#1051 Paris Haute Couture – my life as a photographic assistant

Me and Tavi Gevinson backstage at Christian Dior Photo: Steve Wood

I’m being driven around Paris by a man who thrives on driving everybody around him up the wall. The Haute Couture week has started, and we’re enroute to our first show – Christophe Josse. For the next three days, I’ll be the world’s hardest worked photographic assistant; pointing a remote lamp at models preening and posing while Steve Wood shoots them to bits. At the moment, he’s playing a pounding Latin house music track, but only for 25 seconds at a time before rewinding it back to the beginning. We’ve just listened to it for the fourth time in two minutes. “The problem is,” he says to me, “I don’t like the singing. I only like the intro.” Once again the song is rewound. Loud protestations are coming from his two colleagues in the back seat, but that just encourages him. They’ve been working with him for the past two weeks since the very first day in Milan and they’re fed up. I, on the other hand, am just getting started, so it’s still quite amusing to me. “I don’t know what they’re complaining about,” says Steve, “they only have to listen to it another three times before we get there.”

A model being dressed backstage at Christophe Josse

Backstage at Christophe Josse models are sitting in hair and makeup while elderly ladies in aprons sew beaded scallops on silk tulle gowns. The food table is bare except for two plastic plates – one containing dried apricots, the other containing almonds. There’s water in bottles and champagne on ice. Most of the models look like they’ve been eating no more than the aforementioned for the past two weeks – Haute Couture models are notoriously the tallest and thinnest on the circuit.

A beauty shot from Christophe Josse. Photo: Steve Wood

Steve shoots beauty (the term used for closeups of the face to showcase the hair and makeup), while Kamil and I hold remote lamps on either side of the girl at 90 degree angles from each other. Kamil is a Polish 26 year old up and coming photographer who lives with his girlfriend in London. On a house boat.

The girls backstage seconds before the show

It’s time for first looks. A modest English girl covers her chest as dressers sew a pair of flowing silk trousers onto her (most walk around naked as the day they were born). Nearby, an extroverted Polish blonde feigns shock as five male photographers take shot after shot of her sitting in a chair. A German blonde winces in pain as her dresser jabs her with a pin, a torrent of guttural Deutche flows from her mouth. Photographers, none of whom are French, say ‘Pardon, pardon’ over and over again as they bump into each other and mess up other people’s shots. The show’s about to begin. It’s time for us to leave.

Tavi Gevinson interviewing Siri Tollerod backstage at Christian Dior

Next up is Christian Dior, one of two most high profile shows of the week (the other is Chanel), and probably the second most policed – I swear I saw security guards with guns last season at Chanel. We wait in the lobby as Steve checks his credentials. In walks 13 year old star blogger Tavi Gevinson, wearing a giant purple bow atop her faintly blue hair. She’s here as a special guest of the house. I ask her how long she’s been in Paris and she replies, “I arrived yesterday, but it already feels like I’ve been here a week.”

Kasia Struss backstage at Christian Dior

We finally get in, up the elevator, past more security guards, and into the epicentre of operations. Hair and makeup. The room is tiny, hot and packed. On one side of the room sits Magdalena Frackowiak. Next to her is Kasia Struss, then Chanel Iman. Basically a who’s who of the world’s top supermodels. Tavi Gevinson arrives with a small entourage. She immediately walks over to Norwegian model Siri Tollerod and begins asking her questions. A film crew records every word.

French actress Laurel arriving at Christian Dior

Back outside, a giant crowd has formed to get a glimpse of the celebrities arriving. The paparazzi go nuts when a French actress named Laurel arrives, but I’m far more excited by the appearance of Vogue editor Anna Wintour (who refuses to stop for pictures) and ancient French designer Pierre Cardin. A black Mercedes with 100% tinted windows pulls up. A tiny Blonde lady hops out. The crowd goes wild. “Kyleeeee! Kyleeeeee!” It’s Kylie Minogue. She laughs and poses for a second, then slips inside.

Igor Dewe ‘busking’

On the sidewalk, a Paris based stylist named Igor Dewe wearing eight inch Nina Ricci heels is making the bouncers very irritable as he dances around to violin music coming from an amplifier. He calls it busking. A little cardboard sign reads, We’re poor and cold and hungry. Seriously! The film crews are lapping it up.

Dita Von Teese out front at Christian Dior

Another black Mercedes arrives. The crowd surges. Another blonde lady hops out. There’s a sigh of disappointment – she’s an unknown. People turn back around to wait. Then, there’s a yell. “Over here!” Dita Von Teese was in the same car. She works the cameras. Turning to every side, posing, looking over her shoulder, the whole nine yards. When she’s done, the security guards clap their hands and say, “Okay, that’s it, we’re starting the show.” I feel a tap on my arm. It’s Steve. “What are you waiting for? There’s another show starting in fifteen minutes.” It’s time to go.

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  1. anabels says

    Love the picture of the model being dressed. For some reason I love that bit almost more than the show itself! So jealous!

    Though it is glorious summer weather here and Europe is cold right now so…

  2. PonsonbyRed says

    I’m with you K – I found this an exciting read too – makes me want to leave my office job and live this exciting life we see on here… [sigh]

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