x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The fashion world's unsung heroes

Profiles of some of the dedicated people who work hard behind the scenes to make a fashion show a hit.

The model booker Jamie Horridge with models (from left) Hannah Johnson, Tsheca and Cara Delevingne.
The model booker Jamie Horridge with models (from left) Hannah Johnson, Tsheca and Cara Delevingne.

Jamie Horridge, model booker

Jamie Horridge is a booker for Storm Models, the agency that discovered Kate Moss, and has represented some of the world's most exciting models such as Karen Elson, Georgia Jagger, Cindy Crawford and Jerry Hall

Preparation starts around about a month before the shows, and the run-up to Fashion Week is insanely busy. I'm normally back three days before London starts because I have been in New York making sure our British models are being taken care of.

I work directly with the show team making sure all of the casting directors, stylists and designers have our show pack with our girls for the season. We receive over 100 applications a day from girls as young as 14, but usually don't start actively promoting girls until they are 16 years old. Sarah Doukas (the owner of Storm) feels strongly the girls should finish their education first. Like anything there are exceptions, and if we do work with girls who are younger, we work closely with the parents and the girls' schools, and always try to ensure that there is very little disruption caused.

It is highly competitive and can be hard. I absolutely feel a sense of moral responsibility - we are taking care of young women in a difficult industry and there isn't a general template, only our own intuition. Some girls need more support, and others are more ready to cope. We have to adopt a cautious and strategic approach to managing their careers, often doubling up as agent/mother/confidant.

The whole operation is carried out with utmost precision. Once the girl's book is developed and she has gained enough experience with the best photographers and stylists suited to her career, we will consider moving her over to the main board from the development board (what we call new faces).

The best models have both a great look and character. They need to move well, and have a strong sense of style. You have to be tough, focused and reasonably thick skinned - the rest is a bit fine tuning, so to speak. This season, our girls to watch are Cara Delevingne, from Britain, who has just shot the Burberry campaign for the second time; Sui He, from China, who walked for Ralph Lauren in her first season last year; and Monika S, from Poland, who has shot some amazing campaigns.

Then of course there are the girls who are still in high demand like Jourdan Dunn, the British model whose name has been on people's lips since she burst on to the fashion scene four years ago, and Lindsey Wixon, from America, who has shot British Vogue and the cover of i-D magazine.

What makes a great show is the right collaboration. A strong collection is a must, combined with a visionary stylist and an influential show producer - all of that and they can pull in the first-class models. Who makes what shows all depends on the casting or the styling. (Alexander) McQueen, for example, was famous for pushing the boundaries on everything and the models he used were strong and unique, whereas Chanel tends to go for a more classical girl.

Most of us are in the business for the long haul. I think everyone has their calling and I'm happy with mine, although I'd be lying if I said you didn't have to take a few knocks on the chin.


Nat van Zee, make-up artist

Nat van Zee has worked with Lanvin, Céline, Sonia Rykiel and Thierry Mugler, among many others. Her celebrity clients include Gemma Arterton, Paloma Faith, Dakota Blue Richards, The Vaccines and Coco Sumner

I trained with a BBC-taught make-up artist, and from there I began testing in order to develop my skills, assisting some of the most prolific make-up artists in the industry like Val Garland and Pat McGrath. Over the last few seasons I have headed shows myself, supporting new talent such as Krystof Strozyna and Spijkers en Spijkers.

The starting point is speaking to the designer and stylist, finding out what the collection is about and if possible to see the garments in person. It is vital to get a clear idea of their concept and whether they envision a specific look or if they are open to suggestions.

The Paris shows are inspiring particularly because of the theatrics: I have seen a violet papier-mâché willow tree during Lanvin, a sculptural garden made of flowers with old Beetle cars during an Ungaro show, and Gothic church beams at Thierry Mugler with Lady Gaga performing during the catwalk.

It is not always glamorous, though, and often I am out in the middle of nowhere trying to work with little or no light in the middle of the night freezing my socks off. Budgets vary somewhere between £50 and £300 for assisting at a show, depending on the designer, although most have shrunk for even the most prolific of couture shows. You might remember supporters of Christian Lacroix worked for free in 2009 to support him, which is not uncommon with new designers.

One can't rest on one's laurels in any creative industry -success is relative; and there is always someone more successful than you.


Namalee Bolle, stylist

Namalee Bolle is the co-founder and fashion director of the iconoclastic style magazine SuperSuper, a singer and the stylist/muse to the design duo Basso & Brooke

When I left university I won the Guardian Jackie Moore Award for fashion journalism, and my very first job was to compile the Paris couture report.

Soon after, I started working with some of the younger designers at London Fashion week, and ended up styling for Zandra Rhodes and Roland Mouret. In 2004 Basso & Brooke (the pioneers of digital print) hunted me down to style their show. We became the first-ever Fashion Fringe winners.

I much prefer those who don't try too hard to look "right", although everybody understands the styling process now, and because of that people don't make as many mistakes as before. The idea of typical seasons is becoming ever more obsolete, yet it often it takes the traditionalists a long time to follow suit.

At the moment we are going through a very colourful, artful, anything-goes phase that has taken reference from the London underground club scene in the mid-90s. It has only just crossed over to the likes of Milan and Paris, thanks to people like Lady Gaga.

When working on the shows, I do everything from consulting on the collection - often bringing pieces of my own to inspire ideas - to casting and selecting models, developing hair and make-up and working on the show progression. Stylists often have the hardest job and the least recognition.

Depending on the brief, I will start with a loose theme, selecting a few of the collection pieces that inspire, and use my initiative from there. It's a shame we don't get the chance to discuss the meaning behind our creations. People should be aware of the power visual imagery holds.

Stylists are magpies, really, simply borrowing ideas from the street and the past and finding ways to re-present them. I love how Carine Roitfeld dresses with her bare legs and high heels come rain or shine, and how Helena Bonham Carter just does as she pleases with her outfits. You see, fashion is simply following, but style is using your own mind to pick and choose.


Mariam El Khoury, head seamstress

Mariam El Khoury is the head seamstress of the premiere d'atelier at Georges Chakra workshop and heads one of its Couture Units

As head seamstress I am the direct link between client and designer. Our job involves anything from sewing, mending, lining, gathering patterns, installing zippers, buttons, etc, to finally delivering the finished garment.

It took me several years of practice to get to where I am now, having trained with a local seamstress and embarking on many specialised technical sewing courses. Dexterity and strong hand-eye coordination are imperative. My apprenticeship with a more experienced seamstress lasted for several years before I joined the Chakra team 17 years ago.

We have about 100 employees between the different working units, and as we get closer to the big date, we work long hours and extra shifts. Depending on the design of the dress, the kind of fabric chosen and the finishings or beading detailing, it can take from five days to several months to complete. In a couture dress, all of it is done by hand, and often we have to spend time developing a new sewing technique.

The sketch is the first step to any design and it has to be as precise as possible, including front and back views of the dress. If the fabric involves a certain pattern, print or embroidery, a sketch is drawn for the pattern too in order to be executed separately. The fabric is then cut while the embroidery is being worked upon by separate units at the same time. After that, the fabric is sewn, according to the design, and finally, the pieces are assembled, adding zippers, buttons and finishing the lining of the dress.

A green dress from the Couture Spring/Summer 2011 Collection was one of the most challenging dresses I have ever worked on. We had to sew the dress directly on the model 24 hours before the show. We were exhausted after many days and nights of non-stop work, but had to finish. The act of creation never really stops for us. Even when the show is over creativity keeps flowing as there are always ways to improve design and a quest for perfection. Maybe it is our way of gaining closure, but it is only when the piece can't reach any closer to perfection that we are able to let it go and move on.

I believe that each one of us has a domain in which he excels, and after all these years I guess I'm happier to be behind the scenes, perhaps because this is where I stand out. Working in couture is precious, it is a big part of my life, and in every design I feel like I'm leaving a small piece of myself.


Léa Sfeir, PR person

Léa Sfeir is the public relations person for Anne Valérie Hash in Paris. Her popular blog, MissParisIn, is widely read

My sole purpose is to make sure every last detail is executed with coherence to the image of the fashion house. I follow the show from A to Z, covering Europe, the US, Russia, the Middle East and Asia. On my team with Anne Valérie Hash there are about 10 working on the show. Our communication strategy: "There is no bad press".

The seating arrangements are organised in sectors: by country, region and buyers. If we are showing in Paris and moreover we are a French brand, of course the French press will get the best sector. The front row is vital, and it is my job to get the editor in chief of the most prominent fashion magazines, top website (style.com), newspapers and a few bloggers from each region - they are the opinion leaders, after all. When the show draws to an end my job has only just begun, as I need to oversee the interviews backstage with the designer, and then straight back to the office to organise which publications have requested the samples from the show to use in editorials - usually French Vogue, American Vogue or French Elle are the first in line.