What Being at Fashion Week is Really Like

One would think that during fashion weeks—at the big three–it’s the new collections that are the main event. Cue “Entrance of the Gladiators”
Published: 24 April 2024
A fashion show has become more than just the fashion.

As a young stylist, I had always considered flying off to the fashion capitals for fashion weeks to be one of the pinnacles of my career. I had exalted it as a rite of passage—if I were to attend either London, Milan or Paris Fashion Week, it would mean that I’d made it.

I wasn’t naive to think that being invited to fashion shows would be all glamour. Fashion editorial life is (unfortunately) unlike what’s portrayed in the oft-referenced The Devil Wears Prada or even Robert Altman’s Ready to Wear. I was already reporting on the runway collections remotely, basing my reviews off of what I could see from livestreams as well as information from press releases. But I knew that being on the ground meant that my evenings would be spent doing the same with the added pressure of doing so after spending an entire day commuting from one show to the other.

The biggest draw for me was to be able to witness the show firsthand and actually see and feel the collections up close, months before everyone else does. It adds to the reporting and critique of a show. Watching them through a screen has its limits. Sure, one technically gets a much better view of each look as it walks down the runway thanks to steady camerawork, but a fashion show is much more than each individual look. The atmosphere—the music, audience and the scale of a set—completes the narrative that a designer is trying to communicate. And this, as much as technology has changed so much over the years, is a sensorial experience that falls short digitally.

Creative director Sabato De Sarno's first menswear show for Gucci was the first show for me for the Autumn/Winter 2024 menswear season.

To say that I was excited for my first official fashion week experience would be an understatement. At the same time, I was anxious. I’ve navigated Milan and Paris on my own before, but I’ve never had to rush for back-to-back appointments and shows during one of the cities’ busiest period of the year. Timing is everything and it’s not because I was afraid of getting to a show late (it’s fashion, hardly anything starts on the dot)—I was afraid of missing out a celebrity.

We’re all aware by now that celebrity culture is at an all-time high. Almost no big-named brand event is complete without the appearance of a number of celebrities, some of whom are official brand ambassadors. Brands—be it jewellery, watch or fashion—have been busy racking up top-tier Western, Korean and Thai faces in the past couple of years as brand ambassadors, all to give embodiment to their brand values while simultaneously attract the following that each celebrity commands.

It was a cold January in Milan. The Autumn/Winter 2024 Milan Fashion Week Men’s was the beginning of my two-week-long, non-stop fashion immersion. The Gucci menswear show was my first stop. It was creative director Sabato De Sarno’s first menswear collection for the House and I was in anticipation. I arrived half-an-hour early to the venue to find that I was not early enough. Not only was there already a sizeable crowd formed across the road behind a row of metal barriers, editors of publications based in Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea and my Singaporean counterparts were all flanking an imagined walkway right before the entrance to the main show area.

Fashion week essentials: show invites, an extra iPhone, a portable mic and the Esquire Singapore placard.

I managed to squeeze myself in, joining the rather civil queue of Asian press as we all waited for celebrity arrivals. Brands would typically provide a list of confirmed front-row attendees so we could single out those we’d want to approach for doorstop interviews or at the very least, film their arrival for social media. I went in completely blind for Gucci so I was rather awestruck by the sight of Idris Elba, Mark Ronson, Elliot Page and Jay Park. And when people I personally admire and follow such as male model Clément Chabernaud and musician Tamino walked in, the inner fanboy was very much in overdrive. The job comes first, however, and my phone kept trailing each of them from the moment they enter the space.

Yes, I am a glorified paparazzo.

No one stops to give soundbites as they enter a venue. It’s within the show set that the opportunities arise if you’re able to battle your way through the hordes of other press aiming for the very same. The Gucci show was my warmup. I didn’t get any save for a very muffled and quick hello by Elba, which wasn’t usable.

I learnt a thing or two from a very kind fellow celebrity-chaser. He introduced himself as we shared a mutual connection. He told me he is based in Paris but covers celebrity sightings for a publication in Singapore during fashion weeks in Milan and Paris. Having done it for at least six seasons now, the man has become a force to be reckoned with. He knew where to stand and wait for the perfect, clear view and seemingly had zero qualms about intruding the personal space of a celebrity. As an introvert, I was the exact opposite at the start but observed and went on to adopt a similar level of brazenness.

It was the only way that I was able to secure coveted soundbites from Korean actor and brand ambassador Lee Min-ho, Marvel’s Winston Duke, and latest brand ambassador Greg Hsu at Fendi. Prada’s Autumn/Winter 2024 menswear show was full of A-list celebrities—possibly one of the best curations out of the shows in Milan—and I was able to create content featuring Lee Jae-wook, Troye Sivan, Manu Ríos, Luther Ford, and Win Metawin. Lee was even kind enough to rerecord his once I discovered that the audio was off in the original and suffered a fleeting panic attack from it. At Loewe, I even managed to approach Saltburn’s Archie Madekwe for an additional soundbite to tease his then-unreleased February 2024 cover of Esquire Singapore.

“Did you get all the content you need?” a brand communications personnel asked as I was exiting a venue. It was a question I’d hear time and again throughout the two weeks. They were all trying to ensure I had the necessary recordings for Instagram reels that would reach as many people as possible. And if not, they’d assist in securing a celebrity’s time if possible.

I’m not going to lie. There were moments in the evening after a day’s series of shows where I felt semblances of an existential crisis. I would rather speak to creative directors such as Miuccia Prada, Jonathan Anderson, Kim Jones and the like to find out more about their thought processes behind the collections. I had questions after seeing every show but it wasn’t humanly possible to split my time. In the battle for social media views and engagement, creative directors, very unfortunately, don’t garner the same level of attention than even a wink by Korean actor Jung Hae-in.

“In the past, the editors’ biggest concern was getting captured by street style photographers,” a counterpart proffered as we were waiting for celebrities to slowly stream in at a show. The “past” was only about five years ago. And while I don’t necessarily agree with the sentiment (I’ve worked under editors who consciously dress to impress during fashion week while delivering elaborate collection reviews post-shows), I understand the manic evolution of fashion media. It’s no longer enough to deliver content at dizzying speed; content has to be relevant and with a guise of exclusivity.

Will this bubble ever burst? I don’t have the answer to that. But as along as there is a desire for content featuring celebrities that bring in social media engagements and estimated media values in the millions (at the very least), the fashion industry will be sticking to this formula.

The Spring/Summer 2025 Milan and Paris Fashion Week Men’s shows are coming up in a couple of months. And I’m ready, with my iPhone, my small Bluetooth enabled microphone and Esquire Singapore placard going: “Hi! I’m Asri, style director of Esquire Singapore. May I get you to say hello to our readers?”

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