London Fashion Week Backstage Confidential: The Beauty, the Chaos, Naomi Campbell, and a Chat with Sir Philip Green

The backstage world before a fashion show can be a weird and wonderful place. My experience at Topshop Unique was especially so on Saturday, not for any specific lightning bolt reason, but more because of a culmination of many small experiences. I gathered a lot of information that afternoon (and a lot of poor quality pictures) and decided it was worth a re-telling. So, put on your special all-access wristband and follow me: 1:30: Arrive at train station, to creepy unused old Eurostar section. Get wristband and head up a long ramp and non-functioning escalator. Oh! There’s a glass ceiling and tons of light. No longer creepy. 1:35: I notice that the models all have gold paint in their hair. And I also say hi to Charlotte Free, the pink-haired model who was a fixture for a season or two on the runways. She still has pink hair.
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The backstage world before a fashion show can be a weird and wonderful place. My experience at Topshop Unique was especially so on Saturday, not for any specific lightning bolt reason, but more because of a culmination of many small experiences. I gathered a lot of information that afternoon (and a lot of poor quality pictures) and decided it was worth a re-telling. So, put on your special all-access wristband and follow me: 1:30: Arrive at train station, to creepy unused old Eurostar section. Get wristband and head up a long ramp and non-functioning escalator. Oh! There’s a glass ceiling and tons of light. No longer creepy. 1:35: I notice that the models all have gold paint in their hair. And I also say hi to Charlotte Free, the pink-haired model who was a fixture for a season or two on the runways. She still has pink hair.
Applying gold leaf

Applying gold leaf

The backstage world before a fashion show can be a weird and wonderful place. My experience at Topshop Unique was especially so on Saturday, not for any specific lightning bolt reason, but more because of a culmination of many small experiences.

I gathered a lot of information that afternoon (and a lot of poor quality pictures) and decided it was worth a re-telling. So, put on your special all-access wristband and follow me:

1:30: Arrive at train station, to creepy unused old Eurostar section. Get wristband and head up a long ramp and non-functioning escalator. Oh! There’s a glass ceiling and tons of light. No longer creepy.

1:35: I notice that the models all have gold paint in their hair. And I also say hi to Charlotte Free, the pink-haired model who was a fixture for a season or two on the runways. She still has pink hair.

1:45: Time to scope out the beauty looks. This look is all about the hair, so the faces are kept relatively neutral, with a layer of Topshop’s Skin Glow.

2:00: I watch the hair stylist apply a little more gold leaf to a model’s hair, a process which looks like a big, fat pain in the neck. After applying a special gel to a section of hair, you take a bit of the gold leaf (looks like foil), carefully stick it on, then use the pointy edge of a comb to smooth it and then mess it up a little. It must have taken them forever to do that on every girl’s head. (Kudos to Paul Hanlon at Julian Watson for having the patience and skill.)

2:15: It’s becoming very clear to me why the Unique invitation had a picture of Liz Taylor’s Cleopatra on it. The accessories are gold leaves, gold beetles, gold cats, gold flatform sandals. It’s very Egypt-meets-the-street.

2:30: I wander over to watch a few nail techs at work. Sophy Robson, one of our fave nail artists, conceived the looks. Alternating nails are painted gold, pink, and aqua, then nail transfers--made to look like hieroglyphics--are applied. (I think the nail techs have one of the hardest jobs backstage. Every time I see one, they’re usually contorting themselves under the leg of a table to get at a finger or toe and to avoid being stepped on by hair and makeup people.) Several models didn’t want me to take pictures of their golden toenails. “No feet!” I don’t really blame them.

2:45: First looks. Models start putting on the very gold, tight-fitting outfits. A cameraman is loudly reprimanded for filming during first looks. Girls are naked here, dude. Not cool.

3:00: Since I don’t have an all-access pass, I have to head back outside and enter the venue through the front to see the show. The street style photogs are out in full force. I follow Mr. Newton and snap him as he shoots Olivia Palermo. How meta is that? Then I follow Olivia Palermo up the non-functioning escalator and watch her pose for the paps up there.

3:01: Topshop set up a cafe. With champagne! Oh, I shouldn’t. It’s only 3pm and I’m working. (I have a sip. Two sips.)

Hi, Naomi Campbell!

Hi, Naomi Campbell!

3:05: Naomi Campbell is standing two feet away from me chatting with a friend. She doesn’t want to talk to any press, but is happy to have a photo snapped. I escape unscathed--and kind of starstruck--and turn around to see...

3:07:...none other than Sir Philip Green, owner of Topshop. Me: Now that Kate’s gone, there have been rumors about Florence Welch, John Galliano, and Gwyneth Paltrow [doing a collab]. Is any of that happening? SPG: Lots of people talk to us! Me: Like who else? (borderline whine) SPG: We’re not thinking about anybody at the moment. Me: Any more plans for more US stores? I know that Chicago just opened. SPG: We’re going to Vegas, Toronto, Australia, then Brazil. Me: Is Topshop weathering this whole financial nightmare? SPG: We’re here!

3:10: Find seat and chat with Marie Claire staffers and a cute niece, who is totally pulling off a menswear blazer. This is her first fashion show.

3:20: Anna Wintour is six feet away from me. She has the healthiest looking hair. Seriously. I should ask her what products she uses. I’m going to. (Yeah, right.)

3:25: Shhh! The show’s starting. Uncross your legs!

*Photos: Me, which explains the quality.