Behind the scenes at London Fashion Week

Ever wondered what really goes on backstage at fashion shows? You know, beyond the pony struts, the front-row celeb spotting and the street-style inspo? Well, we’re here to fill you in. From backstage antics, to those giant makeup kits and the secret to models’ ethereal runway skin, we have the inside word from two of our very own MECCA Artistry team members, Sally Axford and Jennifer Horsley, who reported from backstage at London Fashion Week.

The talented duo were tapped to join the NARS team (which worked with designers including Erdem and Toga), receiving the happy news just a month out from the shows. After “crying and calling my parents in Adelaide straight away” (Sally) and “driving and screaming at the same time…probably not the safest” (Jen), they got to work prepping, packing (a personal suitcase each plus an additional suitcase each just for their makeup kits) and planning their travel diaries. “I’m most looking forward to the fabulous markets in London—you can find some amazing pieces,” shared Jen, while for Sally it was all about “seeing my favourite artists work and direct a show is a really big deal for me”.

Of course, it’s not all fun and games and “afternoon tea at Sketch” (thanks, Jen!), here, they share the inside word on what life is really like for a makeup artist at London Fashion Week.

TMM: First of all: 24 hours in transit. How do you combat cabin complexion?
JH: “I’m always the crazy on the plane with a sheet mask and an eye mask.”
SA: “I always board with a grand plan of washing my face every three hours and embalming myself in various creams and sheet masks but I literally slapped on the Drunk Elephant Marula oil, begged anyone I could find for water and slept like a log for at least 10 hours. (Hot tip: Invest in great earplugs and buy the expensive neck pillow. You’re welcome).”

Where do you call home during Fashion Week?
SA: “The Bloomsbury Hotel in Bloomsbury. It’s a beautiful red-brick Georgian building, right around the corner from Soho and Oxford Street.”

For the NARS team, Fashion Week goes beyond the runway shows, what events did you work on?
SA: “We did the Toga Archives show, and we also supported the Erdem show by working on the Lookbook shoot, events at the Erdem flagship boutique, and did makeup for Erdem ambassadors (including Downton Abbey’s Laura Carmichael and Ruth Wilson from The Affair) who attended the shows.”
JH: “That Erdem Lookbook shoot was pretty special. They shut down the National Portrait Gallery for it, so it was amazing walking around and looking at all the incredible art behind closed doors.”

With so much going on over the week, how many people are part of the NARS teams?
SA: “It depends on the show or event. At Toga, there were about 12 of us, while at Erdem, there were about nine NARS artists and 14 from (lead makeup artist) Val Garland’s team but there are a lot of jobs to do! There are artists who do ‘body’ (moisturising and concealing legs and arms, etc.) during final line-up when models are dressed and ready to walk out, as well as artists just focused on faces.”

Tell us about the process of creating the beauty looks, from inspiration, to testing, and the final realisation.
SA: “It depends on the designer, artist and look. Some designers are very specific and test and test as a way of evolving their initial idea.”
JH: “It also depends on the lead artist’s schedule. Sada (from NARS) flew in from Tokyo the night before the show, so he did a late-night test.”
SA: “Sometimes it all just clicks! There’s no straight answer on that one.”

What was the inspiration for the Toga show?
SA: “Skin was super clean with a strong yet natural brow. The clothing was inspired in part by the British monarchy’s way of dressing: silk head scarves, coats, brooches and hooded raincoats, so the natural faces really worked with the looks. I loved the technique Sada used for applying foundation. He was very precise and prepped the skin (via facial massage) to the point where it barely needed any coverage. Then he used the new Natural Radiant Longwear Foundation in TINY amounts around the eyes or on any small areas of redness. The models looked like they had nothing on—just perfect, natural, reflective skin.”

And Erdem?
SA: “Inspiration came from the designer’s mother and the red lip she always wore. Very 1930s overall; the hair was a messy, gelled fingerwave pulled into a ponytail.”
JH: “Erdem’s look was also all about their upcoming collaboration with NARS, Strange Flowers. They have some amazing products and new innovations with textures.”
SA: “I’m so excited about that new lip powder palette.”

Best behind-the-scenes trick you picked up?
Both: “Walkie talkies!”
JH: “It’s the best way to communicate with other artists while you’re running around between all those Amazonian models.”

Truth time: what’s the biggest misconception about Fashion Week?
Both: “That it’s glamorous!”
SA: “It gets messy. It’s hard, rewarding, beautiful work but it’s definitely not glamorous.”

What about the vibe backstage?
SA: “At the start, it’s the calm before the storm, then there’s a buzz of excitement and expectation. It gets super serious when the artists get to work; no fluff, no real chatting to each other—just focused on their craft. But there is still a real sense of teamwork: hairstylists working together, makeup artists working around each other—all for the same goal.”
JH: “There are lovely people you get to meet and collaborate with. I’m always surprised by the overwhelming creativity of the designers and the lead artists.”

What surprised you about being backstage?
SA: “It’s very rare to get high chairs for models. You need to be ready to do weird lunges and straddles, and make a booking with your chiropractor when the show is over!”

Let’s talk about kits: how many products did you take with you?
SA: “My kit was basically the entire NARS collection, so about 650 individual products. I spent around two days sourcing product and four full days decanting and packing.”

Any other prep involved?
JH: “Hair did, nails did, new outfits! And practical stuff like thermals, socks and stocking. We flew into 2-degree weather.”

What’s in your Fashion Week survival kit?
SA: “Water, constantly. Immune support vitamins. 111skin Black Diamond eye masks are life-changing. Drunk Elephant Marula oil and Lauren Napier cleanse cloths for the flight.”
JH: “Berocca, coffee, baby wipes are always a must. Mecca Cosmetica Multi-Purpose Plumping Balm, LA MER soft cream for dehydrated skin—for models and me!”

Any heads up on the big beauty trends you’re predicting for next season?
SA: “I’m happy to see a bold lip and clean skin is still in. What I love about it is that it’s not sharp but matte and fuzzy.”
JH: “Definitely a lip but in different textures. Look out for the NARS x Erdem palette with the lip powders coming out. And, as always, fresh skin—like you’re not wearing anything.”

As told to Helene Pappas
Images supplied; additional photography by Sally Axford and Jennifer Horsley
February 2018


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