Fashion is on the cusp of another new era. Socially speaking, we’re charting new waters. We’re moving from the uniform importance of trend-awareness that the noughties made popular to witness the rise of bolder styles catering for more niche, unapologetic tastes. London Fashion Week held in February reflected this. New street styles are harder to predict, ensembles are eclectic – the daily choices of the fashion-conscious populous show increasing liberation from obvious options. Girls especially are peeling the labels off themselves and asking why their imagination was put in a box in the first place; wanting new things, growing braver on the quest to find them. This London Fashion Week for Autumn/Winter 2018 offered diversified collections and a still-expanding cast of models who managed to pull focus back from celebrity dynasties and instead represent each individual with a mix of pride and ferocity. In the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp, attention has landed on this historically gendered industry and how the designers envision the future, how models are presented, and what each voice has to say. No one championed confidence in the raw, diverse beauty of femininity quite like Marques’Almeida – and this season I walked for them. For Debut, with the enthusiastic support of the M’A team, here’s what it’s like walking in London Fashion Week: start to end.
From the word ‘go’ Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida, aka Marques’Almeida, have run the race differently. They’re known for street casting – a practise that generally avoids traditional model agencies and instead hand-picks organically – and this season they even accepted submissions over Instagram. This tells you a lot about their process, every hopeful has an equal chance of consideration, and everyone is welcome to apply. When I was asked to come to their Hackney studio and meet face-to-face, I had already warmed to them for their reputation of eschewing the elitism that seems to self-perpetuate in higher rings of fashion, and I wondered if their team would live up to this positivity.
[Marques’Almeida] succeed in drawing out the beauty in chaos and the harmony in diversity
They did, a hundred times over. I was welcomed, instantly put at ease, and given some clothes to try on at what felt like my own pace. While I changed, I looked around at the office. The chic white studio’s atmosphere was laid-back. Everyone at desks seemed relaxed and happy. The woman helping me dress was so unconditionally warm and friendly before the brand had even made a decision about me, that the negative stereotype of models wheeling through castings on a conveyor belt felt silly and remote. Small things like eye contact remind you that you are valued.
Asked if I’d be comfortable talking about a few topics on camera for a montage of M’A Girls (AKA the cutest, most chilled out girl gang on the block) whose voices would carry over the music at the fashion show, I agreed. The conversation went from clothes, to feminism, to contemporary society and to what we’d hope our future daughters would learn. We talked and laughed, and through it all I was listened to completely. Leaving a casting like that felt more like I had just visited a flat full of friends rather than the expected formality of a brand’s headquarters, and when I returned a few weeks later for my fitting I was treated with the exact same excitement and warmth.
In the short time since the label debuted in 2011, it has made simple but definitive changes to the way fashion works under its duress. You only need to look at a runway line up to see that the exuberant cacophony of denim, candy-coloured stripes, heavy leather and airy frills succeed in drawing out the beauty in chaos and the harmony in diversity. All this looks fantastic, but the reluctant optimist in me was holding out for the actual show before admitting to being thrilled about this progressiveness. We’ve seen it used by other brands as a marketing ploy; merely a veneer over a wholly unchanged machine. As this was my first fashion show experience I had no clue which of my many preconceptions were completely ridiculous, but I hoped the answer was most, if not all.
I went into the backstage area with two sisters, and felt like I left with fifty
When I arrived backstage on the 19th of February with my two little sisters (happily and surreally all three of us had been booked), I was one dramatic sneer from a dresser away from baring teeth, and I moved around with my sisters like some sort of protective chicken. That is, until we found the huge buffet table. We were provided with a Pret-fuelled feast for breakfast, and encouraged to fill our boots. No dramatic sneer from a dresser came, no need for subtle social defensiveness. Instead we were hugged and chatted with by the team, and the other M’A girls who I was meeting for the first time were as friendly and talkative as they were beautiful. I was so happy to enjoy the incredible experience for the empowering, uplifting fun it was. We were surrounded by wonderful people and tangible positivity. I went into the backstage area with two sisters, and felt like I left with fifty.
Hair and makeup were classically hurried and typically meticulous. I sat with one artist while she applied gold liquid lipstick to my eyelashes for an hour, and girls were corralled from station to station, gowns flowing and playing cards clipped into fringes while products set. Mid blotting-sheet, I was hurried out of my chair to join the line of models for our first and only rehearsal walk. In the queue I made friends, and after we got to grips with the intricate mechanics of flying two paths of models directly at each other in a way that would neatly intersect, my nerves dropped dead. Yes, even though über-cool style bloggers and tastemakers were beginning to file into the venue, along with what at the time seemed like enough photographers to out-dazzle a small supernova.
Gloriously, as I’ve heard is borderline traditional with any fashion show, there was zero time to panic. By the time the first model hit the runway for real, we had been looked over backstage by ten different MUAs, hair stylists, and finally Paulo Almeida who adjusted our clothes. In the curling line of striking girls who exhaled confidence, I found that my nerves really were gone for good. Around me was the living embodiment of the new generation, and I stepped out so happy to be part of the mosaic representing us.
The walk itself was a blur (but here is the full video); I recall SZA blasting overhead and I saw my face projected on the brickwork of the tunnel walls while voices rang out, speaking about femininity, power, and authenticity. It felt strangely vulnerable to have spoken in the video during something usually silent for participants, and as I approached the cameras it struck me that what Marques’Almeida had orchestrated was more than a straightforward clothes show – it was something like a mass introduction, where girls could walk to the sound of their own conviction and look photographers in the eye as if to say “and what’s your name?”
My first experience of the cultural milestone that is London Fashion Week could not have been better. Marques’Almeida really were that lovely, and I’m sure M’A girls aren’t the only ones who are being treated so kindly, as standards and principles are shifting for the better. To walk for a brand whose values they wear on their embellished sleeves was an immeasurable bonus. Politically, this London Fashion Week, Marques’Almeida and forward-thinking labels like them reminded us that while traditional figures and constructs of authority dither, the new generational wave of creatives with their sharper, more inclusive ideals won’t hesitate.
Every Marques’Almeida team member I met was welcoming, and their endless time for myself and the other M’A girls was the most affirming experience a Fashion Week first-timer could want. A few honourable mentions include Rosie, Laura, Rita, and of course Marta and Paulo. Oh – and their new cherubic baby daughter. Meet her, and you’ll understand firsthand where Marques’Almeida’s “joyful responsibility”, in their words, to celebrate women comes from. It’s no passing trend.
Words by Esmeralda Voegele-Downing
The UK's first Career & Lifestyle Magazine for women in the Creative and Media industries.