At 13 years old, when you're told you'll be attending London Fashion Week for the first time, it's almost impossible to believe. Mouth agape, mind abuzz, you stare at the flight booking in total awe. Convincing my parents wasn't too difficult, seeing as it was just a day trip from my native Ireland, and they understood this was something I was passionate about. More importantly, they wanted to help make my dream come true.
Although I'm loath to admit it, the 2006 film "The Devil Wears Prada" was an influential factor in my fashion beginnings. Soon after I saw it, I began sketching with the hopes of one day becoming a designer. In addition, Lorraine Candy's editorship at Elle UK was another massive inspiration. In a small city without any fashion connections, Elle was my link to the fashion world — like I'm sure it is for many of you.
As the years went by, I realized fashion design wasn't the reason I wanted to be at an event like LFW — it was fashion writing. The truth is, when I went to LFW at age 13, it wasn't technically my first experience: In 2012, I was in town with my family for a few days, and the trip coincided with the trade event. At that point, it was merely a people-watching expedition. But in Feb. 2013, I attended the shows accompanied by my father (much like Tavi Gevinson did back in the day) on a whirlwind day trip to one of the European fashion capitals.
I distinctly remember the three shows I saw that first season: There was Christopher Raeburn, attended by British Vogue's Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Shulman, in the Portico rooms of Somerset House. I stumbled upon the presentation, and eager PRs encouraged us to view the show. The clothes had an air of utilitarianism, effortlessly capturing the quotidian. To this day, I still eagerly follow Raeburn's designs, both men's and womenswear. Then, around lunchtime, it was time for Jasper Conran. That afternoon, I made my way back to the BFC Courtyard space for the Todd Lynn show. While each collection was wildly different, they all made a positive impression on me, and more importantly, I was more confident than ever that fashion was the correct career path for me. My first fashion week was technically only a day long, but I attended three shows, perused designer showrooms and met blogger extraordinaire, Susie Lau. When you're as young as I was, moments like these are defining. They only made me more hungry to succeed.
Studying fashion hundreds of miles away from the epicenter is beneficial, in a way. It strengthens your desire, for one; you scour the Internet for information. Websites like Vogue Runway, i-D, Dazed, Style Bubble and Fashionista are great resources for aspiring insiders to get news. They're fully comprehensive and each offer a unique perspective. During the collections, live discussion panels are broadcasted on Nick Knight's Showstudio. The video format offered a different facet to my fashion education, and also introduced me to insiders that I've had the chance to meet on my travels.
Another huge learning experience was requesting tickets for the shows. In the early days, I was lucky enough to have DHL (the official LFW sponsor) provide supplier appreciation to a family member who worked closely with them. This presented us with invites to shows like Jasper Conran and Nasir Mazhar, as well as showroom passes — something that continued for a couple of years. Once, a kind PR at the Todd Lynn show allowed us to slip in to fill empty seats. In my second season, on top of DHL's generosity, I emailed PR companies to request invites. I am forever grateful to those who chose to facilitate me — and my father — as a complete unknown at these exclusive events.
However, that's not to say I'm invited to every show; sometimes it's disheartening to see bloggers and social-media influencers seated instead of you, but fashion isn't a meritocracy. If anything, that encourages me to work even harder. Seasons have gone by and I've been lucky enough to attend some fantastic shows and events; discovering young stars like Faustine Steinmetz, Danielle Romeril, Timur Kim and Min Wu has been a true pleasure. Experiencing shows from designers like Bora Aksu, John Rocha and J. JS Lee was also a tremendous honor. In February, I slipped into a Mary Katrantzou show, which goes down as the best moment in the six years I've been involved in this industry. I use "slip" because a man hovering outside the door (I couldn't tell whether he was a PR) allowed me entry. After a moment of disbelief, I ran into the Central Saint Martins show space as the first looks emerged. From the music and the models, to the set and the clothes, Katrantzou's designs made for a truly unforgettable experience that I will forever be thankful for witnessing.
In addition, LFW has proved to be a great networking platform. I introduced myself to Sarah Harris, British Vogue's fashion features director, who kindly accepted an interview on my blog. I had the chance to meet an impeccably dressed Stefano Tonchi from W; British Vogue's Editor in Chief, Alexandra Shulman; Tank magazine's Chief Executive and Fashion Director, Carolina Issa; and Instagram's Eva Chen, who kindly offered some sage advice: Keep blogging, engage on social media and find your niche.
I'd recognized Chen from Phil Oh's street style photography — another key resource to help find out who's who in the industry. I followed her on Instagram, and even sent her a question (which she answered). I felt compelled to say hello to her, and just as before, she offered great rules that I still adhere to today. As a small (figuratively and literally) Irish blogger rubbing shoulders with the industry's elite, I was sure I'd be shunned immediately. But this wasn't "The Devil Wears Prada." The people I've met over the years are genial, good-natured and much more jovial than the film conveyed — and how much of the outside world portrays them to be.
I've met bloggers, writers, and celebrities and the preconceived ideas that I had were wiped during my encounters with them. Sure, they've been in the business for a long time, attended hundreds of shows and have interviewed the best of the best, but the majority are an amiable bunch. Sure, that may be because they were talking to a teenager, but using your age to your advantage is a valuable tool that I've learned throughout the years. People are interested to see a young adult who has a genuine love for fashion. Approaching them is something I struggled with in my early days; but as of recently, I've learned you have to take the plunge. Just have something, no matter how small, to say; it leaves an impression.
The British fashion industry has certainly changed over the years, but it amasses billions of pounds for the British economy, possesses a wealth of flourishing talents and is a hub of creativity. To be a part of LFW brings me such satisfaction and excitement. Once again this season, now at 17 years old, I traversed the wonderful city for presentations and shows here, there and everywhere, and bumped into like-minded creatives along the way. If you, like me, are an aspiring fashion writer, the bit of advice that I'd like to share is to just get involved. Reach out. Try and attend a fashion show. It might seem impossible, but take it from me — you can make it happen. I'm living proof.
Paul McLauchlan is the writer/photographer behind Sanguine Style.