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“Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.” – Coco Chanel
“Is that Naomi Campbell?!”
It is not Naomi Campbell, but that will be the phrase for the weekend. We are in an underground bar just behind Covent Garden, bopping away to vintage hip-hop and clutching cocktails made by a barman who has a hashtag written into his forehead with a marker pen. Don’t ask me what it said, he was also very good at making strong mojitos.
My friend Hayley has come to London for Fashion Weekend, and we’re playing at being beautiful. I first met Hayley during a group interview for Body Shop which I gatecrashed (the manager was a friend of a friend, it didn’t stop her from hating me) and we bonded over the Dior cardigan I had just found in a charity shop. We both got the job, didn’t take ourselves as seriously as the perma-tanned red slash of lips the other girls did, and got into constant trouble for dancing around the store and flirting with the male customers.
By the time Christmas rolled around, I was working fifteen hour shifts just to make rent, and Hayley had told the manager to go fuck herself. There was no greater pleasure than following with my own escape and announcing I would be leaving, without notice, on the busiest Saturday of the year. I brought Hayley for emotional back-up and entertainment value. Needless to say, we were escorted off the premises.
Beauty, fashion and style was always at the centre of our deep friendship. I would try and get her to be more of a lady, the anchor she needed amidst the boy trouble. She taught me the importance of surrounding yourself with pretty things, made me develop a passion for tacky gold jewellery, and gave me a recipe for what we now affectionately and blurrily refer to as Vodka Bombs (flavoured vodka, asti and lemonade. In pint glasses. You will fall over).
So here we are, the day after the night before, running loose through London’s make-up counters pissing off the Dior Whores and threading through Selfridges as much as through Primark. Brunching in West London before making our way to Somerset House for our first fashion weekend. I’m ashamed to say despite an intense love for fashion, I have never seen a runway show. I am excited.
The fun is interspersed with Life Things, and the night before she also helps me move into my new house. I never give myself time for these things, I find them too practical. When I moved to London for the first time I had one holdall and came via Leeds, to a house I had only seen through Skype. She softens the panic by helping me pick out duvet covers. “Ooh you need a nice candle for your room” she squeals, “it’ll all be better with a nice candle”.
We don’t really know what to expect, jumping out of Charing Cross tube stop giddy with anticipation. I’ve been following London Fashion Week like an ugly girl who wishes she’d been invited to prom. I notice central London turning that little bit more couture for those days. I do my best not to scream when I see Henry Holland walking around Westfield. It is the first time I am genuinely starstruck, and this is a boy who almost got run over by Will Young.
We queue up with the rest of the beautiful people, we collect our goodie bags loaded with treats. We walk around and see talks about hair trends, subscribe to Elle magazine for a year (“you get free mascara”, the woman tells me as she suppresses a nervous giggle) and walk through rooms full of wonderful clothes. Fur hats, trinkets, perfectly tailored power suits.
We hang out in the courtyard and drink coffee, I am shocked to see they serve carbs, and people are eating them! The horror! The stereotype here is diminished, as we people watch and smile at each other. Everyone is happy to be here, and there are all sorts of people, simply brought together by a love of fashion.
Men, women, people even bring their kids with them. There are the skinny fashionistas holding their clutch purses like their lives depended on it, older women draped in scarves, stylish boys in brogues and macs, people trying a little harder with blue lipstick and geometric prints and shopping addicts with a million bags. The broke stand to the side, holding their £1 copy of Elle and all their free samples.
We see people asking to take photos of each other, complimenting each other’s shoes. While I make a quick bathroom trip (one of the joys of a fashion event? The queues for the ladies may be long but the gents are empty) Hayley has a photo taken by a journalist. We stand and look around at the explosion of colour and fabric walking around before us and can’t help but grin.
The afternoon ends with a runway show highlighting the various trends for Autumn/Winter 2013, and we have fun pointing out what we love and what we think we could wear if we could afford it. Yet we do what we’ll always do, take that ridiculously priced McQueen print and find it on the high street for much less. We do what we’ll always do, work with what we have and make it shine.
We had this idea going on that it would all be a bit Devil Wears Prada, and although I was fine with that (and ready to have fun and not take it so damn seriously), we were wonderfully surprised to see there was no hint of pretence. Everyone wanted to be there, everyone was friendly and having a great time. Everyone had woken up that morning and chosen something to wear that made them feel special, that would get them noticed, that would tell the world they were here.
That’s what fashion is for though. The glitter, the red carpet, the mobile phone throwing, it’s all great fun but it detracts from the real intention. The art behind what you wear, like Meryl Streep so eloquently puts it, as much as you might pretend not to care it’s something you can’t escape from, because other than go naked you have to take part in it every day.
My friendship with Hayley is a lot like fashion. From the outside it would be easy to simply cast it aside as a flurry of pretty things, not taking itself as seriously as it should sometimes, all that glitters. Only those who invest the time to look deeper see the care, the work, the seamless thread that holds it all together.