Thursday, 27 November 2008


The pomp and ceremony of London Fashion Week occurs twice a year, once in January and then secondly in September. It follows New York with subsequent shows afterwards in Paris and finally Milan.

Designers normally work at least 12 months ahead of current fashions so that they have time to design, make and promote their collection. The predictions for Winter 2008 currently in magazines and covered by the television and advertising media would have been conceptualised and born the previous year over the autumn months.

The beautiful creations we view on the runway are merely the ‘tip of a very large iceberg’ of a whole catalogue of careful planning that happens behind the scenes and backstage before a show.
Thanks to Elle Magazine and L’Oréal Paris, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to witness and experience the backstage preparation for designers Basso & Brooke’s Spring Collection, held at the Science Museum, on the 17th September 2008.

Entering backstage could be described as stepping into a dark tented circus. Like any theatrical production, the areas behind the scenes are blacked out. There were two sections backstage. The dressing room nearest to the runway consisted of furious activity. Tables with sewing machines had been set up and were angrily whirring away to make the final adjustments to the garments. Dress rails bowed elegantly underneath the weight of an array of heavenly silks, georgettes and satins. Boxes of skyscraper shoes were stacked into regimental groupings of size. The designers and their henchmen ran around with tape measures and pins whilst models where massaged into dresses and rehearsed their strut.

The dividing curtain of the dressing room took you through into the sweatshop of hair and make-up. This room was a little calmer, but not much and was set up as a corridor of workstations with theatrical mirrors and lights surrounding them. It was easy to spot the hair stylists, as they were surrounded in a thick mist of hair spray and pins, which were constantly being showered around models heads. The clever architectural styles being created defied all conventional methods of gravity and were coaxed into clever precision ‘flat-top’s’ or ‘snooker que tip’s’.

The make-up side of the divide consisted of models being carefully escorted from hair before they could be side tracked by the designers, dressers or the more pressing call of caffeine and tobacco. Then precision brushwork then began. Base was applied as an artist might skilfully add the final touches to his canvas, the workstations were full of palates of soft beautiful skin tones to be blended and carefully worked into the skin. The look - ‘urban chaos’ was of natural glowing skin with the eyes being a little smokey using a stormy grey. The high point of the cheekbones and corners of the eyes where dusted with an iridescent white which picked out and framed the soft grey of the eyes.

As with many of the shows, during a day at London Fashion Week there was the added time pressure. Models arriving late due to earlier catwalk bookings, some still with the previous designers hair and make-up on. Photographers and reporters vied and jostled with each other to get the first and most original magical backstage shots and also to pump as much information out of the designers and their entourage regarding new trends.

With about 5 minutes to spare, I was invited to take my seat on the runway aisle. Having worked in the theatre, I knew the lighting would be strong, but I had no idea that the bottom end of the runway would be basically a wall of arena strength ark lighting. It was absolutely blinding and hot. The models would not only be walking tall in their super gradient heels, but would also need a large helping of confidence and ‘Dutch Courage’. It set me wondering whether you could invent a Braille style catwalk floor, just for a little extra guidance!

My thoughts where abruptly hushed as were the discussions of the many rows of gossiping buyers, press and VIP’s with the powerful base beat of dance music. Attention was caught and the audience fell silent and transfixed as the models started to glide down the runway.

The beautiful garments that I had seen on the dress rails where transformed into an array of soft billowing butterfly visions. The theme of Basso & Brookes collection was of ‘The Tale of Genji’ a story giving a glimpse into the Heian era of Japanese history. Less formal than the geisha silks, the dresses had bright but intricate oriental prints with origami like sashes taming the flowing fabric. For a contemporary twist the que tip hair styles had giant size hair pins, clips and fastenings attached at the back which added a rather quirky but brilliant finish to the ‘look’.
20 minutes later, with the crowd clamouring and drooling at the deliciousness of these clothes, the show ended. As did a year or more of hard work presented in a brief but explosive firework display of incredible flare style and colour.

Friday, 23 May 2008


In the beginning…

For as far back as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by people, their faces, hair and how they express, decorate and adorn themselves.

Being a child of the 1970s, I was lucky enough to grow up in the beautiful Hampshire countryside with creative, slightly eccentric and very hippy parents. Family and friends many of which had long hair and open minds where always drifting in to our house to visit, or even to stay for a while. These were my first canvases to work and experiment with.

One of my first big inspirations visually as a child was whist staying with my Grandmother in London. The city was full of exciting and very interesting cultures. Butterfly ladies in saris, exotic African headscarves, turbans, wonderful braided hair with beads, strange Mohawk manes of peacock blue and flame orange and of course, a myriad of colourful make-up on men and women. This for my 6 year old pair of eyes was a feast and my brain went into total overload with ideas!

Friends would come and go visiting for afternoons of play and tea. Parents would arrive and hardly recognise their off spring who had been converted into fantasy visions of Toyah, Adam Ant and various New Romantic icons. I was in my element! Meanwhile, the practice and lead up to these designs would be taken out on my poor Cindy dolls who would be quiffed to within an inch of their life and then hung out to set and dry by the hair on the washing line or a handy tree. When a gift of a ‘Girlsworld’ came along one Christmas, my inventiveness rose to another level altogether, with the plastic bland smiling head suffering acrylic paint make up and indelible pen hair colour which to my ecstatic excitement would magically go back to blonde by using house hold bleach! How my bedroom / salon / laboratory must have reeked!

For a while in my early teens I attended the Belair Drama School in Guildford, I really enjoyed acting, but used to be far more intrigued by what was going on behind the scenes. Whist getting ready for one production I can remember looking longingly at the make-up artists at work and I think that is what really started to sow the seed of wanting to become one myself.

In my teenage years and twenties, I had started to travel quite bit to North Africa, the Middle East and India, and again, this inspirational fixation with the beauty of people, adornment and the cultural aspect was what I brought home from my journeys and transcribed into drawing, painting, making clothes, interior design, jewellery and of course practicing make-up, mehendi and hair braiding.

Training so far…

So far, I have a patchwork of different hands on skills. I have a 2:1 Degree in Printed and Woven Textiles. With parents in the Oriental rug trade, I have been repairing and restoring carpets for over 15 years. I also have a Diploma in Beauty Specialist Techniques. And design my own jewellery collection, which I sell through a local art gallery, a vintage craft shop and occasionally exhibit at craft fairs.

What next…

I have been doing part-time freelance special occasion make-up and working for a couple of Amateur Dramatic companies over the past few years, creating a number of styles including; pantomime, period and ageing make-up. I have found the pace and atmosphere backstage amazing, loving every minute of it. This really has been what has cemented my decision to go into make-up artistry as a career.

At the beginning of this year, I made the decision to go back to college once again and do a 2 year course in hair, film, theatrical, photographic and prosthetic make-up. It will be a great opportunity to acquire a wide variety of skills to offer when looking for contracts and it will also allow my creative side to go a bit wilder!

The Competition

Strangely enough, the L’Oreal & Elle Magazine competition came about the same time in January when I had made a firm decision to go back and study. I absolutely loved the brief. My translation of Julien Mcdonald’s clothing style instinctively took me to the 1920’s, Art Deco, Cubism and Mondrian for colours and the elegant fashions such as the flapper dress. The film industry was beginning to really develop during this era and the need for special screen make-up produced great make-up artists such as Max Factor and Elizabeth Arden to name but a few. Seeing the glamour of the film stars inspired the public to want to create these looks themselves and this was the start of the creation of cosmetic lines for every day wear.

My next step was to go and raid a few L’Oreal make-up counters, and get a palette of samples on paper and to look at products (of which there is a overwhelming range) such as bases, eye colours and textures, and lipsticks. I then went back to ‘the drawing board’ and brainstormed an ideas sheet starting to create various different colour ways on face charts.

Once I had a good idea of my design, I commandeered two lovely and fairly ‘up for it’ victims to work out variations of my design theme. Happy with the results, I took some pictures, created an A3 mood board and put the whole lot in the post and promptly forgot about it.

In May, L’Oreal contacted me to tell me that I had won. It has actually taken a while for it to sink in and I am still not quite sure if it’s for real! It is a really amazing thing when such an incredible opportunity presents itself when you have been wondering around hoping that it just might in a million years.

So, what’s next? I am very excited to be working backstage at London Fashion Week in September. I will be working with L’Oreal’s top celebrity make-up artist James Kaliardos, which will be incredible, as I know I will learn so much from him. Towards the end of the year, I am due to do some make-up for Basso & Brooke and an Elle photo shoot – again, an incredible opportunity. I can’t wait to get started. Bring on the war paint and brushes!

CLICK below to view more of Clair's Blog with more exclusive details on her experience at London Fashon Week!

Backstage at London Fashion Week - CLICK HERE

Future Entry Titles for my Blog:

    • Fashion Make-up
    • Stage Make-up
    • Special Occasion Make-Up
    • Commissions & Various Projects
    • Jewellery

...All Coming soon!