SPOTLIGHT: Fashion Week

This week marks the start of London Fashion Week, when designers preview their collections for the season ahead. Fashion week can be extremely stressful for models as they face potentially travelling to 4 countries in one month, 15-30 castings per day, fittings throughout the night and shows throughout the day. Here is our guide on staying safe.

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There are two types of shows during fashion week; catwalk and presentation. Catwalk requires a model to walk up and down a runway whilst a presentation requires a model to stand or sit in a position whilst the guests walk around and view the collection. Catwalks can be challenging because of nerves, high heels and slippery runways however they are quickly over within 15 minutes, whereas presentations usually don’t involve any movement however models are sometimes expected to stay in position for hours.  Due to the advance seasons of fashion, summer wear is worn in winter and winter wear worn in summer, which can be dangerous for the models who face inappropriate clothing for extreme temperatures.

Fashion week is a tough week for models, especially those who travel between the 4 cities for the duration of a month. There is a huge amount of pressure put on models to lose weight and maintain a tiny frame for fashion week, with measurements expected to be 32-24-34 inches and regularly checked at castings. Fashion week consists of long hours, some days being 17-18 hours long, with little sleep for models, often leading to exhaustion. The hectic schedules for models means that there is little time for eating, where the only chance to eat some models have is on travel between castings or shows. Models also face stresses on their hair, skin and physical wellbeing as they complete several shows per day and make up artists may forego cleaning their brushes due to high pressure, leaving models at risk of contracting skin diseases.

Furthermore, models may be uncomfortable with the clothes they have to wear - such as sheer tops without a bra, lingerie or even blindfolds - and not feel able to speak up due to the intense pressures surrounding fashion week. There are also often a range of people backstage who may have nothing to do with the show itself and be taking photographs of models changing, as they are not usually provided with private changing areas.

The stress is rarely worth it - models often find themselves in debt after fashion week, with the travel costs to castings far outweighing how much they may be paid for shows they book (if any), which have notoriously low rates of around £100 per show for models. However for the right model, fashion week can be a career launcher as a sort of fashion society debutante entrance, with new faces especially potentially being booked exclusively for shows and enjoying a very successful career as a result. Some shows can pay high rate depending on the negotiation of an agent, with famous supermodels earning around £10,000 per show!

Fashion week can also be an exciting time, with lounges offering models gifting suites and free food in return for social media exchanges, in addition to lots of parties during the week with great networking opportunities. However the intense rejection, comparisons and pressure of the shows often outweighs this glamour - so models must empower themselves to enjoy the benefits and avoid exploitation.

The UK model’s union, Equity has advised the following with regards to fashion week:
- Models should be provided with a paid 15 minute break within any working period of the duration of a 3/4 hour show/presentation.
- There should be adequate provision of and access to suitable refreshments for models and all endeavours should be made to ensure temperatures are reasonable.
- All endeavours should be made to ensure that changing areas provide privacy for the model.
- Models must be aged 16 and over. 
- Nudity: if any degree of nudity (including sheer / transparent clothes) is required of the model, this should be agreed in advance with the model / model’s agent.
- Working hours and transport: if work finishes after 10pm, or starts before 7am, transport by taxi should be provided to / from the model’s home by the client. 
- Health & safety: clients are responsible for all the models’  safety and should have insurance covering this.
- Payment: payment should be made within 30 days of receipt of invoice by the model’s agent. 

As these are recommendations, they are not entirely helpful - especially if models don’t know about them. In the past Equity has produced ‘rate cards’ for shows as an attempt to enforce minimum rates working with the British Fashion Council.

It is important that models are aware that they do not have to do anything they don’t want to do (including attending any castings!), fittings have started to become paid (a fact that is not often known by models) and prioritise their health and safety during these shows.

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Tips for fashion week:

  • No one has the right to photograph you getting changed. If someone tries to do this, ask them for their name, client they are photographing for if there is one, contact email or telephone number and inform them that you will be pressing charges against them unless they delete the images in front of you.

  • No one has the right to force you to do anything you do not want to do, including wearing sheer clothing or making you change with no privacy. Always feel empowered to say no and instruct the client to take this up with your agency, who should inform you of any requirements such as lingerie prior to a show and check this is ok.

  • Ensure you take a good pair of heels, snacks and water to all shows and castings. Make sure that you EAT properly and get enough sleep! Take a portable charger and write down all of your castings on a piece of paper to save your phone battery. Try to team up with other models to attend castings together.

  • Try not to take rejection personally. Fashion week castings are often more brutal than others as models are often rejected to their face and can easily compare themselves to the long lines of beautiful, impossibly thin models surrounding them at every casting. Stay off social media during this week and remember that a lot goes into the decision of what model to book that is much more than how you look - including things such as the rates your agency charges and other options you may be holding.

  • Remember that your self worth does not equate to how many shows you book. It is extremely difficult to book fashion shows, now more than ever due to more models working than ever before, and it will be over before you know it.

  • Do not use your agency account for any expenses such as taxi’s to castings, as these can rack up huge fees.

  • Check out the model lounges such as INTO & British Fashion Council, where there will likely be free food, gifts and even massages or beauty treatments.

Catherine Neilson