Fashion: Art imitates life under the catwalk: Keith Hepple enters the fantasy fashion world of a TV commercial, where the audience is heavenly and the photographers smile
Thursday 15 July 1993
A 'yes' and you were allowed to take your place as a front-row habitue on the mocked-up catwalk set at Shepperton studios in Surrey. A 'no', and if you were lucky you could squeeze in at the back. And if you were not lucky, you were on the 7.30am bus back to central London, trussed up in couture, looking like some bizarre leftover from a Fellini film - not much fun at all, especially for the drag queens who don't usually go out in baubles and beads in daylight.
The 300 people who were allowed to stay - most culled from the London club scene and Soho's Patisserie Valerie - got to whoop and cheer as the models Carla Bruni, Susie Bick, Cordula and Lorraine Pascale sashayed up and down the catwalk in John Galliano designs. Then the models made a frenzied rush backstage, all the while being filmed for a new pan-European commercial advertising a range of hair products called Mod's Hair, to be screened on television and in cinemas in autumn.
At the beginning of the day Carla Bruni was heard to shout to backstage models who had yet to do their first turn in front of the spotlights, the audience and a wall of photographers (some of whom were professionals, some not), that 'this audience is hotter than at a Mugler show]'
Certainly the photographers were having an easier time than they have at Mugler, a renowned bun fight. For a start, there were fewer than half the number who usually try to squeeze bodies, cameras, tripods, camera bags, overcoats and sandwiches - plus assistants - into the tiny space allotted them at the international shows. Furthermore, they were all issued with cushions, which has never, ever happened in the photographers' 'pig pen' in Paris.
After more hours than it takes to get in, wait for, watch and get out of a Paris show, the hollering at the Shepperton catwalk became rather strained by take after take; even the first time round it was far in excess of any reaction to clothes on a catwalk I've ever heard.
But this was not the world of fashion, it was how people imagine the world of fashion. In the adman's dream of the fashion world, not only are the models gorgeous, but the audience is heavenly, and those who are not are at least extraordinary. In the adman's dream of a Paris catwalk, photographers smile as they snap, models make way for each other backstage and drag queens in Christian Lacroix couture are the norm.
Sheila Tequila, aka Sam from north London, dressed as that catwalk doyenne from the International Herald Tribune, Suzy Menkes, looked extraordinary in 'her' cottage-loaf hair- do, clanky necklet, Chanel scarf and multicoloured tweed suit. There were certainly similarities, but Sam had replaced Suzy's computer with a Hermes bag - so much more glamorous.
And 'Ivana' looked no less striking to the regulars at the local pub than Ivana herself would have done had she adjourned for a lunch-time drink in all her finery, as we all did.
As for 'Anna Piaggi', 'she' looked rather less extraordinary than the real Anna Piaggi, editor-at-large for Italian Vogue, who specialises in towering hats and mismatched vivid clothes - much to the inconvenience of those who have to sit behind her at the shows.
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