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Trending: In the hot seat at London Fashion Week

Celebrities dominate the front row, but what's it like for everyone else at Fashion Week? Not as glamorous as it looks, says Harriet Walker

To the unaccustomed eye, a fashion show is no more than a front row full of A-listers, smiling for the cameras and chatting about how fabulous they all are. But beyond that gilded bench is a roiling scrum of tired and hungry journalists, footsore assistants and people trying to get their jobs done.

Going to a fashion show is nothing like the films. For while their format is rigidly hierarchical (the more important you are, the better your view is; pity the lackeys craning their necks around flamboyant headgear from the fourth row), their process is oddly democratic. Anna Wintour gets stuck in the same bottleneck waiting to leave as everyone else does, and there are few other events where one finds such unfettered access to celebrities. Say one of them happens to sit in front of you, a matter of inches away – you find your own haggard visage lurks in the background of well-publicised pap shots the next day.

Without wishing to summon the unbridled bile of the non-believer, fashion week is actually hard work. Fourteen-hour days of back-to-back shows in various locations leave little time to be glamorous. Truly, it takes a seasoned professional to figure out whether even stuffing in a canapé might make you late for the next event.

Following the nadir of tardiness in 2007, when Marc Jacobs's show began 75 minutes late, most designers tend to get going as quickly as possible. This often results in a scramble from one side of the city to the other, frantic with angst that you may miss not only the next show but also your one chance for a wee all day.

Shows deal in specific strata, from fashion students who somehow breeze in without a ticket to Americans who jet over, groomed to within an inch of their lives, ushered immediately to their seats by a praetorian guard of PRs. Bloggers and street-style photographers people the venues, snapping away with SLRs and iPads aimed not only at the catwalk but also at the outfits of passers-by. These outfits, which always look so effortless, are of course the result of furious planning – some editors and celebs change their clothes between their shows, although how and when we mortals can only guess.

But it isn't all about one-upmanship: a great fashion show holds its diverse audience in a spell, whether clothes are arresting or utilitarian. The power of a good tune to get the front row on your side should never be underestimated during the brief actual showing of clothes (20 minutes or so), although there is little worse than tapping your feet to an obscure disco track only to find someone who didn't even make the X Factor judge's houses is doing a full-on sedentary groove opposite.

And then, of course, there are the collections, the most powerful of which speak for themselves with no need for pyrotechnic bells and whistles. Just remember not to be so awed by the clothes that you get stuck at the back of the exit queue, miss your lift and have to walk home in your platform brothel-creepers.