x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The only spectacle that can outdo fashion

If anything is more thrilling, glamourous and expensive than fashion, it's Formula One racing.

Back in the 1980s, before Marc Jacobs' grunge and when Miuccia Prada was still studying politics at university, it was down to the (then) big shots - Karl Lagerfeld, Gianni Versace, Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier - to dream up the mood of the season. They always seemed to agree on a hemline or a theme. It was often inspired by some jolly event one or all had stumbled upon outside the confines of Planet Fashion.

Six months before I landed my first job in fashion, the top brass designers had found themselves at the Monaco Grand Prix. Subsequently, my debut season on a fashion-friendly British newspaper was spent rifling through a walk-in wardrobe stuffed full of leather Chanel catsuits emblazoned with logos and anything else to do with the life and loves of a race car driver. I quickly began to feel an expert on "Formula One fashion", as it was called, despite having gleaned my knowledge from catwalk photos of Claudia Schiffer in skin-tight checkerboard overalls.

During one ideas meeting, (egged on by desperation to please rather than ambition), I proposed a shoot at Silverstone, where the British Grand Prix was looming. I knew our fashion editor was going to great lengths to mock up the Grand Prix in a studio, which would cost a fortune. I made it my mission not only to call in some great Formula One-inspired designer gear but also to photograph it at the track, rope in a few drivers and come in under budget.

All seemed to go to plan. I got the green light to shoot at Silverstone. I secured the leading photographer of the time (who was, coincidentally, Formula One-obsessed) and received a call back from Schiffer's agent. Then our editor threw a spanner into the works, demanding we use Christina Estrada, the Cheryl Cole of the moment, who had links to Formula One. Until the evening before the shoot it was touch and go whether Estrada would be there. She did turn up, but with tonsillitis and a shoe size entirely different from the one her agency had told me.

The day before the first race, a friendly public relations person ferried us around the track. Everything seemed so doable. But nothing could have prepared me for the Grand Prix chaos we met the next morning as we approached our dressing quarters: the roar of tyres on track, the men in overalls, running around shrieking "out of the way", the crowds, the dust, the heat and the deafening noise. We couldn't get anywhere near the drivers, although Estrada managed to clamber down to air kiss one - only to return minutes later, her newly-curled hair limp with oil.

Everything that could go wrong did. The Chanel leather trousers burst. Estrada didn't fit the Versace boots. A Thierry Mugler top went walkies. The wind and 100 or so paparazzi following Estrada made it impossible for her to put on the evening wear. Then it started to rain. Shuffling behind the fashion editor, whose nerves had well and truly frayed, I tried to open a golf umbrella and got pushed out of the way by the crowd. Lost and exhausted, I had nothing else to do but join the crowd watching cars whizz around the track. I soon forgot fashion and grasped what the fuss was about.

I later caught sight of Estrada sitting on a car in the pit lane during a tyre change - to the delight of the paparazzi but not our photographer, who was being prevented from working yet again. We finished the shoot at a studio later that week. Before my Silverstone experience, if anyone had told me there was something out there more thrilling, unpredictable and arguably even more glamorous - and more expensive - than fashion, I would have called them mad.

The truth is that watching a Grand Prix (such as last week's brilliant spectacle in Brazil where Jenson Button was crowned world champion) can make a Chanel fashion show seem about as exciting as an under-10s swimming gala. Don't you dare miss the Abu Dhabi racing spectacle. Apart from anything else, it's about time for another visit to Formula One fashion.