Flashing Lights, Poised Models, Exquisite clothes…These are the scenes we usually see on a fashion runway. We gape at the spectacle of it all and are entranced by how perfectly orchestrated it is…..
but….behind the scenes, it tells a different tale altogether. Panic-stricken workers and fashion elves running around are the norm. After all, these are the people who make the magic happen. Panic-stricken might be too dramatic to describe it though since perhaps it was just me, the only one panicking.
This is a tale about my very first backstage experience at the Saverah Women Expo 2015 (Canary Wharf, London). I was assigned the role of a ‘dresser’, a role completely foreign to me. Have you ever wanted to catch a glimpse of what its like behind the scenes? Have you ever asked yourself how the models managed to look so confident while wearing a couture gown that seemed complicated to put on? Have you ever wondered how much work must one put in to make a fashion runway run smoothly?
Here are the tidbits to anyone who dreams of being a part of a runway team or to those who are simply curious about the other, less glamorous side of fashion.
- Be prepared to stay for long hours.
Forget your beauty sleep! Say hello to eyebags and multiple shots of the strongest coffee. Helpers would typically work till the early hours of daylight, that is.. if you’re lucky! What you see on the runway may look efficient and “on point” however don’t be surprised to learn that most of what you see on the runway is the result of last minute decisions. Think about the amount of “make it work” moments for Project Runway designers and ‘Dior and I’ documentary, viewers can see that one garment was finished off by the atelier, minutes before the real show (when guests were already arriving!). Talk about high fashion AND high blood pressure!
For this Saverah event, I remember leaving around midnight even when some people from the team haven’t finished prepping the day before the show. On the actual day, we were expected to arrive at 11am until the end of the event plus cleaning up the backstage area at night. So brace yourself for an intense workout and quick bites of food! Bring your full gear with you: packed food, phone charger (a lot of fashion moments will happen, so do take pics, I can assure you it’s snapchat worthy!) and wear smart yet comfy clothes as you would be moving around a lot!
- Do multi-task like crazy.
To put it simply, a dresser helps the models get dressed. Often, a model would appear twice on runways with a few minutes in between changes and that’s where the dresser comes in: help with zippers, buttons and straps (because let’s be honest, they look great but takes time to open and close), making sure the look on the model is how the designer/stylist wants it – right down to the correct placement of accessories – and most importantly, to not get make-up on the precious clothes!
Imagine a smear of foundation on a dress that costs hundreds = not cute.
To top it off, a Muslim fashion show is a little extra stressful because the models would need to have hijabs to complete the look and for hijabis out there, we know that to get the correct drape can be a struggle! Within minutes, you are expected to get the model put on the right dress, readily donned in hijabs and over-the-top accessories. So being able to multi-task and work around a crowd is crucial. It takes more than two pairs of hands to make it look effortless on the runway and yes, I’ve poked a model’s head once or twice with a pin. (oops)
The backstage scene can be hectic and names can be heard being shouted out back and forth BUT…
- Don’t forget to network!
Learning and remembering the designers’ and models’ names is absolutely important to get the running order correctly and avoid potential mishaps. The manager of the Saverah fashion show told me that a model was put in the wrong designer’s gown once so she had to be cancelled from that particular catwalk. It was a wasted chance for the designer to proudly showcase her creation. An honest mistake could carry heavy consequence especially if it is the designer’s debut runway!
Other than that though, learning names and their roles in the fashion industry is a golden opportunity to network. In my experience, I found out that ‘hijab stylists’ existed (watching them twist and drape so quickly yet meticulously was awe-inspiring!) and get to meet the fashion maven behind the Instagram @hijablicious.
The biggest highlight for me, however, was when I met a fellow Bruneian and Malaysian amongst the designers. This was in a crowd filled with different international backgrounds and what they brought still has that local Malay flavour in the most brilliant way!
- Appreciate the clothes
This is the last but not the least important part of being a dresser. Who would want to spend hours steaming racks and racks of clothes voluntarily while kneeling down on the floor because the gowns have overflowing fabrics? It takes someone who has an affinity for clothes and understands that the designers took a lot of effort and love in order to create these pieces.
Above all, it is important to remember the reason behind the event and its vision.
For the Saverah Women Expo, it is about empowering women of the Islamic faith and supporting each other in an industry that has competitive spirits. I decided to volunteer for the organization to be a part of the modest fashion scene and understand the inner workings of a runway show but I also deeply respect the way the way the event was created to motivate, inspire and lift the spirits of Muslimahs. After the first one, I continued volunteering for them for the next two of their events – one topping off the other and became more extravagant – and the lessons learned and empowered women I’ve met are absolutely priceless! The event became a platform to promote and showcase the skills and undeniable talent that Muslim women possess. It is a beautiful proof that these visionaries are capable of running homes and businesses.