ONDON — Graeme Black seemed cool and collected when the guests started to arrive Friday morning. Then he made himself a vodka tonic.
His nerves were understandable. On the final day of London Fashion Week, he was having his first-ever runway show.
“I waited until I am 41 to do my first show and that’s late and I’m really glad I did because now I can do it properly and I can do it the way I really want to do it,” Black said. “I know who I want to be today.”
It all began at 7 a.m.
The morning began at 7 a.m. in a converted warehouse filled with antique fireplaces in Chelsea. The models gathered behind the venue in Ristorante Lincontro, which was unrecognizable once the vanity lights, hair products and piles of trendy Chantecaille makeup took over.
Munching on fresh fruit and slugging Red Bull, the models were pampered as hair hotshot Sam McKnight and stylists tucked their tresses into fake bobs and the makeup team dabbed away dark circles with sponges.
Most of the show’s models made it in early, but they often work multiple shows and come in at the last minute. Rising star Jourdan Dunn, 17, was already tired from New York and London shows but said the models are still going on to Milan and Paris. That means they spend the month of February waking up early, getting fitted, made-up and blown dry for up to five shows a day.
In the main venue, Black and interior design partner Jonathan Reed were making the finishing touches to the runway.
In contrast to the uniformity of a big white tent where many of fashion week’s top designers showed, the designers chose a more personal space filled with hand-crafted, natural elements reflective of the same standards Black has for the fabrics of his designs. “I want to have that integrity,” Black said. “And make money,” he added with a grin.
Years in Milan
After spending 15 years in Milan working as a designer for Giorgio Armani and Salvatore Ferragamo, Black, born in Carnoustie, Scotland, began his career in London.
The fall 2008 line is a fusion of Scottish tweeds, tartans and highland sheep fur with the lightweight construction Black learned in Italy. Inspiration stemmed from Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and 1969 film “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.”
Antique lanterns hung from the ceilings of the two rooms transformed to suit the browns, blues and grays of Black’s designs. An hour before the 10:30 a.m. start time, organizers were painting the focal wall gray and setting out scented candles to offset the paint smell.
The models came out of hair and makeup for a tutorial on how Black wanted them to walk. Towering over the blond designer, the models filed through for a shoe rehearsal, instructed to walk prim and proper like the film.
While the audience of editors and buyers arrived, only to wait in the restaurant’s back alley, the models took to their racks and gave up their bodies to the professional dressers and last-second hair and face touchups.
Twenty models in heels
When all the guests were seated, the models lined up. Twenty women in 3.5-inch heels teetered about in Black’s tartans, animal skins and chiffons — the moment, Black said, makes it all worth it.
The soundtrack began and the models were off. Black made the final adjustments before each went out and within 30 seconds the first model was back, running to change into her next outfit.
Some had less than 90 seconds to get back in line, dressed to match the photographs used by the professional dressers.
Within 20 minutes, it was all over and the fairy-tale models in Swarovski crystals, highland furs, snakeskin and luxurious suedes were wearing their jeans and high-tops once more.
After saying goodbye to his guests, Black said that the day was exactly what he wanted.
“There is a way of doing things on my own terms and it doesn’t have to be about a big show in Milan and it doesn’t have to be about the top girls,” Black said. “It has to be about what feels comfortable for me and trying to find people that will then appreciate that aesthetic.”