‘Each morning in every family, men, women and children, if they have nothing better to do, tell each other their dreams. We are all at the mercy of the dream and we owe it to ourselves to submit its powers to the waking state.’
Fiona MacDonald takes us behind the scenes at the MBFWA 2014 Zhivago runway show…
The lights go down inside a damp warehouse in Sydney’s Carriageworks and the well-dressed audience stirs, sitting up a little taller. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to attend a fashion show will know that feeling moments before the show starts. There’s nervous energy, excitement, relief that you no longer have to make small talk with the person next to you and, above all, anticipation that you could be about to see something inspirational.
Last Thursday evening, that familiar quiet settled on the audience waiting to see Zhivago’s first full Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia show. Last year the label from Western Australia, the brainchild of Lara Kovacevich and Lydia Tsvetnenko, showed at the New Generation show to overwhelming support for their sexy, bold and fresh pieces.
But this would be their first full collection introduced to the world.
As the first model, the long-limbed Sanna steps out from behind the black curtain to the sound of dystopian electronica, neon blue LEDs light up the one-sided runway. It’s a hauntingly powerful yet serene moment for the audience, but watching from beside the sound stage I have a completely different view.
On one side of a black plywood divider and curtain, the models glide moodily down the futuristic runway, matte sequins shimmering. But on the other side, barely contained by the divide, is the chaos of backstage.
A team of around 24 hair and make-up artists, 45 volunteers, three photographers, two journalists, 15 models in various stages of undress, three PR people, two designers, one stylist and one creative director are madly directing girls, checking outfits, trimming final threads and spraying hair into place.
This juxtaposition seems to perfectly sum up everything that Zhivago’s collection, titled ‘Equilibrium’, stands for. “We were inspired by the balance of right and wrong, Lara and I, hard shoulders, soft curves,” Lydia tells me.
Three hours earlier, when I arrived at the venue to watch the runway prep unfold, it felt like the quiet before the storm – literally. The rain that would drum down on the corrugated iron roof all evening hadn’t quite set in as yet, but there were already puddles collected on the concrete floor.
“We don’t want to clean them up,” Nathalie Agussol, creator of Pan and the Dream and creative director of the show, tells me as we walk down the long runway towards backstage. “The puddles, the dust, it sort of works with the industrial, dystopian vibe.”
When we get backstage, a handful of models are already having their hair and makeup done by the Redken Hair and Savoir Faire Cosmetics team. The Zhivago designers as well as Nathalie and her stylist Rebecca Rac are manically pressing and steaming garments, getting rid of any suitcase marks they may have received on the way from Perth. Sure, three hours to go until the show sounds like a lot of time, until you have to press every single item in the 33-look collection.
Hair director Richard Kavanagh from Redken is excited because he’s creating something special today. His look is inspired by the glamour of the late 70s and early 80s, Bladerunner, and the photography of Guy Bourdin.
“One thing I love about how Guy Bourdin shot the girls was that he’d pose them in a way that looked like their hair was moving against gravity,” Richard tells me. “I loved the reference and worked with Nathalie to get something sexy in an almost high-end luxurious way. I want to create hair that’s frothy and has movement.”
The make up in contrast is being kept relatively classic, with high-shine glossy red lips, fresh dewy skin and softly contoured, mascara-lined eyes, Leia from Savoir Faire tells me.
“We’re trying to create texture on the eyes, not a colour, so that it matches the texture of the hair. We’re also brushing the eyebrows upwards,” she says.
I feel uncomfortable aiming my camera at the models’ faces to get images of them having their makeup done, but they barely acknowledge me other than with a quick flick of their eyes before returning to focus on something on their phones.
Back over with the clothes, Nathalie is trying to decide how best to position the Atlas Pearls ear cuffs that have been loaned for the show, and settles on placing them backwards so that pearls frame the girl’s face.
“Things are quiet now,” Nathalie tells me as she models another pair of earrings from the collection. “But once it gets close it will be manic,” she warns. “It’s a bit like a car crash, it’s almost like everything goes in slow motion, but actually you’re moving extremely quickly.”
Nathalie has worked hard with Lydia and Lara and their PR team at Mother & Father PR over the past two months to create the vision for the show. From photos of the collection, she came up with a vision of how the show should feel. “As soon as I saw the pieces with their extreme sharp shoulder line and body contouring sexy silhouette, I immediately thought of Blade Runner,” says Nathalie. “It had that retro/futuristic vibe - 1980s meets 1940s.”
The font on the invitations and seat cards was stolen from an ‘80s Casio watch, she tells me, and the venue was selected for its industrial feel – a contrast to the show-stopping, high voltage pieces of the collection.
She also helped with casting and the music. “Music was a particularly difficult decision, one of the most important elements of a fashion show” she admits, and there were several other options for the show tonight before she settled on the final, dark and edgy electronic number, which included some of the Blade Runner soundtrack. But on the casting side the choices were a little easier. She was lucky enough to score Talisa Quirk (IMG Models) – one of her favourite new faces who had recently opened and closed the McQueen show in Paris within two months of modeling.
At 4:15 pm, the models, in various stages of hair and makeup, walk through the show as if it was the real thing. Fashion writer and industry expert Josh Flinn coaches them on their walk and the staging of the show. The girls somehow expertly navigate the long runway, complete with carriage tracks, uneven concrete and puddles.
After several attempts, the finale lighting still isn’t working, but we’re running out of time – it’s now 4:30 pm and the show is meant to begin at 5 pm (although nothing ever starts on time during fashion week), and the girls head back to hair and makeup.
The MBFWA volunteers begin to arrive to help with seating and dressing, and so does the media. Suddenly the little hub of calm and creativity we had backstage has become chaotic - Richard Kavanagh is doing a live cross for TV, photographer Paul Westlake is snapping away and everyone is worried about a crease that won’t come out of a beautiful yellow silk shirt.
Amazing cut out ankle boots have been created for the collection by Skin shoes and Nathalie is crazily sorting them, making sure each outfit and model has the right colour and size.
Four of the models decide to go to the bathroom 15 minutes before the show is scheduled to start, with their hair still unfinished. Ten minutes later I’m sent to usher them back in, and find them chatting amongst themselves outside. “Why do we have to hurry?” they ask. Because the show starts in seven minutes. “Well that’s clearly not going to happen,” another admits, obviously accustomed to the not-so-punctual nature of fashion. Then another spots her mum in the line for the show and rushes over to say hello.
By the time I get them backstage again, Richard has finally started brushing out the models’ hair. And it’s amazing.
Somehow he’s created a deconstructed look made solely from light, fluffy hair. There are no pins, just volume and energy that seems to move the hair up and away into the heavens.
“I love it so much, I’m just dying right now,” says Lydia.
“It’s exactly what we wanted,” Lara agrees. But there are now another 14 girls to have their hair brushed out and no one is dressed as yet.
The storm finally hits.
Drop mats are put down over the dirty concrete floor in the dressing area to avoid the garments being stained before the runway, and everyone agrees that no one but the models in their runway shoes will step on them.
But more press photographers show up, and suddenly photographers with muddy shoes are stepping all over the white sheets. I find myself transformed into some kind of loud bossy person ordering everyone to “Get off the drop cloth!”
Somehow it works, and the models scramble to get into their first looks while the photographers stand around the border of the sheets snapping away.
The audience starts to file into the venue, and backstage there are models, photographers and dressers falling over one another. The production team is yelling over camera shutters, interviews and last minute decision making to get the girls in their starting line up. The models chat amongst themselves unaffected while Lydia, Lara and Nathalie busily rearrange outfits and positioning jackets and Richard teases hair like a mad man.
The last model is dressed at 5:30pm and without taking a moment to exhale, the first look is launched down the runway.
As soon as she makes it back behind the curtain, Lara unzips her and within seconds she’s in her next outfit. I’m still amazed at how fast these girls can change with ankle boots on.
Everything is chaotic and rushed, but somehow it all works perfectly, the girls look amazing, polished and oh-so-cool as they walk out one after the other. The music builds in intensity as the collection develops.
After 10 minutes (that feel more like 50), Ebony Hunter (Chadwick Models) from the designers’ home state of WA, is the last to walk off the runway, the blue neon lights dimming behind her. There’s a brief pause of black, before all 15 models return and stand evenly along the runway. The music peaks and they turn one by one to face the audience straight on, unflinchingly, and the lights go up.
It’s a powerful finale.
“I can’t believe that actually worked,” Josh admits later. “I’ve seen so many finales, they never work.”
When Lydia and Lara return from their bow, backstage erupts with applause, there are tears, hugs, high fives. I somehow find Nathalie to congratulate her and tell her how amazing it was.
“Was it powerful,” she asks me a little choked up. “I felt like it was something…like it was good.”
In between family members and media visiting backstage to congratulate the team, the pack up somehow happens in a blur.
Within half an hour the chairs are cleared up, the audience is gone and the models have left, and I’m standing in an empty, dingy carriage terminal once again, amazed that a collective vision could briefly transform it into so much more.
MIUCCIA PRADA has done it again! She never fails to amaze but this Spring / Summer collection 2014 is out of this world! Both lines, MIU MIU and PRADA were so strong and the latter clearly inspired by Pop Art and Surrealism. I really didn’t need much of an excuse to play with some of Jean Cocteau’s Surrealist ideas!
The plastic prop used throughout served two purposes. Despite the extreme heat we experienced on the day, the Australian sun can be very harsh in the summer months, it had previously rained heavily for days on end. I was concerned the ground would be muddy and soil my expensive press samples. Then I really liked the idea of mixing textures that don’t like each other. Nature and Plastic! Yes, you’ve heard it before, opposites attract and create a visual tension.