Monday, 8 November 2010
Postcards from the edge of the catwalk
I'm always happy when a decent fashion book lands in my lap on Christmas Day - gives me an excuse to swerve the washing-up - so if anyone out there is thinking of buying me a present, Postcards From The Edge Of The Catwalk by Iain R Webb is on the wish-list. The book of photographs spans over three decades and provides a snapshot of Webb's life as a fabulous fashion journalist. Last week That's Not My Age caught up with the lovely IRW for a quick chat:
TNMA: What is your most memorable show, ever, and why?
IRW: I think you always remember your first time! My first fashion show experience was in 1977 while I was doing a pre-BA foundation course at Salisbury Art College. I opened the end-of-year graduation show with three outfits I had designed and made. The attitude was very punky so I got the models to wear dirty old raincoats over my designs and ‘flash’ the audience. My looks were made from shocking pink, purple, white and ice blue nylon (actually hot air balloon fabric), a handful of sequins and some plastic tubing. Quite bonkers!
TNMA: Who is your favourite catwalk model?
IRW: I have loads of favourite catwalk models from over the years. I think so much depends on the context. It works best when the designer chooses the right girl for their clothes/narrative rather than just that model-of-the-moment thing. I like models with a certain attitude. Kirsten Owen, Leslie Winer, Teri Toye, Amanda Cazalet, Kristen McMenamy, Jade Parfitt, Jodie Kidd and, of course, the Supers. And the ‘actresses’ like Shalom Harlow and Erin O’Connor. I have been lucky to work with Erin since her first days in the industry. Whenever I hear Suede’s She’s In Fashion I think of her: ‘And she’s as similar as you can get, to the shape of a cigarette.’ And I love the catwalk girls from my early days – Sheila Ming, Jane Spencer, Michele Paradise, Sayoko Yamaguchi and the genius Pat Cleveland. When I left St Martins Art School I worked for Zandra Rhodes and was involved in a late-night fitting with Pat. At one point, wearing just her knickers, she declared, ‘ Isn’t it strange how the best dance you ever do is the one for yourself in the bathroom mirror.' And don’t get me started on male models…
TNMA: What's your least favourite aspect of the fashion week circus?
IRW: I hate traveling. Not a good start. But the worst part has to be the sheer physical crush. I often felt hemmed in and claustrophobic. Some of the venues were a disaster movie just waiting to happen! I also dislike the unreasoned hysteria that appears to set in as soon as the invitation arrives or, worse, doesn’t. How grown men and women can lose all sense of proportion (something I have seen a lot of designers do too!) I find it amusing now to see quite how dressed up the audience has gotten. My job as a fashion editor was to see what the designers had to offer not to be part of the show myself…
TNMA: Who's the friendliest person on the front row?
IRW: One of the best things about doing the shows is that I got to hook up with all manner of fabulous fashion freaks who love the frocks as much as me. The unrelenting seasonal schedule at least means you know you’ll get to see old friends. I always love to meet up with Anna Piaggi and I miss Isabella Blow and Amy Spindler.
The Brit pack always like to have fun so I’d hang out most with best-buddy Susannah Frankel, Hilary Alexander and Colin McDowell (Mr McD and I would always go see a Broadway show during the NYC collections), but I guess I was most excited when I got to sit next to all-time hero and heartthrob Peter Beard, the anthropologist. Check out his astonishing notebooks and collages.
TNMA: And the nastiest?
IRW: Like I would air kiss and tell!?!
TNMA: Is there an iconic show that you wished you'd seen?
IRW: I would love to have seen a Perry Ellis show in New York, preferably his A/W 1978 collection when he coined the Slouch silhouette. It’s my all-time favourite look. I also would have liked to be at Bill Gibb’s debut fashion show at the Oriental Club in 1972. The BBC filmed the show for a TV documentary series. I have watched it over and over again till it almost feels like I was there.
TNMA: What do you think is going to happen to fashion week/the catwalk show now that we have live streaming?
IRW: Even though live streaming can reach a huge audience the days of the catwalk show aren’t numbered yet. Nothing can quite compare to the first hand experience. If anything they might scale down and become more intimate (like the couture salon shows) thereby cutting cost while making the privileged few invited guests feel extra special indeed. These shows could then be streamed worldwide. There are so many ways to present fashion on a smaller scale – I loved it when Rifat Ozbek used to show his designs on just three models in his showroom. Perhaps this age of austerity will focus designers to be a tad more creative in their ‘catwalk’ presentations.
TNMA: How did you manage to remember all the facts for the book? Do you have an amazing memory like Keith Richards?!
IRW: I have always carried a notebook and like to draw the looks sent out by the designer. It kind of processes them in my brain. These sketches I annotate with key information about colour and fabric but also mood inspiration, soundtrack, staging, models and who is sitting front row. Compiling the index for the book was at times like an Agatha Christie whodunit. There are still a couple of images in the book that have no captions. I also think I might have a photographic memory although as I get older this is beginning to fade like an old Polaroid!
TNMA: And last question - do you still get the buzz when you go to a show or would you rather stay at home and watch it on style.com?
IRW: Over the years covering the grueling New York, London, Milan, Paris collections trip twice a year, along with the haute couture shows and menswear, there have been times I wished I was at home on the sofa eating baked beans on toast and watching Coronation Street. But, I still love the frocks…
Postcards From The Edge Of The Catwalk by Iain R Webb is published by ACC Editions, priced £24.95 and is available at all major bookshops and online from www.antique-acc.com
Check out Iain's top 10 fashion books for students - and other fashion fanatics here
Photos from Postcards From The Edge Of The Catwalk - courtesy of Marian Kihogo and