What’s on your bucket list? A skydive? Swimming with dolphins? Meeting Channing Tatum? Mine has always been Fashion Week. But not, like you might think, sitting on the front row next to Anna Wintour. My dream has always been to work backstage with models, designers and artists to create amazing hairstyles for the world’s fashionistas.
So if I tell you that I’m currently writing this on the plane home from Prague Fashion Week, you might have some idea of how epic my life is right now.
Let me give you a little backstory, first. I’ve been the owner of The Topiary Hair and Beauty in Old Basing for the last twelve years, and for the last six, we’ve stocked the Kevin Murphy range of hair products. In 2014 we were invited to join an elite group of salons that set the benchmark in editorial styling excellence, turning The Topiary into a KEVIN.MURPHY SESSION.SALON. As part of this group, one of the team participates in a year-long education programme, learning the ins and outs of the latest editorial styling techniques. The ultimate goal? To become an accredited salon session stylist. That’s a pretty big deal in itself. But when I graduated in January this year, I never imagine that two months later I’d be packing my bag in preparation for Prague Fashion Week.
Packing for a trip away usually means stuffing 20kg of swimwear, suntan lotion and trashy novels into a battered suitcase. Oh, plus three other bags for The Husband and my two daughters. This time round saw little ol’ me with a shiny new carry-on (only slightly bigger than a Game of Thrones boxset) loaded with brushes, bobby pins, and black t-shirts.
Fake it ‘till you make it
I’ve never travelled on my own before. It sounds crazy, but I’ve always had someone there to remember the passports, figure out which check-in gate to use, or hold my hand during take-off. So the very fact I even made it to The Czech Republic was a definite win in my book. But despite my exhilaration at this very grown-up of achievements, arriving in Prague not knowing anyone or anything of what to expect still felt more or less terrifying. So I did what I always do in situations that make me feel a bit sweaty and sick; I smiled a lot and got stuck in.
Thankfully there was little time for self-doubt, as the next full day of training was something of a baptism of fire. Under the supervision of Craig Hughan, Session Master at the S T O L E N studio, me and the rest of the Kevin Murphy team took a whistle-stop tour of all the looks we’d be working on throughout the week. And that’s when I started to understand what being a session stylist is really like, this was another world of hairdressing. Down to the way I now had to prep the hair right the way through to using a pair of pantyhose on the head! By the end of the day, my fingers were red raw, my feet were blistered and I was more than a little giddy from all that hairspray and no open windows. But I was ready. Ready for Fashion Week.
Mercedes-Benz Prague Fashion Week (#MBPFW) has evolved since its establishment in 2010 as a commercial, cultural and social event modelled on world fashion weeks. MBPFW is the largest fashion event in the Czech Republic and introduces the work of meticulously selected designers from the Czech and Slovak Republics, who reveal their next season collections for the first time.
Praha 5 “Little Manchester” in Prague is a hop, skip and a jump from Old Basing. But my first day at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week (how AWESOME does that sound?!) felt like stepping through the looking glass. Set up in a film studio in Strahov, backstage of fashion week is exactly like you think it is. Imagine Devil Wears Prada mixed with Sex and the City and Zoolander and you’ve got a general idea. Mirrors. Makeup. Rail upon rail of clothes. And models. Magnificent, ethereal, stunning human beings. Or possibly demigods. Just walking around, sipping vitamin water, Snapchatting, smiling. You know, being normal. Whilst looking anything but. I cannot stress enough how beautiful these men and women are. These perfect creatures look airbrushed in real life, with impeccable hair and impossible complexions. I know you want me to say that they were mean girls, making me feed them ice chips and blue M&Ms (“I said the BLUE ones, idiot English girl”). But you know what? They were perfectly ordinarily, garden-variety nice. With an average age of about 16, the models spoke wonderfully polite English and would appear at my station ready and willing to be coiffured at will. I got to know a few of these lovely girls after four days of pulling and braiding their beautiful manes 2/3 times a day, and I’m happy to report that a) they don’t survive on coffee and cigarettes alone b) they definitely get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day, and c) they’re not stupid. I also learned that models work damned hard.
Give me your best Blue Steel…
People might think that being a model is easy, but from what I saw over the week, it can also be a form of torture. Sky-high shoes, suffocatingly tight clothes and inch-thick make-up. And all the time strutting confidently down that runway like they’re not about to cry from the torture that is High Fashion. Seeing models on the runway on TV or from the back row is nothing compared to seeing them from just off-stage. They wait patiently like well-behaved, immaculate horses as they’re spritzed and patted into absolute peaks of physical perfection. And then they find their light, feel the pace of the music, and off they go, swinging their polished locks and displaying such sharp cheekbones you could cut yourself.
The models may be blessed with the gorgeous gene, but they don’t completely wake up as these visions of perfection. Like all of us, a certain amount of prep is needed to create the illusion of absolute beauty. And I was part of that prep. Sometimes I did the lion’s share of the artistry (creating Lady Gaga-esque designs or soft 1960’s ponytails) and sometimes I was just a tiny cog in the Fashion Week machine (on Thursday all I did was apply mousse and hold hair for other people. All. Day.) Surrounded by blasting hairdryers and hairspray, every day backstage was spent working underground, for 7 hours straight, prepping and styling an average of 20 models per show, for 4-8 shows per day. That’s a whole lot of models. And a whole lot of hair.
Now you might think that staring into a mirror alongside such examples of evolutionary genius would be a little dampening on one’s spirits. But don’t forget. I was the one wielding the bristle brush. The straightening irons. The cortex wand. Some of these hairstyles were absolutely BRUTAL. And I was the tresses torturer. Now I’m not saying I enjoyed inflicting pain on these delicate, fairy-like beauties. But when I saw someone actually lay a model face down ON THE TABLE and pull her hair into a braid so tight it gave her a rictus grin, I may have had a tiny smile to myself. Tiny. Honest.
Paracetamol is my friend
I’ve never known tiredness like it as my week in Prague drew to a close. And I’ve had two babies. My back cried out for a massage, my eyes were swollen and my mind was fried. And by the final day, both exhilarated and exhausted, I think I finally understood what it meant to be a session stylist. It means surviving a whole day on a cup of soup because you don’t have time for anything else. It means mucking in and lending a hand. It means not seeing the sun for an entire week.
Before I knew it, Fashion Week was over. The last braid, wig wrap, finger wave (yes. Fingerwave) was done and dusted, and we were free. A meal out in the old town to celebrate our success and commiserate the end of the fabulous A/W16 season completed my Prague experience, finished off with Slovakian Vodka. Oof.
And now here I am on the plane, heading home to my business, my husband, my children. I’m exhausted, hungry, and yes, a little sad that it’s over. But I’m also exhilarated. Seven days as part of the new European Session team and working on Prague Fashion Week has changed me as a stylist. I’m a little more confident. A little more daring. A little more “Yes I can”.
So until next season. Ciao, darling.
NEVER ABOVE YOU. NEVER BELOW YOU. ALWAYS BESIDE YOU.
The people at Kevin Murphy not only love hair, they love the Earth too! It range is eco-friendly, with all packaging recyclable or biodegradable, and uses natural ingredients from sustainable sources. All products are PETA approved, and all hair care products are paraben and sulphate free.