks across the globe (it’s all about Paris right now), so we probably all assume that the entirety of fashion week is that glamorous. Or at least I did anyway. That people just swan around looking pretty and eating Propercorn or miniature macaroons all day, popping to the occasional show if they fancied.

I guess I just never really had the need to give it much thought, having been in the complete opposite side of the country (in Bristol) for the last 3 years. I didn’t know how ticket requests worked, had no idea of the difference between ‘on-schedule’ and ‘off-schedule’ and just presumed everything happened in the same venue. How naïve of me.

So, here are some little factoids for you that you may, or may not, already know about London Fashion Week.

#1: Model castings really don’t happen that far in advance

At Dyelog, in the cosy little PR office, they actually held a model casting for LFW whilst I was interning, just 3 days before LFW. It was so informal, so casual, and much faster than I had imagined. Again, totally didn’t think this through. Models – of course – travel constantly. Obviously then, lots of the models needed for fashion week are likely to be elsewhere in the world if you hold castings super far in advance.

And just in case you wondered…yes…watching a model casting really does kill every ounce of your self-esteem. But c’est la vie, hey?

#2: It doesn’t all happen in the same place

I just thought that it all happened at Somerset House and that there must have just been a bazillion rooms or something to allow quite so many shows to happen each day. #WrongAnswer.

Although Somerset House is indeed the primary venue for ‘on-schedule’ shows (i.e. the more established designers), many other ‘off-schedule’ events also occur elsewhere, for less well-known designers. For instance, a few of our shows were in the beautiful show space at Freemason’s Hall and I think I even heard someone mention they were heading off to one at Topshop Oxford Circus. The reason being that these extra shows are organised by private-funded groups, such as Vauxhall Fashion Scout.

#3: The designers fork out a shed-load just to show

I’m not just talking about the show production. They have to actually pay to be permitted to show their collection at LFW. Evidently, this varies considerably depending on where a designer is in their career, their budget and if they have a particular reputation to uphold. But I heard it on the grapevine that the cheapest you’ll get is around a couple of thousand – and that’s just for newly emerging designers.

The actual shows cost a total bomb too. Reportedly, the train Louis Vuitton built for their A/W12 show cost £5 million. That explains why some designers (apparently) just pay their models in clothes then.

Min Wu AW14

Min Wu AW14

#4: It’s not glamour all round

So, it was by no means bad, but if you think PR girls behind the scenes are strutting around with clipboards and fancy headsets; think again. One minute you’ll be resting as the catwalk is polished pre-show; the next you know you’re running about like a headless chicken trying to locate a press release. Things that seem perhaps unimportant to the outside world are a total end-of-the-world disaster inside the walls of fashion week. Fashion seems to be all about effortless perfection, you see.

#5: There’s more to see than just catwalk shows

This might sound stupid, but I grew up convinced that LFW just consisted of back-to-back catwalk shows all day, and not much else (after parties too, obvs.).  But, in the variety of show spaces as previously mentioned, there are over 30 presentations (more standing about than catwalk shows) and over 120 collections in designer showrooms that can be visited separately. I mean this is all on top of the typical 60 catwalk shows on the ‘official schedule’, whatever than means.

#6: The clothes are actually (relatively) normal-sized

No, I know what you’re thinking, but stay with me here. The Dyelog showroom, where I was working, was full of samples. Samples are basically roughly made garments from a designer’s collection purely for lending out; they are not for sale. So, they might be borrowed by a celeb for a public appearance or by the likes of Vogue, Elle or Marie Claire for an editorial shoot.

Being my nosy self, I asked a tonne of questions about the clothes non-stop, including what size the samples are made to fit. I had noticed they didn’t look so small that only stick insects would be able to fit in and reasoned that not all celebrities are complete stick insects. They are made to fit size 8-10. This is the size the models wear too. Yes, this is on the small size of normal, but I presumed they would be around a UK size 4-6, so it kind of made me feel a little better (after the horror of watching a model fitting, that is).

#7: Things are happening right up to the VERY last minute

Apparently, last year, some of the tickets to the shows Dyelog put on didn’t arrive until the day before LFW. And then they still had to be delivered…glad I wasn’t responsible for that!

I was also told that nothing is ever completing finished. The designers are customising garments right up until show time; pinning cuffs, adjusting hemlines, pulling hair and pasting on make-up. What’s more is that this often all happens at the same time.

We watched a couple of run-throughs about 10 mins before showtime, with bedraggled-looking, half-dressed models. And I won’t lie, there was a raised eyebrow or two in concern. But it always came together perfectly, as if the models had been born precisely that way.

#8: Buyers are more VIP than, well, VIPs

The front row (or FROW if you’re familiar with fashion terminology) is always reserved for VIPs. VIPs come in three main forms: celebrities, press and buyers. LFW is usually attended by 5,000 press and buyers, who are actually slightly more important than your typical VIP celebs in this case.

A buyer is the member of a company who selects which clothing pieces, lines and brands their shop will stock next season. Hence, it is of the utmost importance for designers to impress these people, above all else. It’s difficult when working the shows as buyers are typically unrecognisable – but we were under strict instruction to be super polite to every single person, just in case they happened to be a buyer.

Buyers equal future sales. Simples.

Min Wu AW14

Min Wu AW14

#9: More people seem to watch the show through a screen than with their actual eyes

I’d read an article a while back about how social media has pretty much infiltrated every inch of fashion week, resulting in the risk that fashion week itself might die out altogether in the future. People can access every catwalk show by either streaming it live or within 3 seconds of it ending. Twitter and Instagram are the main culprits.

I seriously did not realise how ridiculous this would be to watch first-hand though. To watch a show, you have to avert your eyes from the sea of smart phones and cameras polluting every single row in front of you. And if there’s a particular stand-out look? Oh boy, do they go crazy. You have to be about 7 feet tall to properly see a finale through all the flashing cameras and people standing half-up to get a decent snap. Aargh!

But, according to Alexander Fury, fashion editor of The Independent, knowing you’re the absolute first viewer is still sacred in fashion:  “there’s the pull of knowing you’re seeing it first, guaranteed. That split second before everyone else. That counts in fashion.”

#10: If you queue long enough you’ll probs get let into shows

I got chatting to a girl from the London College of Fashion who was at LFW purely as a homework assignment. Their assignment was genuinely to blag their way into as many fashion week shows – without a ticket – as possible. Isn’t that great?

As it turned out, she found it a pretty straight-forward task. The hardest part is having the patience and suitably warm layers to brave the cold for long enough. Think about it – a half-empty show reflects badly on a designer, so of course they want to fill up every last seat (and inch of standing space). So, if you don’t have a ticket but desperately want to see a show, wait it out and you might just get lucky.

Min Wu AW14

Min Wu AW14

Lizi Woolgar

University of Bristol | 40 stories

Graduate of University of Bristol. Having spent my first two years of University writing for the student newspaper, epigram and Brighton-based Spindle Magazine, I then went on to edit the Style section of Epigram 2012-2013. Now keen to pursue a career in journalism/editorial work, I look forward to writing my weekly column for The College Tourist, all the while seeing where my writing and travel will take me.


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