On the other side of a theatrical flat there sits an audience of 1,500. Behind them, about 200 feet away, 320 photographers are crammed, packed precariously on top of camera boxes and step ladders in a long, thin space like a bowling alley. Out there, everything is photographed; full-length, half-length and close up. Everything is surveyed, scrutinised and recorded.
But over here, things are different. It is not quite like it was when backstage was a private dressing room behind a closed door or a heavy curtain. For since models turned into stars, images from off-limits have become every bit as sought-after as those from the theatre of fashion out front. Dubious individuals with cameras have managed to sneak in, skulk about and take candid snaps of topless women, who are not at all pleased. Tempers have been frayed. Tantrums have been thrown. Lawsuits have been threatened. Strict admission codes are now being applied.
Only a few trusted photographers have become such an integral part of this closed-off world that they are allowed to stay. At the best shows, where designers treat their modelling stars well, only a handful of shutters purr quietly in the background, and no one minds.
The hand and the eye behind one of these belongs to Gavin Bond, who, at 23, is the same age as Naomi Campbell. She sticks her tongue out at him. Bond gets there at the beginning, four hours before scheduled start time, 'so at least five hours before, in fact, because shows never start when they are supposed to'. He knows why, because he watches it happen. 'Other shows run late, the girls turn up later, the shoes don't fit, someone doesn't like an outfit all sorts of reasons, but one certainty - never on time.'
Bond is recording rising panic. At Rifat Ozbek, golden painted feet refuse to dry and girls have to queue up to stick their toes under the hair dryer.
At Vivienne Westwood, early calm turns electric and stays that way before, during and after the show. For as soon as Queen Viv has made her triumphant progress before the crowd, everyone must start again. There is a second show, running so late now that the audience should be not at the next show but at the one after that, which is Jean Paul Gaultier's and is way out in a railway station on the way to nowhere.
During the Westwood shows, one and two, Bond records what others cannot see. Naomi Campbell, who took that famous tumble off 10in-high electric blue snakeskin shoes a year ago, swanks down the catwalk in even higher super-elevated blue suede booties and gives the catwalk photographers a 'no knicker-shot for you boys this time' wink. Her chutzpah makes the crowd roar. But Bond catches her as she moves out of sight. 'Thank God]' giggles the girl as she slips out of catwalk queen bee mode for a moment. 'Just thank God I didn't fall.'
Rifat Ozbek's first Paris fashion show is a triumph of a different kind, with commercial, clever clothes and a finale that has models strewing the stage with rose petals. Was it as fragrant backstage? 'I was too busy to smell anything,' says Bond.
But he sees a lot. As backstage becomes increasingly off limits, he hopes to continue to slip through the crack in the closing door.
(Photographs omitted)Reuse content